Ireland's invite to Pope could signal defrosting relations

Celtic Cross on the hill at Cashel, Tipperary, Ireland. Credit: Tom Haymes (CC BY-NC-SA 2.0).

After years of tension, news that Irish Prime Minister Enda Kenny has invited Pope Francis to visit the country may be a sign that relations between the Holy See and Ireland are returning to normal.

Within just months of the re-opening of Ireland's Vatican embassy, Prime Minister Kenny announced the invitation to the Pope at a press conference held at the Irish College in Rome April 27.
 
According to the Irish times, the Prime Minister said he told Pope Francis that his papacy had brought about “an extraordinary difference to the perception of the Catholic Church,” and that in Ireland now there is “a clearer and healthier relationship between Church and State.”
 
Ireland's government announced on Jan. 21 the re-opening of its embassy to the Holy See in Rome, which had been closed in November of 2011 due to what was claimed to be economic reasons.
 
The decision to close the embassy at the time, and thus not have a resident diplomat, came after years of friction between Holy See and Ireland especially with regard to local sex abuse scandals.

On May 6, Emma Madigan – who previously served as assistant chief of protocol at the Department of Foreign Affairs and Trade – was announced as the country's new Vatican ambassador.

The closure of the Irish embassy to the Holy See has been seen in the context of a deterioration in relations between Rome and Dublin since the publication of the Murphy Report in November 2009, but Pope Francis' efforts seem to have brought to the forefront the Vatican's diplomatic efforts.

“The Church has moved to deal with the many problems of the legacy, the scars of the sex abuse crisis,” Prime Minister Kelly said. “The Pope has made it clear that he expects the future of the Church not to be based solely on these issues but rather on poverty and human rights, social justice and social equality and he has brought an extraordinary energy to those areas since his election to the papacy.”
 
A. Alexander Stummvoll, a postdoctoral fellow for the Millennium Nucleus for the Study of States and Democracy in Latin America, told CNA April 28 that issues such as “mercy, social justice, and solidarity” appear to be the “emerging priorities” of Pope Francis' pontificate.

Stummvoll noted that this “may have been decisive in leading the Irish government to re-open its embassy to the Vatican, and also to 'normalize' the relations between the two states.”

The Irish foreign affairs department has lauded the re-opening of the country's embassy to the Holy See, saying the move will “enable Ireland to engage directly with the leadership of Pope Francis on the issues of poverty eradication, hunger, and human rights.”


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