Irish Vatican embassy closure saddens dwindling Catholic faithful in Dublin
In the week that Ireland announced it was closing its embassy to the Vatican, the pews at Dublin’s main Roman Catholic church are less than a third full for Sunday morning mass. There is no one under 30 in the congregation. Revelations of child abuse and rape by Irish priests and Christian Brothers, a Catholic religious order, have shattered the dominant role of the Church in Ireland, which was found by successive investigations to have covered up the crimes.
The government insists the closure of the Vatican mission was to save money as part of an economic austerity drive. But few Mass-goers at Dublin’s Pro-Cathedral believe that was the only reason. “It’s a pity. It’s another aspect of Catholicism being swept away. It’s the end of an era,” says Kathleen Ryan, 75.
Ireland’s fight for independence against centuries of Protestant English rule and the English Crown’s historic suppression of Catholicism has bound the religion to the country’s national identity. Historically, the Irish government’s relationship with the Vatican was hand in glove.
In 1937, the government consulted the archbishop of Dublin while drafting the constitution, which recognized the special position of the Catholic Church, a clause that was only removed in the early 1970s. Ireland’s membership of the European Union and the growing influence of secular thinking helped slowly to dismantle Catholic-influenced laws. A ban on homosexuality ended in 1993; a bar on divorce was lifted in 1995.
But a litany of abuse scandals in more recent times has brought relations with the Vatican to an all-time low. Two inquiries in 2009 condemned priests and religious orders of brothers and nuns for beating, starving and in some cases raping children over decades.