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Vatican Did Not Try to Obstruct Abuse Inquiry

Irish Times, Sat, July 23, 2011

AS A well-written expression of the anger felt in contemporary Ireland about clerical sexual abuse, Enda Kenny’s speech is a masterpiece. Perhaps it took someone familiar with small-town and rural Ireland to capture the very particular torture of seeing a priest abuser continue to occupy a place of respect in a local community, writes BREDA O'BRIEN 

Perhaps it took a practising Catholic to deliver sentences such as these: “Growing up, many of us in here learned we were part of a pilgrim church. Today, that church needs to be a penitent church. A church truly and deeply penitent for the horrors it perpetrated, hid and denied. In the name of God. But for the good of the institution.”

This, too, was powerful. “This report tells us a tale of a frankly brazen disregard for protecting children.”

Nor could it be said that he exonerated the State. He spoke of “children and young adults reduced to human wreckage. Raising questions and issues of serious import for State agencies.”

But why, oh why, did he choose to say things like this? “Because for the first time in Ireland, a report into child sexual abuse exposes an attempt by the Holy See to frustrate an inquiry in a sovereign, democratic republic . . . as little as three years ago, not three decades ago.”

No one could doubt Enda Kenny’s sincerity. However, had he read the Cloyne report in full, it is doubtful that he could have reached the conclusion that the Vatican was in the business of obstructing a sovereign state.

The Cloyne report did not say that the Vatican tried to frustrate an inquiry. It does say that a 1997 letter from the papal nuncio, referring to a directive from the congregation on the clergy, “gave comfort and support to those who, like Monsignor O’Callaghan, dissented from the stated official Irish Church policy”.

The Cloyne report then goes on, in chapter four, to outline in meticulous detail subsequent Vatican documents in 2001 and 2010, which make it clear that the church is to co-operate with civil authorities, including this quote from the Guide to Understanding Basic CDF [Congregation on the Doctrine of the Faith] Procedures concerning Sexual Abuse Allegations: “Civil law concerning reporting of crimes to the appropriate authorities should always be followed.”

The Murphy report on the Dublin archdiocese did criticise the Vatican for not responding to a request for information. In my opinion, the Vatican was churlish and graceless by citing diplomatic protocol. But that does not constitute an attempt to frustrate.

If we want to express anger at a church that has been disgracefully slow in responding to the crime of child abuse, let me be first in the queue. If we want to criticise a style of communication more appropriate to the 19th century than the 21st, and a chronic inability to understand that the world no longer thinks in centuries but in seconds, let’s go for it. But if we want to take a quote from a 1990 document, Instruction on the Ecclesial Vocation of the Theologian , and use it to imply that Pope Benedict thinks that the church should not co-operate with this State in the matter of reporting child abuse, leave me out.

An Taoiseach quoted Josef Ratzinger as saying: “Standards of conduct appropriate to civil society or the workings of a democracy cannot be purely and simply applied to the church.”

At that point, we have left the truth behind. That passage concerns “polling public opinion to determine the proper thing to think or do” when it comes to theology. It has nothing to do with child abuse.

It is completely unfair to the Pope. Accuracy matters. Truth matters. If the church had been accurate and truthful from the beginning, think of the damage to children that would have been averted. If the bishops, even now, were willing to publish the results of audits, think of the good that would do.

The Irish church needs to stop hiding and come out and tell the truth, including the truth of the massive changes most of them have implemented. Refusing to do so leaves Archbishop Martin looking as if he is the only one serious about reform.

To criticise the Vatican harshly in the staunchly Catholic 1950s and 1960s would have taken real courage. In contrast, Enda Kenny’s attack on the Vatican was like someone offering to step into the ring with a Muhammad Ali with Parkinson’s rather than with the boxer at the height of his powers.

It is convenient to blame the Vatican, and God knows, with people like Cardinal Castrillon Hoyos (author of the 1997 document) as friends, the Vatican need never have another enemy.

Cloyne felt free to ignore the Vatican when it suited, just as it ignored Irish church guidelines. John Magee is not a monster. Denis O’Callaghan is an intelligent man.

Presumably, too, the directors of the Irish language school in Gweedore who continued to use a child abuser, Michael Ferry, for odd jobs are not monsters. None of them, however, grasped the absolute necessity to protect children.

Church, State, and some citizens failed to protect children. That is the reality we need to acknowledge with meticulous truthfulness to ensure that to the best of our ability, it does not happen again.