The former Vatican Secretary of State, Cardinal Angelo Sodano, sounded out Mary McAleese when she was President of Ireland about the possibility of a deal between the Holy See and the Irish government to prevent damning church and government archives from being released.
Cardinal Sodano, now 90, was Secretary of State from 1991 until 2006, when he was succeeded by Cardinal Tarcisio Bertone.
Speaking to The Irish Times, Dr McAleese revealed that Cardinal Sodano made the proposal at a private meeting during her state visit to Italy in 2003.
At the time, the Ryan Commission was investigating the treatment of children in industrial schools, reformatories and orphanages run by 18 religious congregations. In March 2003, ahead of Dr McAleese’s visit to Italy, the Ferns inquiry was set up to investigate clerical sexual abuse in the County Wexford diocese.
According to Dr McAleese, Cardinal Sodano indicated that he would like, and the Vatican would like, a concordat with Ireland. “I asked him why, and it was very clear it was because he wanted to protect Vatican and diocesan archives. I have to say that I immediately said the conversation had to stop,” Dr McAleese recalled.
She told The Irish Times that she had told the Vatican’s Secretary of State that she thought it would be “extraordinarily inappropriate” and “very, very dangerous to the Church”, if his proposal was pursued.
“I asked Mgr Joe Murphy of Cloyne [then secretary to Cardinal Sodano] who was in the room that day along with my husband and Dermot McCarthy, then secretary to the government, and I said: ‘Look, I have heard nothing about this subject.’”
She said she was “very unhappy” that it had been raised with her in private by the cardinal.
“I said to Joe Murphy, ‘Would you explain to the cardinal that the Church in Ireland is on the back foot. If this matter is pursued any further in this conversation or pursued outside of it, in my view the Church would be flat on its back.’ So, the matter was dropped there and I never heard any mention of it again.”
“What he [Cardinal Sodano] was asking for was an agreement between the Holy See and the Irish government under which church documentation would be protected by the Church and the state would, clearly, have no access to it. That was what he seemed to be saying,” she said.
Though the concordat was not pursued, Dr McAleese said the fact that it had been raised at all was “indicative of what did happen”.