A sea-change in Irish government-Catholic Church relations took place yesterday.
In the government’s official response to the Cloyne Report, Taoiseach Enda Kenny gave an unprecedented speech to the Dáil, excoriating the Vatican for its efforts to block co-operation with the investigation by civil authorities of clerical child abuse:
… for the first time in Ireland, a report into child sexual-abuse exposes an attempt by the Holy See, to frustrate an Inquiry in a sovereign, democratic republic, as little as three years ago, not three decades ago.
And in doing so, the Cloyne Report excavates the dysfunction, disconnection, elitism… the narcissism that dominate the culture of the Vatican to this day.
He rebuked the Holy See for putting the position of the Church above consideration of the children abused by priests.
The rape and torture of children were downplayed or ‘managed’ to uphold instead, the primacy of the institution, its power, standing and ‘reputation’.
There was anger, but it was controlled, as a steelily determined Taoiseach asserted the primacy of the Republic:
…this is not Rome.
Nor is it industrial-school or Magdalene Ireland, where the swish of a soutane smothered conscience and humanity and the swing of a thurible ruled the Irish-Catholic world.
This is the ‘Republic’ of Ireland 2011.
A Republic of laws… of rights and responsibilities… of proper civic order… where the delinquency and arrogance of a particular version… of a particular kind of ‘morality’… will no longer be tolerated or ignored.
In case the Vatican wasn’t hearing him clearly enough, Kenny saved the killer blow for last. This was the ‘kicking Bishop Brennan up the arse’ moment.
But the Taoiseach was aiming higher. Much higher:
Cardinal Josef Ratzinger said: ‘Standards of conduct appropriate to civil society or the workings of a democracy cannot be purely and simply applied to the Church.’
As the Holy See prepares its considered response to the Cloyne Report, as Taoiseach, I am making it absolutely clear, that when it comes to the protection of the children of this State, the standards of conduct which the Church deems appropriate to itself, cannot and will not, be applied to the workings of democracy and civil society in this republic.
Not purely, or simply or otherwise.
If Enda Kenny never manages to do another memorable thing as Taoiseach, he will still be remembered.
I am the Northern Ireland Programme Director of Amnesty International UK and an occasional human rights blogger at Amnesty Blogs: Belfast & Beyond.
I’m on Twitter at @PatrickCorrigan