President Robinson "cheap"
Fr. O'Hanlon caused particular controversy when in an Irish Times article in 1997 he labelled the President of Ireland "cheap", writing that she had visited the Papal Apartments "bedizened in Kelly green, showy jewellery and — to boot — a sprig of vegetation". He accused Mary Robinson of a series of acts:
- dressing inappropriately for a visit to Pope John Paul II by not wearing black and not wearing a mantilla,
- showing the Pope disrespect by not paying a state visit to him earlier in her term of office,
- breaking Vatican protocol by visiting the Vatican while on a state visit to Italy, and of
- breaking Vatican protocol by not being accompanied by her chaplain and by not visiting the tomb of Saint Peter.
He alleged that she wanted to get herself turned away from the Vatican for being "improperly dressed" (possibly to make herself a hero to Irish liberals or to avoid receiving papal criticism of Irish state policies on the family and marriage). He even claimed there was precedent for a high-ranking woman visitor to the Pope being turned away for being improperly dressed. He claimed it had happened to Princess Paola of Belgium when she went to meet Pope John XXIII in the early 1960s.
Most of O'Hanlon's claims have been disputed.
- Vatican dress codes for both men and women were relaxed early in Pope John Paul II's pontificate. While most female royalty still abide by the traditional dress code (black dress, mantilla) most female republican heads of state or First Ladies do not. Raisa Gorbachova famously wore red (photo). Robinson's dark green outfit had been judged perfectly acceptable by the Vatican. Whereas earlier presidents of Ireland, notably Éamon de Valera in the 1960s (see image), were required by Vatican protocol to wear white Tie and decorations (honours), the male equivalent of the traditional black dress and manilla. Robinson's immediate predecessor, Patrick Hillery, was also allowed to wear less formal attire. In his case, Hillery wore a lounge suit for his April 1989 visit. When Taoiseach Bertie Ahern wore the traditional white tie to the ceremony raising the Archbishop of Dublin to the cardinate, he found himself to be only guest wearing it. All the other official guests without exception had worn lounge suits. According to The Examiner when Robinson's successor, Mary McAleese visited the Pope "the Vatican had earlier told the President's advisers that a traditional lace mantilla was not a requirement."
- State visits are only paid by invitation. Robinson's visit was an "private" visit. Robinson was not invited to pay a state visit during her term because the last state visit by an Irish president had occurred in April 1989, one year before her term started, the next invitation to an Irish president to pay a state visit was not due for a decade, meaning that whoever was elected in the 1990 presidential election would not be receiving an invitation to pay a state visit to the Holy See.
- Presidents only are accompanied by their chaplain and visit the tomb of Saint Peter on state visits, not private visits.
- World leaders regularly pay personal visits to meet the Pope while on a state visit to Italy, contrary to O'Hanlon's claims.
- Princess Paola of Belgium was never turned away from an audience with Pope John XXIII. While on a private trip to Rome as a tourist whose identity was unknown she went to St. Peter's Basilica. An attendant declined her admittance because her arms were uncovered. Vatican protocol did not allow women with uncovered arms to enter the basilica. Neither the attendant nor the Vatican knew at the time that the tourist was a member of the Belgian Royal Family (and future queen). When the Pope discovered what had happened he apologised and invited her to an audience.
The fact that it was a personal visit and not a state visit was shown in two ways:
- the papal dress on the day: on state visits popes wear a form of choral dress (red mozzetta) with stole. Pope John Paul II wore a standard white cassock during his meeting with President Robinson, indicating that the meeting was not at state visit level;
- the awarding of a papal order to the visiting head of state. President de Valera, for example, was one of the last heads of state to be awarded the Order of Christ, by Pope John XXIII, while President Seán T. O'Kelly was awarded the Pian Order (3rd Class) by Pope Pius XII. Papal awards during state visits are automatic, with details negotiated between the governments of the state whose head of state is visiting and the government of the Holy See. No award was offered to President Robinson, nor was one expected.
The distinction between the two types of papal visit, state and non-state, is shown in the language used in describing such visits. The Catholic Press Office in Dublin, in listing papal engagements, describes state visits in the format State visit of French President Jacques Chirac (20 January 1996) etc. In contrast non-state visits are variously described as audiences, someone being received by the Pope, or simply a visit. For example, Pope receives Lien Chan, vice president and prime minister of the Republic of China (14 January 1997), Visit by Israeli Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu (3 February 1997), Pope receives King Albert II and Queen Paola of the Belgians (15 May 1998). Robinson's visit on 10 May 1997 was described with the words Ireland's President Mary Robinson received by Holy Father, clearly indicating it was simply an informal visit, in which she was visiting, and so being received by, Pope John Paul, not a formal state visit surrounded by all the ritual associated; visits to Peter's tomb, a large formal delegation, formal dress (black or otherwise), swapping of honours, state banquets, etc.
Read more about this topic: David O'Hanlon (priest)
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