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Vatican spokesman responds to Cloyne report, defends 1997 letter to bishops

Catholic World News - July 20, 2011

The director of the Holy See Press Office has issued a statement in response to the recently published report on abuse in the Diocese of Cloyne.

Noting that his statement was unofficial--“the Holy See’s response and considerations will be forthcoming in the most appropriate time and manner,” and “these considerations do not in anyway constitute an official response from the Holy See”--Father Federico Lombardi said that “it seems only right to recall and renew the intense feelings of grief and condemnation” expressed by Pope Benedict in remarks to Irish bishops and in his 2010 letter to the Church in Ireland.

Father Lombardi also noted the “concrete actions” taken by the Holy See in addressing the abuse scandal, including the apostolic visitation to the Church in Ireland--whose results “are at an advanced stage of study and evaluation”--and changes in the Church’s canonical and disciplinary norms made in 2001 and 2010.

The Vatican spokesman then turned to the “more distant past”: the 1997 letter by the late Archbishop Luciano Storero, then apostolic nuncio, to the Irish bishops, which relayed the concerns of the Congregation for the Clergy that the mandatory reporting of abuse accusations to civil authorities “gives rise to serious concerns of both a moral and a canonical nature.”

“The reaction of the Vatican to the Framework Document was entirely unhelpful to any bishop who wanted to implement the agreed procedures,” the recently published Cloyne report had charged. “This effectively gave individual Irish bishops the freedom to ignore the procedures which they had agreed and gave comfort and support to those who, like [Cloyne Vicar General] Monsignor [Denis] O’Callaghan, dissented from the stated official Irish Church policy.”

Father Lombardi said that the 1997 letter

emphasizes that, according to information received from the Congregation for the Clergy, the [Irish bishops’] document "Child Sexual Abuse: Framework for a Church Response" lent itself to objections, because it contained aspects that were problematic from the point of view of compatibility with universal canon law. It is only fair to remember that this document was not sent to the Congregation as an official document of the Bishops’ Conference, but as a "Report of the Irish Catholic Bishops' Advisory Committee on Child Sexual Abuse by Priests and Religious," and that its foreword stated: "This document is far from being the last word on how to address the issues that have been raised."

The fact that the Congregation raised objections was therefore understandable and legitimate, taking into account Rome’s competence with regard to the laws of the Church, and--although one can argue about the adequacy of Rome’s intervention, in relation to the seriousness of the situation in Ireland at the time--there is no reason to interpret that letter as being intended to cover up cases of abuse. In fact, it warned against the risk that measures were being taken which could later turn out to be questionable or invalid from the canonical point of view, thus defeating the purpose of the effective sanctions proposed by the Irish bishops.

“Moreover, there is absolutely nothing in the letter that is an invitation to disregard the laws of the country,” Father Lombardi added. “The objection the letter referred to regarded the obligation to provide information to civil authorities (‘mandatory reporting’), it did not object to any civil law to that effect, because it did not exist in Ireland at that time (and proposals to introduce it were subject to discussion for various reasons in the same civil sphere).”

“Therefore, the severity of certain criticisms of the Vatican are curious, as if the Holy See was guilty of not having given merit under canon law to norms which a State did not considered necessary to give value under civil law.”

“The publication of the Report on the Diocese of Cloyne marks a new stage on the long and arduous journey in search of truth, penance and purification, of healing and renewal of the Church in Ireland, from which the Holy See does not in any way feel estranged, but in which it participates in solidarity and with commitment in the various forms that we have outlined here,” Father Lombardi concluded.

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Show 2 Comments? (Hidden)Hide Comments
  • Posted by: hartwood01 - Jul. 21, 2011 11:51 AM ET USA

    NPR related the Coyne report with much relish and no balance. It will be a cold day in hell when I contribute any money to them.

  • Posted by: Contrary1995 - Jul. 20, 2011 5:57 PM ET USA

    Anyone who reads the nuncio's letter will soon realize just how disingenuous is the outrage of Ireland's political elites and media. They are either complete fools who cannot understand a letter written in plain English or they are simply not interested in the truth or in child sex abuse. As Chesterton once opined, when it comes to the Church for some people any stick will do.

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