Wednesday, 19th June 2024

Reflections at an Anniversary

Address by H E Archbishop Giovanni LAJOLO, Secretary for the Holy See’s Relations with States (Pontifical Irish College, 15 March, 2005,)

Mr Ambassador and Mrs McDonagh,

Monsignor Bergin,

Ladies and Gentlemen:

1:  First of all, I would like to congratulate the Irish Embassy and the Irish College for this publication, which brings together the lectures and address delivered by various personalities last November, on the occasion of the Seventy-fifth Anniversary of the Holy See and Ireland

2:  As Foreign Minister Dermot Ahern said on that occasion, seventy-five years is “certainly a relatively short period in terms of Church history” and, if I may add, in terms of the relationship between the Holy See and the Irish Nation.  As we celebrate the Feast of Saint Patrick, sent to Ireland by Pope Celestine I in 432, we give thanks to God for more than a millennium and a half of genuine friendship and affection.  But this staggering length of time has not lessened the importance of marking seventy-five years of diplomatic relations.  Indeed, the celebrations gave us the opportunity to look back on how these relations have developed and to renew the willingness of both Parties to continue to improve them.

3:  In his lecture Ireland and the Holy See: A Multifaceted Relationship of Enduring Value and Importance, Professor Dermot Keogh recounts the historical context of the establishment of diplomatic relations and cites the reasons for its postponement until 1929, not least among them the fears on the part of the Irish Hierarchy that the Apostolic Nuncio could turn out into a sort of agent of British influence over episcopal appointments in Ireland.  Then there was the “ formidable opposition” of the Rector of the Irish College! On January 14, 1930 the new Apostolic Nuncio arrived in Dublin.  Professor Keogh describes the arrival of Dublin-born Paschal Robinson in these words: “There were no events to compete with the arrival of the

new nuncio.  In Dublin, he was greeted with wild enthusiasm.  Thousands thronged the streets to witness his progress through the city in an open carriage… Crowds turned out to greet him everywhere he went… he charmed and disarmed each of the Irish bishops.  They soon realized that they had nothing to fear from the new nuncio”.

One of the events I find very interesting was the drafting of the new Irish Constitution in 1937.  The Government wanted to know the mind of Pope XI on the wording of the religious article.  The Pope, having known that the Irish Hierarchy was divided and that there was a campaign to establish the Catholic Church, responded: né approvo né non disapprovo; taceremo – “I do not approve, neither do I not disapprove; we shall maintain silence”  The Government interpreted this response as a declaration of a neutral stance.  The Catholic Church was not established and the religious article was found to be acceptable to all churches.

Another extraordinary event was the very active involvement of Ambassador Joseph Walshe in the immediate post-war Italian politics, fearful that Italy might fall into the hands of the socialist-communist alliance in the 1948 election.  Thanks to his efforts fifty thousand pounds was collected in Ireland to “bolster the flagging electoral fortunes” of the Christian Democrats.  Needless to say, the Christian Democrats won!

4.Times have changed.  For a while the mutual esteem and shared values that have always lain at the heart of this relationship have stood the test of time, the frames of reference and the objectives have evolved.  In 1992 the establishment of diplomatic relations with the Holy See meant for the recently establish Irish Free State a statement of its identity and an assertion of its international stature.  Today, in a time of expanding multilateralism and growing interdependence, Ireland plays a role greater than one would expect from a country of its size and population.  The Holy See and Ireland have similar views on many issues of concern to the international solidarity.  In this context, the Holy See notes the Irish Government’s support for the admirable work of Irish missionaries and Church-linked agencies in poor countries.

5. Finally, the celebration of the Seventy-fifth Anniversary of diplomatic relations has afforded an excellent opportunity to reaffirm our common vision of maintaining responsible and mutually beneficial Church collaboration.  In view of this, some of the lectures and addresses included in this publication have alluded to the desirability of creating “structures” for an open and regular Church-State dialogue in Ireland.

Naturally, what is intended is not at the level of relations between Ireland and the Holy See, since these are dealt with by the Embassy and the Apostolic Nunciature. Rather, what is envisaged is a structured dialogue as contemplated in Article 52 of the European Constitutional Treaty, which would take place between the corresponding Church and State institutions on matters in various spheres of mutual interest.  Its primary objective would be to find solutions to difficulties that may arise, so as to assure in the best way possible the promotion of the human person and the common good of the entire Nation.

Sharing this objective in the spirit of profound friendship, both the Holy See and Ireland have reasons to look forward to even happier centenary celebrations of diplomatic relations.

Thank you for your attention!