After the damning report into the diocese of Clyone, and the Irish government’s hamfisted policy response and the Irish PM’s dangerously populist speech, the Vatican has, at last given its official response.
The response, is however, exceptionally detailed. Its opening lines forcefully state that “the Holy See wishes to state its abhorrence for the crimes of sexual abuse which took place in that Diocese, and indeed in other Irish Dioceses. The Holy See is sorry and ashamed for the terrible sufferings which the victims of abuse and their families have had to endure”.
The response says that the Vatican is “deeply concerned at the findings of the Commission of Inquiry concerning grave failures in the ecclesiastical governance of the Diocese of Cloyne and the mishandling of allegations of abuse”. It adds that “refers to issues directly relating to the Holy See which were raised in the Cloyne Report, by the Tánaiste in the above-mentioned meeting with the Apostolic Nuncio, by the Taoiseach in his Dáil speech of 20 July 2011 and in the motion passed by Dáil Éireann on the same day and by Seanad Éireann a week later”.
It says that “The approach taken in recent times by the Church in Ireland to the problem of child sexual abuse has benefitted from ongoing experience”. This seems to imply that the much criticsed “learning curve” of bishops with regard to child protection is in fact true, which is patently false and should be treated as such.
Much of the response of the Holy See concerns the letter of Archbishop Luciano Storero. Storero who was nuncio to Ireland, sent a letter in 1997 to all Irish bishops, that noted the opposition of the Congregation for the Clergy, then under Dario Cardinal Casstrillion Hoyos, to mandatory reporting of suspected abusers to civil authorities. The response says that “taken out of context, the letter could be open to misinterpretation, giving rise to understandable criticism”. It notes the Cloyne report says certain officials believed this letter thus having an excuse not to implement child protection measures.
The response, speaking of the so called Framework document for child protection, to which the 1997 letter refers, notes that it is “not an official document of the Irish Bishops’ Conference but a document of the Irish Catholic Bishops’ Advisory Committee on Child Sexual Abuse by Priests and Religious, which holds the copyright”. Such technicalities, while true, do little to improve the image of the Church with regard to this sensitive issue. The respone from Rome then quotes the Cloyne report which states that “The understanding was that each diocese or religious institute would enact its own particular protocol for dealing with complaints”.
The response notes that the Framework Document was described as a study document by the Irish bishops themselves and thus, “was not a dismissal of the serious efforts undertaken by the Irish Bishops to address the grave problem of child sexual abuse. The Congregation, taking cognizance of the Bishops’ intention not to make the document binding, while at the same time aware that each individual Bishop intended to adopt it for his Diocese to deal with cases as they arose, wished to ensure that nothing contained in it would give rise to difficulties should appeals be lodged to the Holy See”.
The response from Rome then says that the Framework document notes the “need to respect both civil and canon law”. It makes the point that is woth quoting in full that, “In its response to the Framework Document, the Congregation for the Clergy expressed reservations about mandatory reporting. At the outset, it should be pointed out that this response should not be construed as implying that the Congregation was forbidding reporting or in any way encouraging individuals, including clerics, not to cooperate with the Irish civil authorities, let alone disobey Irish civil law. It should be borne in mind that, without ever having to consult the Holy See, every Bishop, is free to apply the penal measures of canon law to offending priests, and has never been impeded under canon law from reporting cases of abuse to the civil authorities”.
The Holy See touched a nerve when the response said that “The Holy See notes that in a statement in Dáil Éireann on 25 March 1997, the then Minister for Health, Mr Michael Noonan, explained why the Government of the day had decided not to introduce mandatory reporting. He recognized that all who participated in the relevant consultative process, including those who expressed reservations or were opposed to mandatory reporting, had the “best interests of children” as their “paramount concern”. ”
On the controversial speech of Enda Kenny which has been discussed here before, the response states that “the accusation that the Holy See attempted “to frustrate an Inquiry in a sovereign, democratic republic as little as three years ago, not three decades ago”, which Mr Kenny made no attempt to substantiate, is unfounded”.
The response notes that the quote Kenny used was taken out of context and that, “The quotation in question is taken from the Instruction on the Ecclesial Vocation of the Theologian, otherwise known as Donum Veritatis (The Gift of the Truth), published by the Congregation for the Doctrine of the Faith on 24 May 1990, and signed by the then Prefect and Secretary of the Congregation. It is not a private text of the then Cardinal Ratzinger but an official document of the Congregation. This document is concerned with the theologian’s service to the Church community, a service which can also be of help to society at large, and not with the manner in which the Church should behave within a democratic society nor with issues of child protection, as Mr Kenny’s use of the quotation would seem to imply”.
Both sides still have questions to answer.