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Enda Kenny’s attack on the Vatican reflects ferocious public anger

Fr Lombardi’s response to the Cloyne scandal is legalistic: the Vatican still has serious questions to answer

By on Thursday, 21 July 2011

Enda Kenny: playing to the gallery (PA photo)

Enda Kenny: playing to the gallery (PA photo)

Never before has an Irish Prime Minister attacked the Vatican so virulently as Taoiseach Enda Kenny did yesterday, when he said: “The Cloyne report excavates the dysfunction, disconnection, elitism, the narcissism that dominate the culture of the Vatican to this day.

“The rape and torture of children were downplayed or ‘managed’ to uphold instead, the primacy of the institution, its power, standing and ‘reputation’. Far from listening to evidence of humiliation and betrayal with St Benedict’s ‘ear of the heart’… the Vatican’s reaction was to parse and analyse it with the gimlet eye of a canon lawyer.”

The Taoiseach was moving an all-party motion that “deplores the Vatican’s intervention which contributed to the undermining of the child protection frameworks and guidelines of the Irish state and the Irish bishops”.

As Ireland is a 90 per cent Catholic country, you might assume that there could be some political risk in so eviscerating the Holy See. Yet Kenny is in fact playing to gallery: his speech merely reflects the ferocious public anger at the Catholic Church.

In the wake of the publication of the Cloyne report last week, senior Irish politicians have called for the expulsion of the papal nuncio to Ireland. The Irish government, meanwhile, has promised to introduce laws requiring priests to break the seal of confession to report confessions of abuse to the civil authorities, with penalties of up to five years’ imprisonment for those who fail to do so.

In all this, some see signs of hysteria, such as the ever-contrary columnist Kevin Myers, who last week sardonically suggested: “As the next step in the current calm and rational debate on child protection, what about this: why don’t we kick a Catholic priest to death every day?” Although Mr Kenny’s speech was sympathetic to “the good priests” – now effectively in the role of “the good German” in the 1930s. Kenny said: “
This Roman clericalism must be devastating for good priests, some of them old, others struggling to keep their humanity – even their sanity – as they work so hard to be the keepers of the Church’s light and goodness within their parishes, communities – the human heart.”

Ireland has seen heartbreaking reports into child abuse before. So what makes the Cloyne report so different? Let the Taoiseach inform you:

“After the Ryan and Murphy Reports Ireland is, perhaps, unshockable when it comes to the abuse of children. But Cloyne has proved to be of a different order. 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.”

The charge against the Vatican is quite specific: it relates to the Cloyne report’s finding that the Vatican’s 1997 response to the Irish bishops’ proposed norms for dealing with child abuse cases was “entirely unhelpful”.

In early 1996 the Irish bishops had drawn up the “Framework Document” for dealing with child abuse cases. It required the mandatory reporting of suspected child abuse to the civil authorities in Ireland.

The Cloyne report cites a 1997 letter by the then nuncio to Ireland, Archbishop Luciano Storero, summarising the concerns of the Congregation for Clergy regarding the Framework Document. The letter said:, “In particular, the situation of ‘mandatory reporting’ gives rise to serious reservations of both a moral and a canonical nature,” and referred to the guidelines as “merely a study document”. The Cloyne report found that: “This effectively gave individual Irish bishops the freedom to ignore the procedures which they had agreed and gave comfort and support to those who … dissented from the stated official Irish Church policy.”

Bishop Magee of Cloyne was one such bishop. During his tenure, between 1996 to 2008, only six of 15 reportable complaints of abuse were in fact reported to police by the diocese.

It was this finding that caused the Taoiseach’s comments that “the law of the land should not be stopped by a collar or a crozier” and MP Charlie Flanagan’s call for the expulsion of the papal nuncio, on the basis that “The Vatican has broken the law in Ireland.”

However, did the Vatican’s 1997 letter really amount to a breach of Irish law?

The Irish state awaits a formal Vatican response, but Fr Federico Lombardi SJ, the director of the Holy See Press Office, has issued a statement which he emphasised was not “an official response from the Holy See”.

He argues that “there is absolutely nothing in the [1997] letter that is an invitation to disregard the laws of the country. During the same period, Cardinal Castrillon Hoyos, then prefect of the Congregation for the Clergy, in a meeting with the Irish bishops stated: ‘The Church, especially through its pastors, should not in any way put an obstacle in the legitimate path of civil justice… while, at the same time, she should move forward with her own canonical procedures.’”

He notes that “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…”

This is true: there was no such law at the time. Therefore the accusations that the Vatican’s 1997 letter broke the law in Ireland are probably false – leaving aside the morality or wisdom of the intervention.

Fr Lombardi continues:

“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 consider necessary to give value under civil law. In attributing grave responsibility to the Holy See for what happened in Ireland, such accusations seem to go far beyond what is suggested in the report itself (which uses a more balanced tone in the attribution of responsibility) and demonstrate little awareness of what the Holy See has actually done over the years to help effectively address the problem.”

Fr Lombardi’s somewhat legalistic defence of the Holy See’s 1997 intervention was met with short shrift from Justice Minister Alan Shatter, who on RTE radio yesterday called the comments “unfortunate and disingenuous”.

Mr Shatter said: “The Cloyne report is very clear in saying that there could be no doubt that the letter that the papal nuncio sent in 1997 greatly strengthened the position of these in Cloyne who didn’t approve of the Church’s Framework Document for the protection of children.”

He also said that the letter made it very clear that the papal nuncio and the Congregation of the Clergy regarded the Framework Document was “a mere study. It cautioned against mandatory reporting. It essentially laid down a marker that where there was an allegation of child sexual abuse, if in compliance with the framework document, a member of the clergy in Ireland reported the matter directly to the civil authorities it clearly indicated that that could be contrary to both moral and canonical law”.

It is perhaps significant that, unlike some of his colleagues, Shatter – himself a formidable lawyer – stopped short of saying that the papal nuncio’s 1997 letter actually broke Irish law.

Even if there is some technical merit in Fr Lombardi’s defensive statement, does it not in itself reflect the “gimlet eye of a canon lawyer”, in Mr Kenny’s memorable phrase?

For the truly substantial questions remain unanswered: did the papal nuncio’s 1997 letter reflect an attitude of greater concern for clergy than for abused children? Did some in the Vatican intentionally hamper those bishops who wanted the truth to be aired?

The motion before the Dáil yesterday asked: did the Vatican’s intervention “contribute to the undermining of the child protection frameworks and guidelines of the Irish state and the Irish bishops”?

The motion was carried.

  • Anonymous

    Not worthy of a response.

  • EditorCT

    “Father” Walsh also said I scoffed dozens of meringues when I do no such thing.  He is very much a stranger to the truth, in every sense.  Interesting that you should jump to his defence in a post that is beyond ridiculous.

    A brave man who served the sick and wretched?  In between going out looking for a woman and thereafter smoking, drinking and indulging his sexual passions – I’m citing his own testimony.   There’s no “judging the old priest” – he told us how he set about looking for a woman etc etc . God will be His judge in the final analysis, but we’re not stupid.  We are allowed to interpret what people say and to make our own interim judgements.  Else the entire judicial system, police and courts, would have to be shut down. Don’t use Christ’s warning not to make definitive judments as a means of silencing critics.  While there’s life, there’s hope and by the grace of God we’ll all – Fr Walsh included – manage to repent sincerely of our mortal sins and, indeed, all our sins before death.  That’s what we all like to think.  What we don’t like to think is that our sins have become so embedded, not least the unconfessed and unrepented sins, that final repentance will not take place. Just the possibility that it will take place, however, prevents us from making any definitive judgment, that is, we  cannot say this or that soul will go to (or is in) Hell.  But we’re not asked to leave our brains  at the breakfast table. If a priest lists his passions and sensual indulgences and tells us that he considers the Catholic Church more or less finished (which is in essence what this “Father” Walsh  is saying) then we’re entitled to judge him to be an unfaithful priest – because, by his own admissions and description of his beliefs and lifestyle, that is what, in fact, he is.

    Who is making excuses for Bishop Magee?  Not me, not anyone that I have read on this blog.  And your baloney about priests breaking the seal of confession for payment gets filed under “Patent Nonsense”
    Most of the time most priests don’t know who is confessing – there’s a grille between the penitent and the priest to allow us the right to total anonymity – and half the time the penitent wouldn’t even be going to confession in his own parish.  Some go to other parishes or religious houses where they are completely unknown to the priests.  I have never been to confession in my own parish – never.  Due  to living away from home and travelling a lot, I’ve been here, there and everywhere.  So, your baloney about confession is just that – sheer tripe.

    Question. Since I find atheism utterly unthinking and I would no more dream of going onto an atheist’s blog than I would try to climb Ben Nevis, why do you come onto a Catholic blog when it is clear that you  hate Catholicism? 

  • EditorCT

    Excuse me?  If anyone is being “grossly insensitive and insulting” it is you, Abdulla Hakim. There is nothing wrong with the prose and syntax of ms catholic state, take it from one who is a qualified teacher of English language and literature. 

    On the other hand, there is a lot wrong with your nasty post.  Not least your failure to grasp that the Catholic Church is not primarily about “doing great good in the world.”  Christ founded His Church to give us spiritual (not temporal) safety – it is THE sole ordinary means of salvation.  If you’re not already a Catholic, I urge you to embrace the Faith  without delay.  If you are already a Catholic, get a grip, and stop perpetrating the falsehood that the Church is about making the world a better place.  For that Christ suffered agony and died like a criminal?   Don’t be daft.

    I think you owe ms catholic state a sincere apology for your rudeness.  And don’t even think about trying it on with me.  It nearly killed me to write this polite post. I’ll not be so nice next time.

  • EditorCT

    You see, JonnyB, you’ve nailed the problem in one with these words: “I will spell it out again… The crusades I referred to were NOT wars in the sense to which you allude…” 

    True enough.  Unfortunately for you.  I say that, because you (of course) do  not understand the seriousness of heresy and thus you can never really appreciate the type of “war” the Crusaders were fighting.

    I remember reading a very good history of the  Reformation written by a Protestant historian in my student days.  He pointed out that neither the new Protestants nor the Catholics of the day, thought anything about the penalty of death for heresy.  We (in our enlightened times – not) think that there is nothing worse than death.  That’s not what truly religious people believe and it’s not what medieval Catholics and Protestants believed.  The very worst thing of all, is the distorting of God’s Truth because that leads souls away from their eternal destiny.  Nothing but nothing is more serious than heresy.  Of course, people of weak or no faith won’t agree, but those who understand that God has chosen that we be saved “through knowledge of the truth” (from the new Catechism) realise that, this being the case, it is imperative that the truth revealed by God is not distorted.  It  can mean, literally, (eternal) life or (eternal) death for souls.

    Your failure to grasp this elementary theological truth is the reason why you  cannot see the difference between an act of terrorism and the Crusades. 

  • EditorCT

    No you didn’t name even one, JonnyB.  Any papal crusades were aimed at preventing souls being led to Hell through false teaching including, as ms catholic state rightly says, the expansion of Islam by the sword in Christian territories. 

    You need to check out the Catholic encyclopaedia about Pope Innocent III – don’t rely on hostile sources. That’s daft.  I mean, if you wanted information about the Jewish holocaust, would you rely on German writers?  Behave yourself.

  • Lee

     I would name the people who support the Catholic idea of homosexuality being evil or some such thing, as being ‘terrorists.” Their attitudes have lead to the deaths and bashings of gays, be it directly or indirectly. I would call these people (and I am aware of many) terrorists. They terrorise the lives of gay people every day by their ignorant, homophobic attitudes. 

  • Mark Castilano

    Father Walsh said that he smokes his pipe and drinks brandy twice a year, probably on his birthday and on his wedding anniversary. He said that he was married with children. How is he different from those married Anglican clerics who have recently been ordained as catholic priests, do you have the same degree of opprobrium for them, and for the Pope who allowed this to happen. So what is the difference? Please show the Canon Law difference. If this man is the same 2nd Lieutenant Chaplin Gabriel Walsh who served in my father’s regiment in 1946, then the I calculate that he must be near ninety old. If he is still sexually active at ninety, then I don’t care what he has done, I could do with some of what he has got.Where is your charity? He has given all his life to the poor and wretched, worked in filth and healed the sick and you judge him to be a sinner based on outdated superstitious medieval man made dogma. I think that Jesus Christ would feel more at home with Father Walsh than with a group of ‘has been’ sanctimonious zealots whose way of life is rapidly on the wane. In ten years from now, silly old men dressed in mitres and carrying crosiers will be a comedy sketch.

  • Abdulla Hakim

    I am a strict Muslim, Allah be praised. I thought that ms catholic state would be incarcerated in the convent by now, perhaps you should join her and keep her company. However, you are free to convert to Islam. I hope that neither of you are not members of the Knights Templars.

  • Mark Castilano

    How is he different from those married Anglican clerics who have recently been ordained as catholic priests, do you have the same degree of opprobrium for them, and for the Pope who allowed this to happen. So what is the difference? Please show the Canon Law difference. If you don’t know, then just say so. and do not use a cop out tactics like “not worthy of a reply” 

  • Fr G T Walsh

    In my very first job as a young curate, the parish priest inserted three fingers into an altar boy’s bum and tore the sphincter, he then sodomized him prior to celebrating mass, handling the body of Christ and distributing Holy Communion to the faithful. I had to take the boy to hospital for treatment. I reported the matter and was immediately expelled from the dioceses. That very same parish priest later became a bishop. Do not preach to me about Canon Law or anything else for that matter. Ordinarily I do not approve of Schadenfreude (malicious pleasure in somebody else’s misfortune), but with regard to the demise of the Irish Catholic Church, I get some enjoyment.

  • EditorCT

    Maybe I ate a cream cake “probably on my birthday” – your inconsistencies are showing.

    I do NOT approve of the Anglican married clergy being “re-ordained” Catholic priests. If they are genuine converts then they should go the whole hog by acknowledging that the celibacy rule is attached to priestly ordination and not ask to be the exception to that rule.  Nor should they have their own ordinariate, liturgy etc.  Some “conversion” – they’ve got everything they had before, with a pope  thrown in for good measure. Like I say, some “conversion.”

    Anyone can give their life to the poor and wretched. That’s not what the priesthood is about but your continuing nasty and ignorant comments about the priesthood show that you don’t understand that.  Clueless.

  • EditorCT

    Well, since we’re continually being brainwashed to accept the idea that Muslims are very “respectful” of Catholics, you could have fooled me.  A “strict Muslim” who thinks a fully believing Catholic blogger like ms catholic state should be incarcerated in a convent, and now me to enjoy the same fate.  Very charitable, I don’t think. Thanks for the invitation to convert to Islam – to do that would be grossly offensive to God, Father, Son and Holy Spirit, so I trust you will accept my conscientious decision not to do so. 


  • EditorCT

    The difference is, that “Father” Walsh promised at his ordination, to live a celibate life.   The Anglican “converts” are exceptions to the celibacy rule because they converted and were ordained after they were married. When their wives die, then the celibacy rule will be in force. They can’t then do what “Father” Walsh did, go looking for (another) woman. 

    As I’ve said elsewhere, I don’t approve of the Anglicans being made exceptions to the rule. For one thing, it confuses the ignorant numpties among us.

  • EditorCT

    Did you go to the police?  If not, why not?

    It is one of the most unthinking, inexcusable mindsets, to blame the Church for the sins and crimes of its members.

    Teachers have been found guilty of sexually abuse children. Do you hate the education system?  Will you never enter another school as long as you live?  Did you homeschool your own children to ensure their physical and sexual safety?

    Doctors have been found guilty of abusing patients, young, adult, elderly.  Do you hate the medical profession?  Have you taken to alternative medicine to prevent having to ever visit a doctor again?

    Unless the answer to the above questions is yes, yes, yes, yes, yes, then I suggest you stop savaging the Church for the sins and crimes of its members. A level playing field, “Father” Walsh.  A level playing field.

    And how shocking that you “get some enjoyment” from the “demise of the Irish Church” – that is to say, you get some enjoyment from the fact that  members of the Catholic Church in Ireland have crucified Christ all over again and are endangering souls due to the scandal caused. Some priest.

  • Fr G T Walsh

    Oh Yes I did. I reported the matter to the police. My complaint was ignored. I wrote to the Archbishop of Dublin John Charles McQuaid only to be told that the Papal Nuncio Paschal Robinson had the matter in hand. It was then I learned that no cleric could be prosecuted for any reason without the express authority of the Papal Nuncio. I was told that he had even higher authority than the president of Ireland Sean T. O’Kelly. Nothing was done. I wrote to the The Taoiseach John A. Costello, but did not receive a reply. John Charles McQuaid sent for me at midnight and instructed me to vacate my room immediately. He told me that it was a matter of indifference to him that I had no place to go. He told me that there was no place for me as priest anywhere in Ireland. I was met with the same ecclesiastical response in England and Wales, and in Scotland, hence I joined the army, and was sent to in their words (the arse hole of the world). Before I die, I will see all the Irish Religious flummery fall flat on it’s face. We know about the Exposition of the Blessed Sacrament, but until now we have not heard of the exposition of the Vatican.

  • Anonymous

    Sadly, we have only your word for the sexual abuse of an altar boy. If true, however, then the questions would have to be: What did the boy’s parents have to say about this obviously violent and painful rape of their child, and why didn’t you confront the pervert priest and stick one on his chin?

    But please, don’t try to justify your own disobedience to the Church because of a handful of unfaithful clergy and prelates. The Church is a divine institution, the spotless bride of Christ. Churchmen, on the otherhand, are sinners like the rest of us. They can, and have, fallen from grace and brought great scandal upon the Church, beginning with Judas. It is a great pity that you have chosen to align yourself with this lesser number than with the millions throughout the ages who have been faithful to their promises to God, some of whom have endured much harder lives than you.

    Strange that everyone today fixates with such hatred of the Church over this small number of unfaithful clergy. You say that you get some enjoyment from the demise of the Irish Catholic Church. Why should you enjoy a tragedy that may already have caused many souls to fall into hell. Our Lord wants the repentance of sinners, not their destruction. He certainly does not gloat over the fall of anyone!

    It matters little in the end what causes a priest to lose the supernatural life of God from his consecrated soul, the tragedy cannot be estimated in this life. All mortal sin is a crucifixion of Our Lord. Our Lady of Fatima told little Jacinta in 1917 that most souls are lost through sins of the flesh.

    The Mystical Body of Christ is being crucified a new in this era (in a mystical sense). Many are calling for His crucifixion, accusing the Church of all manner of hateful crimes. Will you, then, be like the celibate St. John (who represents the priesthood) standing faithfully at the foot of the Cross with Our Lady, or will you be one who plunges the lance deep into His Sacred Heart.

    The damned in Hell all blame each other for their eternal woe: “if only you hadn’t done such and such, I would not have fallen.” You can’t blame the mortal sins of others for your own fall from grace. You made a free choice to break your promise of celibacy.

  • Anonymous

    The difference lies in the disobedience before God of Fr. G T Walsh. It’s a supernatural matter pertaining to the soul of one who promised celibacy, put his hands to the plough and then looked back! I thought you would have recognised this.

  • Mark Castilano

    The old priest is in the same position in Canon Law as those Anglican clerics who are now married Catholic priests. Clearly some right wing bloggers are more concerned wit obedience to the churches rules and dogma than with compassion understanding and justice. This is not a good time for Catholics to spout right wing dogma. Also, there is gross insensitivity and insightlessness as to the degree of rage in Ireland and all over the world. Mr Kenny has received tens of thousands of letters and e-mails communication supporting his stance about the Vatican. I has just been announced on the BBC that the Papal Nuncio Archbishop Lenza has been recalled from Ireland. Other countries may follow and break off diplomatic relations with the Vatican. This is all because of narrow minded people like you who are still trying to cover up the extent and degree of sexual abuse, using bogus statistics. Did you know that there are more whorehouses, brothels, bordellos, escort agencies, rent boy facilities and street walking prostitutes in the town of Lourdes than in Atlantic City. I am not fooled or intimidated by your statistics. Please show the origin of celibacy in Canon Law when did it begin and why? I already know the answer. Priestly celibacy was concerned with property. If a priest was celibate then he could not get married and cannot have legitimate heirs to church property. That is the long and the short of it.