At another time, I wouldn't have any great problem with closing the Irish embassy to the Holy See (Vatican).
But this is hardly the time, for a variety of reasons:
- it appears to be another piece of Government gesture politics: an indication of something being done on foot of the revelation of the horrendous abuse of children over the years, for which the Vatican must take some responsibility.
- it is coming just before the International Eucharistic Congress which will take place in Dublin in June. The first since 1932.
- it has offended a large number of Roman Catholics who see it as part of an aggressive secular agenda within Government, and the Labour Party in particular.
- it is a divisive distraction within Government when their undivided attention should be devoted to more important matters.
- the cost cutting rationale offered is clearly a load of cobblers and is only contributing to undermining trust in the Government.
Having said all that, it is a disgrace that the Vatican does not permit the Rome embassy to service both Italy and the Holy See.
But underlying all this is the more fundamental question of why the Holy See should have any ambassadors accredited to it at all. The Roman Catholic Church is a private organisation and should not have any entitlement to the trappings of State. I don't see Rowan Williams looking for recognition as a Head of State.
In fact, there is a strong case for abolishing the Vatican and for the Pope to take to the road like the mendicant friars of old, or even the Dalai Lama.