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Archbishop Martin on 75 years of diplomatic relations with Holy See

Thursday, November 11st, 2004
This is the text of Archbishop Diarmuid Martin's talk on the occasion of the 75th Anniversary of the establishment of diplomatic relations between Ireland and the Holy See, on  12th November 2004 in Rome.
 
 "We are all indebted to Professor Keogh for his presentation here this afternoon and for his original work over the years in examining the relations between Ireland and the Holy See, especially around the time of Irish independence and of the establishment of diplomatic relations between Ireland and the Holy See, seventy five years ago.
 
 It is well-known that not all of the Irish Bishops were enthusiastic about the establishment of diplomatic relationships with the Holy See.  Their reticence was much more linked with what a possible Apostolic Nuncio in Dublin might get up to rather than with the role of an Irish Ambassador at the Holy See.  I suppose that as one who has been both an Apostolic Nuncio and now a diocesan Bishop in Dublin – even if in both instances for a very short time – I have a little sympathy for, and know something of, the anxieties of both sides.
 
 The reticence of the Irish bishops was in a certain sense understandable.  Irish Bishops had fought over centuries against any situation which would permit political involvement – and that meant involvement of the British government – in the appointment of Bishops and in the day-to-day running of the Church in Ireland.  There had been various attempts to give government a more institutionalised role in the appointment of Bishops.  The model of Church-State cooperation in the appointment of Bishops that was adopted in the Concordat between the Holy See and Prussia, still applicable in Germany, is known by German canonists as die Irische Loesung, as it is based on a proposal which had been negotiated by the Holy See with the British government but which was successfully opposed by the Irish Bishops.
 
 There was an ambiguity in the attitude of the Bishops.  They would have agreed with the words of the Mr De Valera in welcoming Cardinal Lauri as Papal Legate to the Eucharistic Congress in Dublin in 1932 that
“The records of centuries past bear eloquent testimony to that loving zeal with which the Holy See has ever honoured our nation?.
But there was also an anxiety that the Holy See might be under pressure from larger and, in terms of international politics, more significant nations to take a less sympathetic view of Irish questions.    The Bishops felt that they and their representatives in Rome would be better at fighting such attempts to influence the Holy See than a Nuncio in Dublin might be.   It was feared that a British voice might somehow come out stronger within the complex mechanisms of diplomatic interaction in Rome and that a Nuncio might weaken the direct voice that the Irish Bishops had.
 
Ireland had built up its own range of contacts in Rome, through generations of those who had studied there, and who saw to it that, despite a tendency towards Realpolitik within the Holy See, there was always a certain true sympathy to the legitimacy of Irish requests for independence.  In the correspondence of the young Monsignor Gioavnni Battista Montini, later Paul VI, with a friend Andrea Trebeschi (Lettere a un giovane amicio, Brescia 1978) there is a letter dated 4th March 1921 in which Montini sends his friend a French review noting that “In this issue you will find a very useful documentation on the cause of Ireland? and a footnote in the book indicates that the magazine edited by Trebischi “maintained a lively exchange with the Irish independence movement?.
 
As Irish independence became a reality, relationships with the Holy See would inevitably become institutionalised, and the political relationship evolved.   Professor Keogh has addressed the question of Irish neutrality during World War II and of the possibilities offered by the two countries for humanitarian and peace initiatives during the Second World War.  We have, of course, always to remember the very great difficulties in communications which existed at that time and how the flow of information was so limited.
 
The relationships developed in the immediate post war period, influenced by the presence of two very strong and like-minded figures, Ambassador Joseph Walshe and Archbishop John Charles McQuaid.
 
Archbishop McQuaid organized funds for post war relief in various European countries, especially in Italy, sending, the documentation notes, “clothing, footwear and malt and cod liver oil?, and he arranged that cost of shipping the relief goods would be borne by the Government.  Monsignor Montini replied in 1947 thanking for the unselfish generosity of the Catholics of the Archdiocese of Dublin, but he did not mention directly the cod-liver oil. 
 
Archbishop McQuaid worked hard to arouse the interest of Irish public opinion in the fight against communism in Europe in the late 1940’s, when after a communist take over in Central and Eastern Europe there was the fear that a similar possibility could not be ruled out even for Italy itself.  Professor Keogh has illustrated the offer of the Irish government to go so far as to offer hospitality to the Pope should he feel it necessary to leave Italy.  On 11th April 1948, Archbishop McQuaid made a personal appeal on Irish state radio, with the full approval of the Irish government, to provide funds to help defeat the communists in the upcoming General Election in Italy.  Archbishop McQuaid send over £20.000 on that occasion and the total sent from Ireland was up to £60,000.  In replying, Monsignor Montini noted how much the “spirit of truly Christian solidarity? had been a “profound consolation and encouragement to [the Holy Father] amidst the sorrows and anxieties of these difficult times?. ?.   
 
I had often heard the personal memories of priests who were studying in Rome at the time of the 1948 elections who could tell of the activities which took place in the Irish Embassy to the Holy See which would not be typical of what should be happening in Diplomatic Representations. Church-State collaboration in the Embassy of Ambassdor Walshe was very practical.  It involved putting into place a communications network to support the anti-communists parties.
 
There was strong feeling that Ireland and the Holy See had a very similar viewpoint on many issues and that the role of the Irish Embassy was to find concrete ways in which that synergy could be strengthened.   Ambassador Walshe in 1946 wrote to Archbishop McQuaid concerning the appointment of Father Sean Gordon, a Dublin priest, to the Secretariat of State.  He expressed his satisfaction and his hope that further Irish candidates could be proposed for important roles in the Church headquarters. Walshe felt that this would be good for Church and State.  He added, in a very telling phrase, that the interests of Ireland and of the Church were so intertwined that he “could not separate these interests, even mentally.?
 
Times have changed, and I do not think that it is simply that our mental ability to distinguish has improved over the years! Today, there is a clear distinction of interests, but there is also a remarkable synergy on a number of issues of Irish foreign policy and the interests of the Holy See, especially in the multilateral area.
 
Both the Holy See and Ireland have above all a strong position on multilateralism and on the significance of the multilateral system for the protection of smaller nations as well as for the evolution of an equitable rules-based global order.     Ireland and the Holy See have similar viewpoints also on questions of disarmament, for example in the realm of Nuclear non Proliferation, where Ireland, under the then Minister Frank Aiken, played a pivotal role in the establishment of the non proliferation Treaty.
 
Ireland has traditionally played an important role in discussions on religious freedom, taking the lead role on the United Nations Human Rights Commission on the theme of religious freedom, seen in terms of a modern human rights framework.
 
Religious based links with developing countries, especially through missionaries and aid organisations, played an important role in the evolution of a lively government policy on development assistance. It was very interesting to note the almost instinctive reaction in Irish public opinion to any talk of fudging the expressed commitment of the Irish government to meeting, within a specific time-frame, the United Nations Commitment to arriving at 0.7% of national product for development purposes.  Development issues are vote winning or losing issues in Ireland, much more so than in other Western countries – much to our credit.
 
I can personally remember the role played by Ireland within the negotiating team of the European Union, and the fruitful cooperation with the Holy See, at the time of the Copenhagen World Summit for Social Development when for the first time a series of time bound commitments to certain developmernt goals was established, which set the path for the Millennium Development Goals. 
 
Ireland has traditionally defended a family-friendly policy within United Nations bodies, realising that in all societies around the world family cohesion is a factor for social stability, and that especially in developing countries the family plays a determinant role in the realisation of social goals.
 
The relations between Church and State in Ireland have changed since the times of the Walshe-McQuaid axis and they will change even more so in the future.  The appreciation of the value of responsible and mature Church-State cooperation has not diminished.  In the past, relations were so direct that there was very little felt-need to envisage structured relations between Church and State.  The Bishop knew the local TD, the Archbishop knew the Minister, what more could you need.  And of course the Minister knew the Archbishop and the local TD knew the Bishop for communications of the reverse order.   Churchmen – and here I use the term men deliberately – and politicians tend to prefer avoiding conflict on matters religious and feel that direct private discussions produced the best result.  The visitors’ book at Archbishop’s House in Dublin contains a long list of well-known callers whose mission remains to this day undocumented and unexplained.  And I am sure that not all callers were asked to sign, nor would they have been happy to sign, a visitor’s book which one day might be open to historical scrutiny.
 
We now need new forms of structured dialogue between Church and state which are consonant with the Irish Constitution and the praxis of mature modern pluralist democracies, as well as the evolution of theological reflection on Church State relations since Vatican II.
 
 The Catholic Church does not seek a position in today’s world which asks for a privilege which would not be given to other religious communities.  Recent Concordats and bilateral agreements between the Holy See and nations reflect that very clearly.  There is practically only one country in the world where Catholicism is recognised as the State religion, where there are many where this is the case with regard to Islam and to various protestant traditions.
 
 Article I-52 of the European Constitution accepts as normal the fact of a particular “status under national law of Churches and religious associations and communities in the Member States? and expresses also the hope that the Union itself “will maintain an open, transparent and regular dialogue with religious communities?.
 
 Difficulties will arise and it would be useful to have structures to address them.  I am at times surprised to hear Bishops from Northern Ireland note that their discussions on matters of mutual interest with the Northern Ireland Office and Administration seem much easier that this in certain areas with the government in Dublin
 
Perhaps the time has come to speak more openly of what structures for “open, transparent and regular? dialogue between Church and State could be established in Ireland.   Forms of structured dialogue could be found which would respect each of the religious confessions and faiths present in Ireland as well as being respectful of the specific autonomy which belongs to religious bodies.   My own experience in diplomacy is that the fundamental basis for good relations always depends on honesty, trust and transparency.  Those are the terms in which I would hope to deal with government and those are the terms under which the Church would expect to be treated in return.  Those are the terms on which healthy Church State relationships are fruitfully developed in modern pluralist democracies.  Pluralism is not secularism, religious language still has its proper place in the genuinely pluralist public square.  Those are the terms on which we might build on the fruitful relations between Ireland and the Holy See developed over the past 75 years and of which we can all be proud."