Declassified papers discuss Pope’s possible 1989 intervention over violence in NI #20yearrule

The Apostolic Nuncio to Ireland, Archbishop Gerada – effectively the Vatican’s ambassador to Ireland – had lunch with Secretary of State Tom King in Belfast to discuss a “possible initiative by the Holy See over violence in Northern Ireland”.

Details of the discussions are revealed in CENT/1/16/23A file [selective scan] that has now been released under the 30/20 Year Rule and can be viewed in the Public Records Office.

Gerada was the first Nuncio to attend a Remembrance Day service in Ireland, being present at the Church of Ireland St Patrick’s Cathedral in Dublin a few days before on 12 November 1989. He further boosted his good reputation by reaching out diplomatically to test out his proposition for the Pope “to make some new move to condemn the IRA”.

Writing to the NIO, the UK ambassador to Ireland Nicholas Fenn argued that Protestant church leaders – particularly “the Presbyterians” – would not accept an ecumenical invitation to stand alongside the Pope and Catholic Cardinals and Archbishops.

He was mindful that “the Pope’s classical denunciation of the use of violence has been qualified by his views on the right to resist injustice; and this this has been used by the apostils of ‘Liberation Theology’ in Latin America as well as by apologists for the IRA (but is strongly rejected by John Hume)”.

While Fenn could “see no reason why the Nuncio in Dublin should not be encouraged to move the Papacy and the Catholic hierarchy here to stiffen its condemnation of terrorism”, he was mindful of “the failure of the Catholic Church to excommunicate terrorists”.

But the Pope could perhaps renew his “On my knees” appeal against terrorism from ten years before and it could perhaps be extended to all Irish Catholic Bishops and open the door for “parallel but independent appeals … from the major Protestant churches”.

Weeks later on 15 January 1990, community relations officer Tony McCusker reasoned that he “just cannot see the church considering the excommunication option” not only because of NI sensitivities, but also because the Catholic church would be “reluctant to set a precedent which forces them to take a side in many other conflicts” around the world. He reasoned that “excommunication has been used to correct individuals who offend more against dogma than the commandments, the latter being capable of forgiveness on account of the ‘man is weak’ concept”.

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  • wild turkey

    ‘.. he was mindful of “the failure of the Catholic Church to excommunicate terrorists”.’

    this is a simple & genuine question,

    what other christian denominations/communions were expected to excommunicate terrorists?

    this is not an attempt to stir up a shitstorm of whataboutery (a reason i rarely comment now on anything on Slugger), but a genuine question.

    keep it informative and enlightened and polite. ok?

  • Abucs

    Reminds me of the time when elements of the fourth crusade joined with the deposed king of Constantinople to attack the city and put him back on the throne. Threats of ex-communication from the pope turned some of the mutinous crusaders back but they arrived at the gates of Constantinople, received official letters of ex-communication and then proceeded to sack the city anyway.

    In order to change people’s minds, to some degree you have to talk their language and show some understanding. I think the church could have been better at that in Northern Ireland but heck it’s difficult to be too critical of groups who at least tried to some degree.