Ó Fiaich ‘insinuated’ himself into pope’s entourage for Australia visit

State papers 1986: Correspondence from Irish ambassador said cardinal was not invited

The late Cardinal Tomás Ó Fiaich managed to "insinuate himself" into a visit by Pope John Paul II to Australia, even though he was not invited, a letter from the Irish embassy to Dublin said.

Confidential correspondence from ambassador Joseph Small to secretary of the Department of Foreign Affairs Sean Donlon on December 9th, 1986, said Cardinal Ó Fiaich had "conveniently managed to be in the country on a private visit".

The pope arrived in Australia for a week-long trip on November 24th of that year. Mr Small described it in his letter as having been regarded there as a “major success”.

“Although no foreign cardinals were officially invited to Australia for the papal visit, apart from those automatically involved in the pope’s official entourage, Cardinal Ó Fiach (sic) did manage to insinuate himself,” he wrote.


“I had heard about six months ago that he was keen to come to Australia for the visit and that in the absence of an official invitation from the Australian hierarchy – they did not even acknowledge his letter, I have since learned confidentially – conveniently managed to be in the country on a private visit.”

Concelebrated Mass

The cardinal concelebrated Mass with the pope in Sydney – an event attended by 250,000 people and the biggest gathering of the whole tour. But there was "no reference whatsoever in the media to his presence, to the best of my knowledge", Mr Small wrote.

He suggested the "influential position" of Monsignor John Magee [the Newry-born private secretary to the pope] was "not, I am sure, unhelpful in that connection".

The letter also outlined a conversation Mr Small had with Monsignor Magee when the pope addressed the diplomatic corps in Canberra on November 25th.

He wrote that the discussion had "moved naturally to the pope's visit to Ireland in 1979".

“He said that the pope was very keen to make a return visit to Ireland and had in fact brought up the matter three times in the recent past. This may, of course, be stale news to you but nevertheless I am reporting it for what it is worth.

“Whether there is any linkage between that and Cardinal Ó Fiach’s ‘private’ visit to Australia at this time is a matter of conjecture.”

Cardinal Ó Fiaich, a former archbishop of Armagh, died in 1990.