The decision of the Irish government to close its embassy to the Holy See has aroused plenty of comment in Catholic circles. Fr Lombardi, the Vatican spokesman, has played down its significance, pointing out that diplomatic relations will still continue.
And indeed they will: there are plenty of nations that do not have an ambassador to the Holy See resident in Rome. Take a stroll along the Passegiata del Gianicolo and you will see a charming renaissance villa that is the Finnish Embassy to the Holy See; but the Ambassador lives in Switzerland, and visits but rarely; the villa is used by visiting Finnish scholars. But it is nice to know that Finland sufficiently values its relations with the Holy See to keep up the villa, despite the fact that historically Finland and the Papacy have had little in common. What is distressing is that the Irish government seemingly cares less than the Finnish about its relations with the Holy See, and Ireland has had a long association with the Holy See.
The Irish government has said that this is a cost cutting measure, and while we all know that Ireland has to economise, the assertion that the Holy See Embassy produces no economic return is borderline insulting. This is the rhetoric of that famous man who once asked “How many divisions has the Pope?” It is also reminiscent of the anti-clerical propaganda of yesteryear that condemned the Church for its lack of economic productivity and its being a supposed burden on the productive part of society. Economic value is not the only value there is; and if cuts have to be made, are there not other less important things that can be cut? I can’t help suspecting that this is one cut that the Irish government actually enjoyed making.
In Italy people talk of the facts, and then the real facts that lie behind the supposed facts, or what they call dietrologia – “behindology”. What lies behind this? The Irish Times talks of economic reality but also mentions a “cooling of relations”.
The people who know will not tell us as much, but we can guess that any cooling of relations must be related to the child abuse crisis. This is payback time. No doubt the Dublin government thinks this will play well with its public, rather like Enda Kenny’s now famous Dail speech.
Come the next election, though, such posturing may come back to bite them all on the bottom, for by then it may seem churlish, short-sighted and infantile, a throwing the toys out of the pram moment. And by then too a huge irony may have struck the Irish people: the poor oppressed Catholics of the occupied Six Counties have a government that maintains an embassy to the Holy See, whereas the Irish Republic does not.