Pope and Crown clinch breakthrough
By Christopher Howse THE HOLY SEE and the United Kingdom have achieved diplomatic relations on an ambassadorial level, only weeks before the first visit by a reigning Pope to Britain. But the change is not thought to have any bearing on Vatican attitudes to Northern Ireland.
The elevation of the representative of the Holy See in Britain from Apostolic Delegate to Pro-Nuncio was announced by Pope John Paul in his annual speech to the diplomatic corps in the Vatican on Saturday. The UK minister to the Holy See will now become an ambassador.
The present representative of the Holy See to the Catholic communities of England and Wales and Scotland, Archbishop Bruno Heim, is expected to be confirmed as ProNuncio shortly and to present his credentials to the Court of St James's in the next few weeks, before the Pope's visit.
While the change in status is seen as the result of many years' patient negotiation, the Pope's visit clearly accelerated the process. At the same time the change makes little practical difference to the work of the Apostolic Delegation, now a Nunciature, in Wimbledon.
In a letter to British bishops this week, the Nunciature explained the move as the removal of an anomaly. Diplomatic relations already existed through the British Minister, Sir Mark Heath, in Rome. The Nunciature this week was very pleased at the news but made no comment.
Cardinal Hume said: "This developinent furthers the very good relations which already exist between our nation and the Holy See. Such a step would not have been possible without the growing friendship and co-operation between all the churches which has become such an important feature of our national life today."
The Rev Ian Paisley commented in Canada that the development was "a direct violation of the Williamite revolution settlement". This was tame talk in comparison with the judgment of one of Mr Paisley's associates, the Rev James McClelland, when Archbishop Heim received diplomatic immunity two years ago. He had called it: "A further step in the manifestation of the Pope as anti-Christ."
The Archbishop of Canterbury, Dr Robert Runcie, said that he felt the matter was primarily a diplomatic and political one without direct bearing on relations between the churches. But he hoped that the establishment of full diplomatic relations would increase the possibility of ecumenical progress when Pope John Paul II visits the United Kingdom. , The new Pro-Nuncio's relations with Northern Ireland. are precisely regulated by his double function as representative of the Holy See both to the Crown and to the Catholic communites of Great Britain. He will be able to discuss Government policy in Northern Ireland, but relations between the Holy See and the Catholics of Ireland, which is organised as a single hierarchy covering North and South, will continue to be conducted through Dr Gaetano Alibrandi. Nuncio in Dublin.
Suggestions that the decision to appoint a Pro-Nuncio. in London could have been mainly due to a British belief that the Vatican has been getting an unbalanced account of northern affairs from Dr Alibrandi have been discounted by Church authorities in Dublin.
One source pointed out that the British Government already has access to the Apostolic Delegate in London and the upgrading of status of the senior Vatican diplomat in Britain would make little difference to the flow of information. to Rome.
The move has in fact been welcomed by Cardinal 0 Fiaich and by the Irish government.