Standing up for the Holy See

The relatively new Catholic ‘lay initiative’, Ireland Stand Up came to my attention first through Twitter – its account there having followed mine.

Ireland Stand Up - the name seeming to conjure up that version of Irish nationalism of yore where Catholicism was an assertion of 'Irishness' - cannot be too well staffed. It has a pitiful number of Facebook followers and has been up and running for little more than two months. Yet, they managed to draw 55 TDs and 20 Senators, including no less than Minister for Europe Lucinda Creighton, to a meeting in Buswell's hotel near Leinster House last week. Creighton offered her support to the group’s agenda, namely that the Irish government ought to (eventually) reverse its callous decision to nix the Irish embassy to the Holy See!

When you hear of valuable advocacy networks for prison reform; or immigrants say, failing to attract even a tenth of these numbers (let alone endorsements) at meetings in Leinster House then something is seriously awry.

Ireland Stand Up’s argument creaks and limps; from what I can discern, they hold that Ireland needs to re-instate the embassy for three main reasons: a) not doing so offends Catholics; b) the historical legacy of Vatican-Irish relations must be accorded due respect and c); the Vatican holds value which we ignore at our peril, in the form of a diplomatic 'listening post' and as an international ally. Dr. Vincent Twomey, writing in The Irish Times last year, even conjectured (for that is the only word for it) that the Vatican was instrumental in contracts being awarded to Irish business abroad!

To respond in turn to each: a) is a trite, precious, argument which, if it is to be deployed, demands that we yield to a hierarchy of offence. I modestly suggest that those parents who are seeing Special Needs Assistant posts being cut are (rightly) more offended. But argument from opprobrium is a red herring anyway.

b) Is a shoddy argument from tradition. We have always done so; therefore we must continue to do so. What has the Vatican ever done for us though, out of interest? Professor Emeritus Dermot Keogh (UCC) - not exactly the most anti-Catholic of voices (I can vouch for it) - documented only indifference to the Irish revolutionary struggle in the Holy See between 1916 and 1923. His book on our foreign relations with the Vatican is a worthwhile investment for scholars.

Afterwards, our leaders kow-towed appropriately to get votes from what was (without doubt) a devoutly Catholic population. The trouble is that this year, on the 80th anniversary of the political wheeze that was the 1932 Eucharistic Congress, Ireland is very different. Tradition no longer holds for our circumstances, and that's a good thing.

The last argument, c) threatens to be the most substantive from the perspective of international relations. Some international relations theorists are averse to altering a cherished paradigm in the face of fact; and Ireland Stand Up seems to fall into that camp. The truth is that Catholic perspectives are, to use a five-dollar word, eschatological: i.e. a belief in the incremental perfection of human relations (and salvation of human individuals) in anticipation of last judgement.

Arguments appealing to rational theories of 'interests' and 'power' might then be disingenuously invoked to achieve the end of giving the Holy See access to our political system. I doubt even Dr. Vincent Twomey of Maynooth sincerely believes that the Vatican brings much hard currency to Irish shores through building and development contracts in sub-Saharan Africa.

The listening post argument is also utter bunkum when we Ireland is accredited to NATO, OECD, and EU institutions, the International Red Cross and all United Nations machinery. The network provided by these organisations makes the Vatican diplomatic corps rather redundant.

The elephant in the room, therefore, is theology. But Ireland Stand Up seeks to cast its campaign instead as Ireland taking its place, almost, amongst the free nations of the world in defiance of austerity. Their narrative hones in very much on that – on how Enda Kenny is a 'greasy till' Catholic for saving mere shekels compared to the spiritual riches ensconced in 109 acres in central Rome.

I can't help but feel I'm not the only one rolling my eyes though and saying, 'Wha? Please.'

James Cussen holds an MA in International Relations from UCC – and you can access his thesis: Considering a Catholic Theory of International Relations: Holy See Diplomatic Activity at the UN and elsewhere since 1945 at the following public link.

Image top: infomatique.