Belfast Telegraph

Wednesday 22 October 2014

Conflict between Church and state? It’s elementary

As Sherlock Holmes might observe to Dr Watson, it smacks of a case of the secular watchdog not barking in the night at the national incursion by robed envoys of a foreign power.

Curiously, the Republic’s Government has remained ominously silent about its attitude to the Vatican-appointed team of investigators of the Catholic Church in Ireland that was announced last week by Pope Benedict XVI.

This autumn, under the mandate of Pontifical secrecy, as decreed by Rome's canon law, two cardinals, three archbishops, two religious-order clerics and two nuns will roam round the country's four main archdioceses, seminaries and religious houses to draw up recommendations for the future direction of the post-Murphy Report Irish Church. These will go directly to Pope Benedict XVI.

The media will relish the colourful spectacle of Cardinal Sean Brady, Archbishop Diarmuid Martin and other Irish Church leaders hobnobbing with the high-ranking Papal visitors, who will include Cardinal Cormac Murphy O'Connor, the former Archbishop of Westminster and Cardinal Sean O'Malley, the bearded Archbishop of Boston. Yet apart from some indignant letter-writers to the newspapers about this interference by an external sovereign state with existing Irish state inquiries into clerical child abuse, there has been no comment from either government buildings in Dublin or Leinster House.

Forgotten is the public outrage voiced in the Dail at the time of the publication of the Murphy Report into the archdiocese of Dublin, which criticised both the Vatican Congregation of the Doctrine of the Faith and the Papal Nuncio to Ireland for failing to respond to questions related to its inquiry as a body established by the Government.

The burning question of subordinating canon law to Irish law is being fudged. There is also the need for the Vatican investigators to inform the gardai of any files they read which incriminate any cleric whose abuse has been concealed until now.

Furthermore, this unprecedented apostolic visitation is not just a diplomatic dilemma for the Government, it also poses implications for the Cameron Government and the Stormont Executive, which is considering holding its own investigation into clerical abuse in the north.

Will Peter Robinson and Martin McGuinness fail to recognise the towering frame of Cardinal Murphy O'Connor when he pays his visit to Cardinal Brady in his archdiocese of Armagh? Will Cardinal Murphy O'Connor be feted at Hillsborough Castle or Stormont Castle?

Apart from the vexed issue of Church-state relations, the all-clerical format of the Apostolic Visitation raises serious questions for lay Catholics, who have been told their passive role is to pray for the success of the Papal investigators.

The popular demands for married male clergy and women priests are certainly not being entertained by the American prelate charged by Pope Benedict with investigating Irish seminaries.

Archbishop of New York Timothy Dolan has made it known that the spiritual medicine he will prescribe for priests and sacerdotal trainees is “to return to basics” grounded in “prayer, humility and a rediscovery of identity”.

What people most want in their priest is “a hopeful holy man with a smile”, Dolan pontificated, to thunderous applause from Cardinal Brady during a keynote address in Maynooth last month.

With politicians silent and lay Catholics left out in the cold, the much-vaunted reform of the Church is being constructed by investigatory henchmen, with the fawning backing of Irish Church leaders. It is being reconstructed in the clericalist conservative image of Pope Benedict.

Even Sherlock Holmes is silenced

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