It takes 25 pages and 11,000 words to say – ‘nothing to do with us’
ANALYSIS: The Holy See reaction to the Irish report is marked by a failure to address core concerns, writes PATSY McGARRY
THE VATICAN’S response to the Cloyne report, as well as to comments by Taoiseach Enda Kenny, Tánaiste Eamon Gilmore and motions passed by Dáil and Seanad, would have us believe that the clerical child sex abuse scandals in Ireland are an Irish problem, where Rome’s only involvement has been in helping with a solution.
For this, it believes, it has received little or no acknowledgement in Ireland. For instance, Saturday’s response noted that nowhere in his Dáil speech of July 20th last did Kenny recognise any of its efforts to improve matters in this context, and that Pope Benedict’s Letter to the Catholics of Ireland in March last year didn’t even merit a mention in the Cloyne report.
What happened in Ireland was because of local factors, the response indicates – helpfully quoting from the pope’s letter of March last year to underline this.
There, addressing the Irish bishops directly, he said: “Some of you and your predecessors failed, at times grievously, to apply the long-established norms of canon law to the crime of child abuse.”
That may well be so, but it is not the entire picture.
Selectively choosing what it wished to address, the Vatican response ignored completely its own treatment of the Murphy commission. It was set up by this State, yet it did not merit an acknowledgement from the Vatican when in September 2006 it wrote to the Congregation for the Doctrine of the Faith requesting information. Two further requests for information received no reply.
Nowhere in its response, which runs to 25 pages and almost 11,000 words, is any of this addressed by the Vatican. Rather it takes issue with certain findings of the Cloyne report which might have been clarified had it co-operated with the commission, whose remit was extended from the Dublin diocese to cover Cloyne in 2009. It can hardly complain if its non-cooperation backfired.
The response largely focused on the 1996 framework document on child protection, prepared for the Irish bishops, but shot down in a letter circulated to them by the Vatican in January 1997.
The response rejected, robustly, a finding of the Cloyne report that: “There can be no doubt that this letter greatly strengthened the position of those in the church in Ireland who did not approve of the framework document as it effectively cautioned them against its implementation.”
The letter pointed out how the then prefect of that congregation, Cardinal Darío Castrillón Hoyos, had, at a meeting in November 1998 with the Irish bishops at Rosses Point in Sligo, “unequivocally stated” that the church “should not in any way put an obstacle in the legitimate path of civil justice” when it came to issues of clerical child abuse.
Nowhere does it quote from that 1997 letter, which said that, where the Congregation for Clergy was concerned, a framework document direction on mandatory reporting “gives rise to serious reservations of both a moral and a canonical nature”.
The congregation also warned that procedures in the document appeared “contrary to canonical discipline”. It also referred to it as “merely a study document”.
This latter observation, it said at the weekend, was a reflection of the document’s standing among the Irish bishops. The weekend response also emphasised that none of this meant the framework document guidelines could not be implemented in Irish dioceses and that “each individual bishop was free to adopt it . . . provided these were not contrary to canon law”. The Vatican appears to be trying to have its cake and eat it, repeating what was said in the 1997 letter.
All of which is to ignore the frustration felt by the Irish bishops in dealing with Cardinal Hoyos over the abuse issue. In a comment to this newspaper last December, Archbishop Diarmuid Martin of Dublin said that in the past “most of the Irish bishops felt that dealing with the Congregation for Clergy was disastrous”. It was understood he was referring to the period between 1996 and 2006, when Cardinal Hoyos was prefect at that congregation.
An Irish bishop confirmed, on condition of anonymity, that he made a note at the time of his receipt of that 1997 letter in which he described it as “a mandate to conceal the crimes of a priest”.
At the same Rosses Point meeting in 1998, the then archbishop of Dublin Desmond Connell thumped a table in frustration as Cardinal Hoyos insisted it was Vatican policy to defend the rights of an accused priest above all.
In 2001 Cardinal Hoyos wrote a letter to French bishop Pierre Pican praising him for not passing information about an abuser priest to police. Bishop Pican received a suspended sentence for failing to report the priest who was sentenced to 18 years for the repeated sexual assault of boys over 20 years, and the rape of one of them.
Cardinal Hoyos wrote to Bishop Pican: “I am pleased to have a colleague in the episcopate who, in the eyes of history and of all other bishops in the world, preferred prison to denouncing his son and priest.”
In the Murphy report chancellor of the Dublin archdiocese Msgr John Dolan is reported as having said that the 1997 letter “placed the [Irish] bishops in an invidious position”. It meant any priest against whom they took action “had a right of appeal to Rome and was most likely to succeed.”
None of this is addressed in Rome’s weekend response.