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Vatican issues strong response to Irish criticism (news/analysis)

September 05, 2011

On September 3, the Vatican released its detailed response to the Cloyne report and to the criticism expressed by Irish political leaders about Church leaders’ responses to sex-abuse reports.

The lengthy document expressed “profound abhorrence for the crimes of sexual abuse,” but strongly rejected much of the criticism that had been directed toward Rome.

The Vatican’s 15-page report, officially presented to Irish officials both in Dublin and in Rome, indicated that the Holy See is “ashamed for the terrible sufferings which the victims of abuse and their families have had to endure within the Church of Jesus Christ, a place where this should never happen.” That suffering, the document observed, was attributable to “grave failures in the ecclesiastical governance of the diocese.”

However, in measured yet clear diplomatic language, the Vatican expressed clear unhappiness over public statements by Irish Taoiseach (prime minister) Enda Kenny and other government officials who had suggested that the Vatican had interfered with efforts to address the abuse scandal.

For example, regarding a much-discussed 1997 message from the Congregation for the Clergy, expressing concerns about policies proposed by the Irish hierarchy, the Vatican response pointed out that the message was a response to a request for guidance from the Irish bishops: “The congregation offered advice to the bishops with a view to ensuring that the measures which they intended to apply would prove effective and unproblematic from a canonical perspective.” The Vatican had never rejected the Irish bishops’ policies, the response noted, because in fact the Irish hierarchy had never submitted those policies for approval. Moreover, individual bishops were free to implement those policies within their own dioceses, at their own discretion.

In stronger terms the Holy See rejected suggestions that the Vatican had encouraged Irish bishops to frustrate law-enforcement investigations. The Vatican response noted that in 1997, at the time of that message from the Congregation for Clergy, Irish law did not require mandatory reporting of sex-abuse allegations:

Given that the Irish government of the day decided not to legislate on the matter, it is difficult to see how Archbishop Storero's letter to the Irish bishops, which was issued subsequently, could possibly be construed as having somehow subverted Irish law or undermined the Irish State in its efforts to deal with the problem in question.

The September 3 response expressed “signification reservations” about Enda Kenny’s fiery July 20 speech, in which the Irish government leader had denounced the Vatican for thwarting Irish efforts. The response noted that there was “no evidence that the Holy See meddled in the internal affairs of the Irish State,” and observed pointedly that when the Taoiseach made that charge, “a government spokesperson clarified that Mr Kenny was not referring to any specific incident.” The Vatican also protested the out-of-context use of the quotation from then-Cardinal Ratzinger. The Vatican response concluded by acknowledging the “understandable anger, disappointment, and sense of betrayal” felt by many in Ireland as a result of “these vile and deplorable acts and the way in which they were sometimes handled by Church authorities.” Reiterating its expression of sorrow, the statement from the Holy See ended by expressing a desire to continue cordial relations with Ireland. Although the statement was couched in respectful and even conciliatory language, the content clearly conveyed the dismay of Vatican officials over the angry denunciations that government leaders had directed at Rome. An Irish Times report conveyed the force of the Vatican’s careful response to Kenny’s highly public criticism: “Rarely in the field of diplomatic exchanges has a taoiseach received so loud a raspberry from such a moral high ground.” An editorial in the Irish Catholic observed that the response, with its call for a clarification of the Irish leader’s remarks, was an embarrassment to Kenny and his government, since it exposed the fact that Kenny had no factual basis for his tirade against Rome. Commentator David Quinn made a similar point in a Vatican Radio interview, pointing out that although they charged the Vatican had encouraged violation of Irish laws, Kenny and his allies could not point to any law that had been undermined.

However, Quinn also acknowledged that Irish anger at the Church was likely to endure, because of the general outrage over sex-abuse revelations. That outrage will probably be fueled, he added, by “various reports to come”—the results of investigations undertaken by the National Child Protection Office set up by the Irish hierarchy.

Government leaders, meanwhile, refused to temper their criticism in the light of the Vatican response. A spokesman for Enda Kenny indicated that the Taoiseach was not likely to retract or even amend his public criticism of the Holy See.

In more extended remarks, foreign minister Eamon Gilmore said that the Vatican response was a promising start to a needed dialogue, and said that he hoped to “build on this.” But he objected to the “very technical and legalistic” nature of the Vatican’s point-by-point response.

Clearly indicating that the Irish government hopes to capitalize on public outrage without delving into the details of alleged Vatican involvement, Gilmore said that sexual abuse is “such a heinous and reprehensible crime, that issues about the precise status of documents should not be allowed to obscure the obligation of people in positions of responsibility to deal promptly with such abuse and report it.”

The Vatican response overall “probably misses the point,” Gilmore insisted. “Let’s not be distracted.”


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  • Posted by: polish.pinecone4371 - Sep. 05, 2011 10:37 PM ET USA

    Interesting line in Vatican Insider's story: 'The Foreign Minister, in his statement, observed that "some of the argumentation advanced by the Holy See in its Response is very technical and legalistic", whereas "the Government’s concerns were never about the status of church documents but rather about the welfare of children."' So they make very specific charges but blow the response to the charges off as "technical and legalistic" then stir up the emotions again. Agenda, anyone?