Forgive me Father but I will not sin: Why a devout Catholic makes a poor choice of ambassador to the Vatican.
Australian Foreign Minister Bob Carr has appointed his long time friend John McCarthy QC ambassador to The Holy See. McCarthy has been a life-long barrister, and an adviser to the Australian Labour Party , in particular the ALP in the State of New South Wales of which Carr was premier.
He is also a devout Catholic ,and a friend and adviser to Sydney Archbishop George Cardinal Pell. MCarthy’s son is a priest, who himself spent a number of years in Rome. According to the Sydney Morning Herald McCarthy “has been involved in international Catholic organisations, and received a papal knighthood in 2006 for services to the Catholic Church in Australia and the Australian community.”
All this may make him seem the ideal candidate for the post, but however, he is being sent to the Vatican as a diplomat, not missionary.
Indeed , as a diplomat representing Australian interests he may well have to act against the interest of the Vatican. It is unlikely that Australian interests and that of the Vatican will always coincide. The Iraq War (or Gulf War 2) is one such example. While the Vatican and then Pope John Paul II opposed the war, the Australian Government decided that it was in Australia’s national interest to support the US led invasion . If Australia had an ambassador at the Vatican at that point of time he or she would have needed to gather intelligence from within the Vatican to determine the motivations for the Vatican’s position, and then used that information to either change if not undermine that stance. It is hard to see McCarthy doing anything of that sort.
Indeed , it is difficult to see how this life long barrister would even begin to appreciate what is required of him in the post he is to assume. A Vatican posting can serve many purposes. For instance it serves as an important centre for the exchange of information which career diplomats would instinctively identify and seek, but which a barrister whose work has been confined to the State of NSW is unlikely to be aware of.
Then, while having the honorific “Your Excellency” before one’s name may seem a logical extension to having the words “Queen’s Counsel” after, the role of diplomat and senior barrister require very different skills and temperament.Unlike barristers, particularly QCs , who are encouraged and indeed treasure a sense of aloofness from the rest of humanity, diplomats are expected to get themselves dirty in the furtherance of the national interest. For example, the Vatican has an extensive and unique network of diplomats, all of whom are priests , who are stationed in many parts of the world. Gaining an understanding of what they know would be very useful to Australian interests and it should be the task of the ambassador whoever he or she is to gain insight into that information by whatever means. That may require being less than honest with diplomat priesththys ,cardinals and the Pope himself.
It is hard to see a devout Catholic doing anything of that sort. Some may think this assessment unfair given that the McCarthy’s predecessor Tim Fischer is also Catholic. However. Fishcer had been amongst other things a minister for trade and a politician of many years experience. It is hard to see that he would have let his faith get in the way of his work.
Disclosure: The writer is himself of the Catholic faith but understands the distinction between the Pope as head of the Roman Catholic Church and head of state.