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”.

Alan Meban. Normally to be found blogging over at Alan in Belfast where you’ll find an irregular set of postings, weaving an intricate pattern around a diverse set of subjects. Comment on cinema, books, technology and the occasional rant about life. On Slugger, the posts will mainly be about political events and processes. Tweets as @alaninbelfast.