When the State’s Murphy Commission of Inquiry into clerical child sex abuse in the Diocese of Cloyne asked the Papal Nuncio to Ireland, Most Rev Dr Giuseppe Leanza ‘to submit to it any information you might have about the matters under investigation’. Leanza replied that ‘the Nunciature is unable to assist’. Leanza had treated the Inquiries of abuse in Dublin, Ferns and in industrial schools with silent contempt.
It is interesting to compare this sterile and hostile response with the dialogue which preceded the referendum to approve Bunreacht na hÉireann in 1937 before it was even put before Dáil Éireann. When the strategic interests of The Vatican are in play there is not reticence or reluctance on their part to speak vigorously.
Joseph Walshe (1886-1956) was a former Jesuit seminarian and solicitor who rose to the rank of Secretary of the Department of External Affairs from 1927 to 1946 and Ambassador to the Holy See from 1946 to 1954.
Walshe travelled to Rome in April 1937 and reported to his Minister, Éamon deValera on his discussions with Vatican apparatchiks’ about the draft Irish Constitution and particularly about Article 45 which was intended to confer State recognition on the Catholic Church (but was removed following a constitutional referendum in 1972)
Walshe’s discussions over the course of three days that month were with Cardinal Eugenio Pacelli (1876-1958), Vatican Secretary of State who was to become Pope Pius XII from 1939 to 1958. DeValera was seeking the approval of The Vatican insofar as it could be given, even though the Constitution did not completely accord with what Pacelli and Pope Pius XI considered to be ‘the complete Catholic ideal’.
Pacelli and the Pope argued that noting the ‘special position’ in Ireland of the Catholic Church in the draft Constitution ‘had no real value so long as there was not a formal acknowledgement of the RC Church as the Church founded by Christ’. They argued that Ireland was the Catholic Country of the world and they thought that deValera should make a special effort to give to the world a completely Catholic Constitution. They stated that according to the strict teaching of the Church the advocates of the draft Constitution were heretics to recognise any church but ‘the one true Church’ – although the Church would not take an heresy too seriously.
Pacelli promised to have a long talk with the Pope and to obtain his blessing for the Irish Government. But Pope Pius XI responded with the words ‘Ni approve ni non disapprove; tacermo’ – he did not approve or disapprove and went on to maintain silence and reflect a stance of complete neutrality. Pacelli argued that ‘neutrality’ should be interpreted as a crumb of consolation insofar as the Pope went as far as he could go.
On the question of marriage which the Vatican regarded in 1937 as one of the supreme tests of the Catholicism of the State the Cardinal also said the Irish Government of the day was also heretical. Cases of matrimonial nullity and of ‘ratum et nonconsummatum’ presumes that all marriages, Catholic and non-Catholic, are valid unless canonically proven invalid and that marriages celebrated within a church in Ireland are within the exclusive domain of the Church.
References to ‘other Christian churches’ could not be formally improved but they could tolerate the word ‘Bodies’.
Eleven years earlier when Ireland was seeking to establish diplomatic relations with the Holy See when the Kingdom of Italy granted independence on 7 June 1929 under the terms of the Lateran Treaty.
Walshe visited The Vatican in May 1929 and observed that Irish bishops were perceived by the Rome counterparts as second rate because, with the exceptions of the then Archbishop of Dublin, Dr Byrne and one other, none of them could converse in Italian. The Irish bishops were also believed to be wanting in intellectual weight and from a cultural perspective resulting in no Catholic literature or results of Catholic learning emerging from Ireland, which it was felt ought to have been the fountain of Catholic thought in the English speaking world in 1929. The role of the Irish State adopted to respond to this was to endeavour to get only the elite young students intellectually and culturally, sent to Rome. Roman studies, the State considered, should become a sine qua non of any candidate qualified to become a bishop, having attended the great ecclesiastical universities of Rome. Apart from helping the Nuncio to remind the Vatican of the Church’s duty to the State in Ireland, Irish Ministers efforts should centre on how Ireland could ‘find her proper position in Rome’. This was thought to be achievable if the diplomat succeeded in winning the support and goodwill of the 15 or 20 people who count in Rome and by fostering ‘friendly’, or at least ‘correct’ relations with his British counterpart so as not to be cut off from useful contacts and sources of information.