Should we call him “your holiness” or “Pope Francis”? Internal emails reveal careful orchestration of Zappone meeting on papal visit

CHILDREN’S Minister Katherine Zappone was advised to get an Italian translation of “Is that a yes Pope Francis?” before presenting him with a letter about the Tuam Mother and Baby Home.

The Department also debated whether to refer to the Pontiff as Pope Francis or to use a more formal title like “your holiness” or “most holy father” in correspondence.

During the Papal visit in August, Ms Zappone had handed over a letter asking for reparations from the Vatican towards the excavation of the Tuam site and a suitable memorial.

Emails released by the Department reveal how the thirty-second meeting between the minister and the Pope had been carefully orchestrated in advance by Ms Zappone and her advisers.

One of her special advisers Patricia Ryan explained how they were “going to the top”.

“I think there is nothing to lose by asking him a direct question,” Ms Ryan said. “He may or may not offer a response. Even raising it with him is meaningful. It will, no doubt, be the first time that it has been raised with him.”

Minister Katherine Zappone wondered in an email whether it was “practical” to seek a direct response from Pope Francis on the Tuam scandal.

“Will that get us what we want?” she asked. “What is role of [the] Dublin Archbishop? Or, are we looking to make a more symbolic statement.”

In an earlier email, adviser Patricia Ryan said their key message would be that the church “step up to the plate”.

“Looking for a commitment on a course of action that has not yet been sanctioned by government will be risky,” she warned.

Ms Ryan also said that Minister Zappone should leave herself “room for manoeuvre” while still sending a strong message to the Pope.

Patricia Ryan drafted a short speaking note that the minister would say to the Pope when handing over her letter seeking reparations.

Ms Ryan said: “Presumably he will respond in the positive and this then opens the way for us to engage with the church at the highest level?”

She also said it would be worthwhile to get a translation for asking Pope Francis directly if he was agreeing to provide compensation if there was any confusion over his response.

In earlier emails, the minister’s press adviser Jerry O’Connor said that asking for a channel of communication to be opened was “perhaps about as far as you could go”.

He said: “To have the door opened – whether it ends [up] being through a Cardinal, the Archbishop or [Papal] Nuncio – would be a big success and allow for further more detailed engagement. It is the best possible outcome we could hope for from this very short engagement.”

Mr O’Connor also suggested it may not be appropriate to start the letter by saying “Dear Pope Francis”.

He suggested instead the use of either “Your Holiness” or “Most Holy Father” – which were “recommended for a non-Catholic when writing to the Pope”.

Minister Zappone was not fully convinced however. She responded: “May I sleep on this? I prefer dear pope Francis.”

In the end, they went with the minister’s preference of Pope Francis as internal discussions took place over whether the letter would actually be made public.

Her press adviser Jerry O’Connor said: “We also need to discuss together if and when we will be putting remarks in public domain.”

Asked for comment, a spokesman for the minister said they had nothing to add to the contents of the internal correspondence, which was released following an FOI request.