02 May 2014, The Tablet

New era for Irish-Vatican relations as Kenny invites Francis to visit

Relations between Ireland and the Holy See appear to have turned a corner following an invitation to Pope Francis to visit the country and the lifting of sanctions against an Irish priest.

In the coming days the Irish Government is also due to appoint a new Irish Ambassador to the Holy See to head up a re-opened but scaled down delegation comprising of just one diplomat.

In November 2011 the Irish Government announced that it was shutting one of country’s oldest missions, ostensibly for financial reasons.

But the shock closure was widely perceived as a reaction to the findings of the Cloyne Report into clerical sexual abuse and the Vatican’s recall of the then apostolic nuncio, Archbishop Giuseppe Leanza, following the Taoiseach’s strongly worded criticisms of the church in his Dáil speech on the Cloyne report.

Of his invitation to Pope Francis to visit Ireland, Mr Kenny said he told the pontiff “that if the church authorities extended an invitation and he’s willing to travel, the Government will see to it that everything is done to make that visit a real success.” If the Pope were to travel to Ireland, the Taoiseach said he hoped Francis would visit Northern Ireland.

Speaking at the Irish College in Rome, Mr Kenny said relations between church and state in Ireland were now “closer and healthier” and that the Church in Ireland had moved to “deal with the many problems of the legacy, the scars of the sex abuse crisis”.

In another sign of improved relations between Rome and the Irish Church, it has been confirmed that the Vatican has lifted its sanctions against a censured Irish priest, 86-year-old Fr Sean Fagan.

The move follows what is understood to have come from the personal intervention of the Pope and a letter written to Francis by the former Irish president Mary McAleese. 

Sanctions were imposed on Fr Fagan, a member of the Marist Order, by the Vatican in 2008 due to his contentious views on sexual morality, as set out in his 2008 book, Whatever Happened to Sin.

Fr John Hannan, Marist Superior General, confirmed on Monday that the Congregation for the Doctrine of Faith had removed the threat to laicise Fr Fagan at Easter.

Fr Fagan has not responded to the news publicly as his health is said to be poor. He is one of six priests to have been censured by the Vatican in recent years.

Above: Francis greets Enda Kenny after last Sunday's canonisations. Photo: The Irish Catholic

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