The fiery speech on the floor of the Irish Parliament by Prime Minister Enda Kenny last week was in reaction to the government's latest report on sex abuse in the Irish church. The report found that the Vatican had deliberately tried to downplay and cover up the rape and torture of children by priests in Ireland, and found that it was doing so as recently as 2009. It also found that the Vatican was trying to interfere with the Irish government's investigation into the matter. This was apparently all too much for Kenny. Denouncing the "dysfunction, disconnection, elitism and narcissism" of the Vatican, Kenny told the parliament:
"This is not Rome. Nor is it industrial-school or Magdalene Ireland, where the swish of a soutane smothered conscience and humanity and the swing of a thurible ruled the Irish-Catholic world. This is the Republic of Ireland 2011. A republic of laws, of rights and responsibilities; of proper civic order; where the delinquency and arrogance of a particular version, of a particular kind of 'morality,' will no longer be tolerated or ignored."
The Vatican was reportedly shocked and enraged by the speech, which they called an "excessive reaction". The recall of the Vatican's ambassador, called a nuncio, is the first such instance for any country in modern history.
But Ireland has changed, and perhaps the Vatican has been slow to catch on to that. This was in glaring evidence by the public and parliamentary reaction to Kenny's speech, which was almost entirely supportive. Kenny is from the traditionally pro-church Fine Gael conservative party. Virtually the entire parliament supported him, and political analysts in Ireland are saying Kenny's speech will not lose him support either within his conservative party or with the public at large. He's put his neck out, and the Irish political class has followed him with evident relief. They are collectively denouncing the pope's influence in Ireland almost in the same way that parliamentarians across the Irish Sea are currently denouncing Rupert Murdoch's hold over Britain.
Granted, signs of Catholicism's hold over the island still abound on the island. It is one of just four European countries where abortion is still illegal (the others being Poland, Malta and Cyprus). The Catholic Church still runs 90% of primary schools in the country and half of all secondary schools. Yet many analysts predict that the days of Ireland's abortion ban are numbered, and that the country will enact a major education reform in the next few years removing the church's influence from the education system. Ireland also recently took the bold step of enacting same-sex civil unions, even after the Catholic Church warned the government against doing so.
ban on divorce in May after the church had campaigned to maintain it. Surely the Vatican must be looking nervously toward Poland these days to see if even its most reliably Catholic ally could show signs of turning against them.
Of course this is all part of a larger trend of the Catholic Church's influence in Europe declining. But Ireland, Poland, Malta and to a lesser extent Italy have been the Vatican's bulwarks against this trend – countries where the church still wielded significant influence in political life. Now even these last outposts of Catholic power seem to be turning away from the papacy.