Monday, December 31, 2012

Snubs and confusion in lead up to 1979 papal visit

One of the files in the state papers just released by the Department of Foreign Affairs relates to the visit of Pope John Paul II to Ireland in September 1979.

There was considerable confusion about the plans for the visit.

After months of speculation the Irish ambassador at the Vatican, John Molloy, informed Dublin in late July that he had information from “a very reliable source” that the Pope intended to stop in Ireland for a few days while on his way to address the United Nations Organisation in New York.

“Our informant then said that he had been told on Sunday last that the Cardinal and myself had been informed on Saturday,” Molloy reported.

“I said that I had not been informed and that so far we had not got any official communication.”

There is no hint of the identity of the “very reliable source” in the file just released.

But two years ago the Department of Foreign Affairs released papers from the Vatican embassy and those contained a memorandum that was clearly used to draft the coded telegram.

That memo identified the source as Fr Dermot Martin, who was then based at the Vatican and has since become Archbishop of Dublin.

Fr Romeo Panciroli, the head of the Vatican press office, had told him that he was present on Jul 21, when the deputy secretary of state was about to telephone the Irish ambassador and Cardinal Tomás Ó Fiaich with the news.

But nobody called the ambassador.

The incident could easily be dismissed as an oversight, if it was not in the midst of a series of snubs.

Lynch was pointedly not invited to the ceremony surrounding the elevation of Archbishop Ó Fiaich to the college of cardinals on June 30, 1979.

On Jun 20, Fr Clyne, the secretary to the cardinal-elect, informed the taoiseach’s private secretary that “Archbishop Ó Fiaich was not expecting the taoiseach to visit Rome for the consistory”.

In 1965, then taoiseach Seán Lemass had attended the elevation of Cardinal William Conway.

Lynch was obviously miffed, because his office publicly announced: “Had an invitation been issued for the recent consistory, the taoiseach would have been very happy to accept.”

Arrangements for the Pope’s visit to his native Poland in June 1979 had been left in the hands of the Polish hierarchy, which set up a commission to liaise with the communist government.

The Vatican seemed to be treating the Dublin government like the communists.

Lynch had little influence on the papal visit. He recommended, for instance, that the Pope should go to Northern Ireland, because otherwise Ian Paisley would exploit his absence as a personal victory. 


Lynch also suggested that Aer Lingus would fly the Pope to New York from Cork, and he offered to accompany the Pope to Cork.

The idea of visiting Northern Ireland seemed like a crazy invitation to trouble, especially in the aftermath of the murder of Earl Mountbatten and members of his family, along with the Warrenpoint killings only weeks earlier.

Moreover, it should be remembered that not very long afterwards the Pope was shot in the Vatican.

Cardinal Ó Fiaich argued that the Pope’s visit to Drogheda would suffice symbolically, because it was within the Archdiocese of Armagh. The Pope subsequently went to Limerick instead of Cork, and he flew out of Shannon.

Lynch had been snubbed again, but then maybe all of his suggestions were not that helpful.

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