For the third year in a row, Irish President Michael D Higgins has failed to mention "God," "Christ" or "Christianity" in his annual Christmas address to the nation, causing public dismay and speculation on the the president's beliefs.
The president has declined to comment on his views. It is "inappropriate" to question the president about his religious views, a spokesperson at Aras an Uachtarain (the Irish President's residence) told the Irish Independent.
Irish Prime Minister Enda Kenny also made no mention of religion in his Christmas message.
Msgr Eoin Thynne, Head Chaplain to the Defence Forces, commented on the absence of any reference to the Christian faith in the president's message during his Christmas Eve homily at Windy Arbour Church in Dublin. Defence Forces Chief-of-Staff Lieut Gen Conor O'Boyle has since conveyed regret for any embarrassment this may have caused the president.
Msgr Thynne has since voiced concerns about the crib allegedly being removed from the Defence Forces headquarters in Newbridge, Co Kildare, saying that others had brought the issue to him. A forces spokesman declined to comment on the crib, the Irish Independent reports.
While Irish leaders opted to omit mentions of religion in their Christmas addresses, global leaders around the world did not shy away from reference to Christ and the Bible.
US President Barack Obama reflected on the meaning of Christmas, saying, "This is our chance to celebrate the birth of Christ and to live as he taught us to love our neighbours as ourselves, to feed the hungry and look after the sick, to be our brother's keeper and our sister's keeper. For all of us as Americans, regardless of our faith, those are values that can drive us to be better parents and better friends, better neighbours and better citizens."
Britain Prime Minister David Cameron said in his Christmas address that millions of people building the big society are living up to the teachings of Christ and quoted the 'Acts of the Apostles' from the New Testament.
The Queen also made references to Christ. "For Christians, as with all people of faith, reflection, meditation and prayers help us to renew ourselves in God's love as we strive daily to become better people," she said.
She also made reference to the nativity story, saying: "On the first Christmas in the fields above Bethlehem, as they sat in the colds of night watching their resting sheep, the local shepherds must have had no shortage of time for reflection. Suddenly all this was to change. The humble shepherds were the first to hear and ponder the wondrous news of the birth of Christ, the first Noel -- the joy of which we celebrate today."
Germany's Chancellor Angela Merkel wished the public "God's blessings."
Pope Francis in Rome reached out to non-believers and people of other faiths in his message.
"I invite even non-believers to desire peace," he said in the annual address at St Peter's Square.
A spokesperson for Aras an Uachtarain said President Higgins had nothing to add to his message, but did refer to a passage in his Christmas address, issued on December 22, that referenced the spiritual dimension.
"The message of Christmas, shared by many faiths, invites us to care for one another and to be, in an ethical sense, one another's keepers," it said.
The president's decision not to include Christ has been met with dismay by many.
David Quinn, of the IONA institute, told the Sunday Independent: "All over the Western world political leaders are not so hidebound by political correctness that they feel they must leave out any direct reference to the religious aspect or Christian aspect of Christmas but our leaders, whether the Taoiseach or the President, sanitise their speeches for fear of causing offence to the very easily offended. Because who in fact would be offended by a direct reference to Christianity in a Christmas message except a dyed-in-the-wool crank?"
Here’s the president’s Christmas address posted on the Áras an Uachtaráin’s YouTube channel: