What does the Papal Nuncio's recall mean?

Archbishop Leanza and Enda Kenny
Image caption Archbishop's Leanza's recall is being seen as part of the Vatican's response to criticism from the Irish government

The Vatican's recall of its special envoy to Ireland has been described as almost unprecedented over the past century.

Experts say only anti-religious tumult has previously sparked a similar move, for example the return to Rome of the ambassador to China following that country's forced conversion to communism.

Archbishop Giuseppe Leanza's departure from Dublin may not be a flight from violent persecution but it is a response to the most significant political pressure on the Catholic church since the formation of the state.

Last week, following the publication of a scathing report into the church's handling of child abuse cases, the Irish prime minister (taoiseach) turned on the Vatican and its role in what had happened.

'A big deal'

Enda Kenny accused Rome of "elitism, dysfunction, disconnection and narcissism" - the kind of language never previously used by a political leader in predominantly Catholic Ireland.

Mr Kenny has since emphasised the positive response he has received to his speech, telling an audience at the weekend that many members of the clergy had been in touch to give him their support.

The Vatican's response on Monday is, according to Michael Kelly from the Irish Catholic newspaper, "a big deal".

"People just do not speak to the Vatican in that fashion. It is simply not used to people talking about it like that so it will have wanted to be seen to act in a decisive fashion in response," he said.

However, he cautioned against seeing the move as a "diplomatic fit of pique", pointing to remarks made by Vatican press spokesperson Father Ciro Benedettini.

Fr Benedettini said that the Papal Nuncio's recall showed the Vatican wanted "serious and effective collaboration with the (Irish) government".


That statement, Michael Kelly said, suggests the Vatican is interested in constructive dialogue with the Irish government rather than a political head-to-head.

"The Vatican realises it is not in a position to deliver any kind of diplomatic snub. It wants to respond to what the Cloyne report said and in order to do that effectively it needs to liaise with the Papal Nuncio," he said.

The Irish Times religious affairs correspondent Patsy McGarry believes the situation is more complicated.

He pointed to the latter part of Fr Benedettini's statement which said that the Vatican's move "did not exclude some degree of surprise and disappointment at certain excessive reactions".

Evidence, he said, that the Vatican's position remains a mixture of contrition and determination to speak out when it believes it has legitimate points to make.

"This is very similar to the reaction of Federico Lombardi (a Vatican spokesperson) following the taoiseach's comments last week," he said.

Fr Lombardi was sent into bat by the Vatican following Mr Kenny's remarks and spoke of the need for the "necessary objectivity" in the "ongoing debate".


For Michael Kelly, the latter half of Fr Benedettini's statement is merely a bid for restraint amid calls for more stringent government action against the Vatican.

Image caption Commentators say the current row leaves a question mark over whether the Pope will be able to visit Ireland in the near future

"Charlie Flanagan, the leader of the Fine Gael parliamentary party, called for the expulsion of the Papal Nuncio and I think Fr Benedettini's remarks have to be seen in the light of that.

"If we remember back to last year when Irish passports were found to have been used by Israeli and Russian secret agents, the Irish government only acted to expel some junior diplomats, despite the seriousness of the situation.

"The expulsion of a diplomat is not a decision taken lightly and I don't think that the gravity of this situation merits it."

One thing agreed upon by both Michael Kelly and Patsy McGarry was that, given the strained relations, a much speculated upon papal visit to Ireland is unlikely to happen in the near future.

'Wholly penitent'

"I would put it at less than 20%. It was never more than speculation but there would need to be a major healing between the Irish government and the Vatican," Patsy McGarry said.

"The Pope has gone to other places like Australia and expressed his sorrow for what has happened but I think this would need to be another level above that - the image of a wholly penitent church."

Michael Kelly said that was an unlikely scenario.

"I don't think the Vatican would want to put the Pope into a situation like that. There is a feeling there that a lot of this pre-dates the current papacy and it would be unfair to Pope Benedict," he said.

"I think there is a chance of the Pope going to Northern Ireland and making a brief visit to the Irish Republic but anything beyond that - no more than 5%."

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