Vatican role taken off Oz ambassador
THE role of the Australian Ambassador to Ireland is to be downgraded after her government elected to appoint a resident ambassador to the Holy See.
Traditionally, Australia's Ambassador to Ireland has had responsibility for relations with the Vatican also. However, Australian Prime Minister Kevin Rudd has decided that the Holy See position should be taken from Ambassador Anne Plunkett and given to former deputy prime minister Tim Fischer.
The move means that Ms Plunkett will no longer be the strongest link between the Australian government and Pope Benedict XVI.
But the Australian Department of Foreign Affairs have confirmed that she is to remain on as ambassador to Ireland.
The announcement was made directly to the Pope as he left Australia where he spent the past week celebrating World Youth Day.
It has been described as "a significant deepening of Australia's relations with the Vatican" by Prime Minister Rudd.
However, Mr Fischer has already caused some disquiet by downplaying his Catholic faith. Mr Fischer, who is the former Nationals leader, confessed that he was a "less than a perfect practising Catholic".
He said: "I am Australia's representative to the Holy See before I am a Catholic representative. There's only one true perfect practising Catholic, and he has just left Sydney this morning."
Ms Plunkett was only in the position a little over two years. Her letters of credence were accepted by Pope Benedict XVI in May 2006.
However, she is now expected to stand down in early 2009, clearing the way for Mr Fischer to take up his appointment.