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Vatican replies to Irish government’s criticisms of abuse response

By on Saturday, 3 September 2011

Irish prime minister Enda Kenny launched a scathing attack on the Vatican in July

Irish prime minister Enda Kenny launched a scathing attack on the Vatican in July

The Vatican has denied that it undermined the Irish bishops’ efforts to protect children from sexual abuse and described as “unfounded” claims that it tried to interfere in government investigations regarding the Church’s handling of sex abuse cases.

The Vatican recognises “the seriousness of the crimes” detailed in a government report about cases in the Diocese of Cloyne, Ireland, and “has sought to respond comprehensively”, said a communique released by the Vatican today.

The communique accompanied a 19-page formal response to the Irish government’s Cloyne Report on the diocese and to statements made by the Irish prime minister and motions passed by both houses of the Irish parliament concerning the report and the Vatican’s involvement in how cases were handled.

The Vatican said the report “brought to light very serious and disturbing failings in the handling of accusations of sexual abuse by children and young people by clerics in the Diocese of Cloyne” but it said the local bishop and his vicar general were to blame.

The formal “Response of the Holy See” was hand-delivered today by Mgr Ettore Balestrero, undersecretary for relations with states, to Helena Keleher, charge d’affaires at the Irish Embassy to the Holy See in Rome, the Vatican said.

The Irish government’s Cloyne Report was issued on July 13 and said then Bishop John Magee of Cloyne paid “little or no attention” to safeguarding children as recently as 2008. But the report also accused the Vatican of being “entirely unhelpful” to Irish bishops who wanted to implement stronger norms for dealing with accusations and protecting children.

Addressing Parliament on July 20, Irish Prime Minister Enda Kenny said the Cloyne Report “exposes an attempt by the Holy See to frustrate an inquiry in a sovereign, democratic republic as little as three years ago”.

“And in doing so, the Cloyne Report excavates the dysfunction, disconnection, elitism and the narcissism that dominate the culture of the Vatican to this day,” the prime minister said.

A few days later, the Vatican took the unusual move of recalling its nuncio to Ireland, Archbishop Giuseppe Leanza, saying it signaled how seriously the Vatican took the government criticisms and how intent the Vatican was on drafting a comprehensive response to the Cloyne Report and the prime minister’s accusations.

The Vatican’s response was drafted by the Vatican Secretariat of State and the Congregation for the Doctrine of the Faith, which handles cases of clerical sex abuse, with input from Archbishop Leanza, and the congregations for clergy and bishops, said Fr Federico Lombardi, Vatican spokesman.

“The point of departure,” he said, “is the recognition of the reality of what occurred, the gravity and amount of abuse committed,” and, as the Cloyne Report demonstrated, the “deplorable” lack of serious action on the part of the bishop and diocesan officials, Fr Lombardi said. “The seriousness and importance of these failures is not overlooked.”

The response emphasised three points:

- The Congregation for Clergy’s observations about potential problems in the Irish bishops’ 1996 child protection guidelines did not nullify the guidelines or prevent local bishops from adopting them in their dioceses.

- Church officials, including bishops, are required to follow their nation’s civil laws regarding mandatory reporting of crimes and are free to report crimes to police even when they are not required by law to do so.

- The sexual abuse of children is a crime both in civil law and in church law.

The response began by asserting the Vatican’s “abhorrence for the crimes of sexual abuse” that took place in Cloyne and other dioceses.

“The Holy See is sorry and 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,” the response said.

The Vatican also said it “understands and shares the depth of public anger and frustration at the findings of the Cloyne Report”, saying those feelings were reflected in Prime Minister Kenny’s speech, although it did take issue with some points he made.

“In this regard, the Holy See wishes to make it quite clear that it in no way hampered or interfered in the inquiry into child sexual abuse cases in the Diocese of Cloyne. Furthermore, at no stage did it seek to interfere with Irish civil law or impede the civil authority in the exercise of its duties,” the response said.

In fact, it said, the Cloyne Report contains “no evidence to suggest that the Holy See meddled in the internal affairs of the Irish state or, for that matter, was involved in the day-to-day management of Irish dioceses or religious congregations with respect to sexual abuse issues.”

The Vatican said the drafters of the report and the Irish government officials critical of the Vatican misunderstood the Congregation for the Clergy’s observations about the Irish bishops’ 1996 guidelines and they misunderstood the technical nature of what constitutes an official document of a bishops’ conference with Vatican-approved norms binding on all the bishops.

The Irish bishops never asked for formal recognition of the guidelines, so “the Holy See cannot be criticised for failing to grant what was never requested in the first place”, the Vatican said. But, it added, each of the bishops, who have the power to institute norms for their own dioceses, knew they had the authority to adopt the norms for their own dioceses.

“The basic difficulty with regard to child protection” in Cloyne, it said, stemmed not from a lack of formal Vatican recognition of the guidelines, “but from the fact that, while the diocese claimed to follow the guidelines, in reality it did not”.

The Vatican acknowledged the Congregation for Clergy had expressed reservations about mandatory reporting of abuse accusation to police or other civil authorities.

“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,” the Vatican said.

“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 Vatican said.

The response also pointed out that at the time the congregation sent its observations to the Irish bishops, the Irish government had just set aside the idea of passing a mandatory reporting law because of serious reservations expressed in several sectors of Irish society. The Catholic bishops’ committee on child protection, however, had testified in favour of mandatory reporting, the Vatican said.

The Vatican response said: “The sexual abuse of children is a crime. It is a crime in civil law; it is a crime in canon law.”

Since 1994, when US bishops formally requested special norms from the Vatican to deal with the sex abuse crisis, the Vatican has made a series of changes to church law and procedure to improve the protection of children and more swiftly remove from the priesthood abuse priests, the response said.

The Vatican said it “welcomes all objective and helpful observations and suggestions to combat with determination the appalling crime of sexual abuse of minors.”

“It also recognises the understandable anger, disappointment and sense of betrayal of those affected – particularly the victims and their families – by these vile and deplorable acts and by the way in which they were sometimes handled by church authorities, and for all of this it wishes to reiterate its sorrow for what happened,” the response said.

The Vatican said it was “confident that the measures which the Church has introduced in recent years at a universal level, as well as in Ireland, will prove more effective in preventing the recurrence of these acts”.

  • Anonymous

    Well done to the Irish Prime Minister, I agree with him totally, the Pope just says a pathetic “sorry” which is just not good enough.

    I think this Pope should resign, someone somewhere knows they should force the Pope to resign, they have the authority to do so, why have they not done that? Does the Pope have power over them too, this is utterly tragic.

    Thank you

  • Anonymous

    Not  to diminish the serious sin of the RCC but Please examine the Jehovah’s Witnesses who go door to door and come on our property.
      Jehovah’s Witnesses pedophiles.
     Many court documents and news events prove that Jehovah’s Witnesses require two witnesses when a child comes forward with allegations of molestation within the congregation. Such allegations have customarily been treated as sins instead of crimes and are only reported to authorities when it is required to do so by law, (which varies by state).
     It has also been shown that child molesters within the organization usually have not been identified to the congregation members or the public at large. These people engage in a door to door ministry, possibly exposing children to pedophiles.
    The Watchtower corporation has paid out millions in settlement money already.
    – Danny Haszard abuse victim 

  • JonnyB

    The RCC positions itself as _the_ true church of Christ (along with the whole succession from St Peter nonsense) and, so, the actions of anyone else (Christian or otherwise) is absolutely irrelevant.
    By positioning itself as such, it _must_ be 100% beyond reproach in any/all matters or, by logic, its own claims become false. If those claims are false, then, what tenure does the RCC retain? The bible warns of false prophets.

  • Oconnordamien

    This won’t be accepted by government, media or people. It will be seen more excuses. Pretty much “as you don’t understand our rules you shouldn’t criticise us” and “you don’t understand the rules, it was the Irish bishops fault”. Or even that “well the government weren’t that great either”.

    The vatican still just doesn’t seem to realise the deep felt resentment, bordering on hatred, that prevails in Ireland. These feelings don’t stem from secularists or atheists, we have never trusted the church, that’s the reason we are secular. This comes from catholics who believed the pope, and by extension the vatican, the ultimate authority. They would not accept this level of mismanagement from a private company let alone” the voice of god on earth”.

  • Honeybadger

    Why should Pope Benedict resign?

  • Recusant

    What a slap down for that silly and hysterical man Kenny. The fact is that the buck stopped in Cloyne, where the Bishop is in charge. But Kenny was grandstanding for political gain and to establish some political strength. Yet another person using this crisis to bolster their own arguments on the back of peoples’ pain.

  • Nat_ons

    True, yet it was not asked to respond to this ‘feeling’ – irrational though much of its public expression may be (no one can just describe Mr Kenny’s outburst as well reasoned or even reasonable).

    Hatred is a sentiment that hurts the hater more than the hated; it can be a well deserved hate that seeths, for example, against injustice, crime, inaction – such as shown by the Church in Ireland and some at the Vatican – none of this can be laid as rightful accusation against Benedict XVI.

    If the government, the media and the activists do not accept a well considered, accurate and above all truthful assessment .. with its heartfelt empathy for the abused, as clearly outlined in the Response .. then that will show them in a proper light for what they so often are = bandwaggonists not sincere in seeking justice for the victim and the accused, here the falsely accused (but desperately wanted by many to be tarred with the same brush as the sinner, the guilty and the condemned – in thoughtless retribution).

    As for the nonsensical notion of equating a union of charitable fraternity, such as the church catholic, with the governance of a private company, such as BP, well, the obvious glare of such injustice seems to blind far too many otherwise sensible souls in their assessment of it. 

    I have no truck with those who want to hide the failings of the Vatican machinery, for only when they are shown and perceived (as indeed they are in the Response) can they be amended; here, chiefly, the language of diplomacy implicated (unjustly) in deflecting forthright action against crime at the level of a local episcopate (which action each bishop must have known is within his own duty, right and authority).

    God bless, Nat.

  • Oconnordamien

    Agreed but if I may say, both the media and politicians are, and have to be, bandwaggonists. In general terms their sales and votes rely on it. Jump off the bandwagon too far or too often and they’d never be let back on.
    As for comparing the vatican (rather the the entire church) to a company like BP, of course you are correct.
    But that’s using logic, while for most of the objectors their emotions are leading the way. This subject is also the one most likely to bring out the mob mentality in people. One only has to remember the irrational hysteria shown after tragic cases like Soham to see examples of it in action. 

  • Oconnordamien

    Should read ” rather than the entire church”.. Apologies. 

  • Recusant

    In truth the Vatican is more like a Supreme Court than a head office. Historically the papacy grew powerful because it became a court of appeal for monarchs and clergy. Once appointed, a bishop is responsible for his diocese, a responsibility that is muddled by Bishop’s Conferences and “collegiality.” blaming the Vatican is letting the local bishop off the hook.

  • Anonymous

    Well, Jonny boy, Jesus’ words in Matthew 16:18 would say otherwise.  Peter(the former Simeon) was given direct authority over the earthly Church when he was passed the keys of authority.  This is not without significance, as he(Peter) was to be the only one of the disciples to be given such a mandate although they were all given the powers to “bind and loose” i.e to accept or reject doctrines or teachings based on the strength of their orthodoxy.  Succession was built into the Church leadership as a matter of course on the logical basis that Her work would continue until Jesus would return and the gates of hell would not prevail against Her.  
    You mention that it must be 100% against reproach.  This does not mean that any incumbent on the Chair of Peter past, present or future would be free from the effects of human vices or sins.  The holder of the papal office is guaranteed to be infallible with the guidance of the holy spirit on essential doctrine but not impeccable in regards to personal conduct.  The first generation of apostles were not perfect in terms of behaviour, e.g St Paul the great evangelist of the gentile world was a former persecutor of christians, Peter himself denied Our Lord 3 times during His greatest time of trial, etc.  The Church is always to be reformed when the sins of Her members soils Her face.

  • Anonymous

    Yeah, why should he resign when he has been firmly in the reformist wing of the Church regarding changing canon law to speed up the defrocking of abuser priests and the tightening up of Church legislation to prevent them escaping Church justice?   He has not been implicated in any conspiracy to cover up any of the abuse cases that have been uncovered around the world.

  • JonnyB

    For me, personally, Matthew 16:18 is, at best, ambiguous. To use it as the sole basis for the overall position/divinity of the Papacy (& its associated power) is tenuous. Especially when, in my opinion (again), there are less ambiguous parts of the Bible/Scripture, which are claimed to be non-literal, seemingly because it ‘fits’. Also, I find the idea of selective infallibilty to be quite bizarre. Having said that, this is a side issue & was not the main point I was making in response to the previous poster.

    The point I was making was that the RCC positions itself in such a way that the acts of others are entirely irrelevant. Any Christian should not wish to be judged by comparison to the acts of others. Surely the ‘true church’ (& especially its leader) would not be seen to be complicit in such despicable acts as those under discussion here.
    Going back to Matthew 16:18, read literally, could not the complicity of the Church in this matter be considered as ‘the gates of hell prevailing’?

  • Anonymous

    Are you saying that Ratzinger has nothing to do with what is going on in the Vatican? Take this latest response to the Irish government for example. It is, at best, selective with the truth. It is not accidental that evidence that counts against the Vatican (of which the Holy See is fully aware) is absent. One wonders why there is even an admission of shame, such is the innocence portrayed. Do you suppose that it was not necessary for the Pope to approve the response?

    What a coincidence that the Holy Spirit should be having second thoughts at this time about the areas of Canon Law relating to the reporting to local authorities of priests who confess to child abuse (or have I got that wrong?).

  • Oconnordamien

    I would not call for the resignation of the pope for the simple reason it will do no good.
    As I was reminded in a post on a different article the vatican really came to power as a Supreme Court which sat in judgement on monarchs and rulers. It got to judge god given kings.

    So is it any surprise that it still thinks it can give judgements but not by judged my mere humans.

  • Oconnordamien

    You think he should not, which is perfectly valid.

    But do you have any sense of empathy with the people who are so hurt that they demand it?

  • Parasum

    In such a case, its claims remain where they did. It should be  “100% beyond reproach in any/all matters”, agreed; but although it loses credibility, it remains as truly the Church after it it fails to be beyond reproach, as before. Its theological claims about what it is are overcast by its sins – the purely historical claims it makes are unaffected. The claims that are implicit in its teaching are overcast, obscured, but not destroyed; but they do become far harder to see.  

    The reason it is not destroyed by scandals in it, not even by a single sin – and there has been no lack of both in its life – is that it is the Body of Christ. So its moral character, is no different from His. It cannot be judged by any lower standard, because any lower standard than His character is totally inadequate to what or rather, Who – the Church is. The moral character is His; but it is manifested in history in the persons of sinful human beings. That is the problem: He is wholly free of all sin – we His members on earth are not. So  people who are His members are capable of doing very great evil; sometimes, with good intentions, that do not change the evil of what is done. 

    The Church on earth is, so to speak, a Divine and human society -  it is both at once, not one or the other. And because it is a society which exists purely by the initative & grace of God, our sins can never have the last word – that always and already belongs to God. So we can never sin so greatly that the Church runs out of being the Body of Christ.

  • Parasum

    “Going back to Matthew 16:18, read literally, could not the complicity of
    the Church in this matter be considered as ‘the gates of hell

    No – because the Church is the community of the Messianic King Who brings in the Kingship of God. It is the seed, the bridge-head, of the entire community of the redeemed under their King. So if it could be overthrown by the powers of death, this would make nonsense of His Death; for His Death is his decisive victory over death, hell, and the devil. Those three go together, & so the victory of the world of the dead would mean that the devil is not conquered; it would mean the devil can overcome the Messianic King.

    In short: if the Church has been overcome – Jesus has been overcome. The victory is already His, and the life of the Church is a “mopping-up” operation; He has already done everything that needs doing – the Church on earth has the work of realising all of that, in her life on earth, which is a sort of slow-motion living of His. Christians are in principle, and are called to be, Christs in Christ; we are members of His Body – so we can have no identity but His; we have no identity to call our own, since we  belong by rights only to Him. So when a Christian sins, that Christian is making Christ a sinner – St. Paul has a good deal to say about that, in 2 Corinthians.

  • http://romishgraffiti.wordpress.com/ Scott W.

    Naturally, no one can stop you from calling the succession of St. Peter “nonsense” if you insist, but as far as the actions of anyone else being irrelevant, that *would* be the case except for one thing: people let their anti-Catholic bigotry get the better of them, so they start making claims that something uniquely nefarious in Catholic teaching in practices causes sexual abuse. Well, when that is done, it makes comparisons to other sectors of society fair game. And lo and behold–the Church isn’t likely to be a place of abuse or cover up than anyone else. Now, one would retort that the Church should be held to a higher standard. In the first place, the Church teaches infallibility, not impeccability, and there is a meaningful difference. In the second place, the Church IS held to a higher standard. The majority of Church sex-abuse cases are between priest and post-pubescent males. When it’s a priest, both the Church and the world at large consider it abuse; anyone other thatn a priest the world generally regards as just another “coming of age” story. No big deal to them. Also, I’d point out that much of the world is being pressured into either lowering the age of consent or de facto doing away with it. So we may well someday see the Church ironically being condemend for opposing it.

  • Johnkenny29

    well said scott..

  • Honeybadger

    Spot. On.

  • Honeybadger

    Of course I do.

    Laying the blame squarely on one person does not heal the hurt.

    Secular Irish society and Government was and is also to blame for the heinous sexual abuse of minors by refusing to take the victims seriously, failing to investigate the allegations; outsiders even took part in sordid acts because the vulnerable were easy meat.

    I’ve just watched a programme about Irish mental health institutions. Don’t you think victims deserve justice?

    It was equally as heartbreaking and disturbing to watch and listen to the torturous and disgusting methods employed to ‘cure’ the patients.

    It was as horrific as the plight and sufferings of children and teenagers at the hands of those who should have been taking care of them.

    Almost all the inmates were not mental at all. They were put through hell by a society which is greedy for land and eager to put people away because they were different, an inconvenience, unwanted or as an excuse to disinherit them from their rightful entitlements. People were dumped in heinous conditions like trash.

    …and – HOLD THE FRONT PAGE! - not a priest, nun or religious institution were responsible. These institutions were run by professionals and Govermnent run.

    So, Oconnordamien, I demand Enda Kenny and his band of grandstanders in Dail Eireann to resign forthwith. Why? For successive Irish government’s dereliction of duty towards the most vulnerable in society since the foundation of the State.


    It would be ludicrous, wouldn’t it? What good would it do? What will it achieve?

    Hence my question: Why should Pope Benedict resign?

    Pope Benedict XVI did more than his level best to deal with these matters when he was Joseph Ratzinger and now as Pope.

  • Oconnordamien

    Thank you. The nature of the comments on any subject as this tends to be adversarial, your post made it clear that we all in fact care for our fellow humans, particularly the most vulnerable.  

    I happened to have leaved in a staff house in one of those mental institutions you mentioned in the 90′s.
    For about 3 mths and revisited often for 3 years. Although I never got the idea of cruelty, ( listening to the staff off work), I did hear a level of callousness which worried me. The most worrying thing to me as a young man then was the casualness. I was in a car with two minor staff talking about a suicide and in a way how all knew it would happen. I being young piped up asking “Bot could the doctors not spot it”.
    I was then casually told that the person was a staff member and that staff did that often.

    Sorry to bring anecdotal evidence to the table. 

  • Oconnordamien

    In a way you’re playing both games here.
    If it was a cynical ploy to boost his popularity then it wasn’t silly. It was a thought out move.Having listened to the speech it didn’t seem hysterical. One would think more barbed and tactical but in no way hysterical. You can’t play the snide political move defense whilst also playing the silly unthinking reactive move defense at the same time.So I would ask which is he?

  • Honeybadger

    Why apologise for bringing anecdotal evidence to the table?

    Welcome to a typical Roman Catholic message board, where anecdotal evidence is brought to the table more times than sausage rolls at a party. Why?

    Well, people who disrespect Roman Catholics as though it’s an Olympic sport think that we are heartless, thoughtless, thickwig taylor’s dummies who have no intelligence, have been through no sufferring, injustice or prejudice, whose faith and obedience to the Holy Magisterium is mocked viciously and we’re viewed as people who don’t live in the real world.

    We bring anecdotes to this table on a regular basis to illustrate the contrary… whether people choose to read them or not.

  • Parasum

    The only people who come well out of this business are Enda Kenny and Abp. Martin. The Vatican shows yet again it has still not  tumbled to a very obvious fact – that self-justifying, legalistic, blethering is no replacement for the abiliry to say “Sorry”, and mean it, and to make reparation. Or is the Vatican staffed by secular-minded relativists, & not Catholics ? That would explain a good deal. 

    “I think this Pope should resign, someone somewhere knows they should
    force the Pope to resign, they have the authority to do so, why have
    they not done that? Does the Pope have power over them too, this is
    utterly tragic.”

    I think the Vatican’s godlessness & impenitence & hardness of heart is a sin crying to heaven for vengeance. It badly needs a thunderbolt to hit St. Peter’s, like that lightning which struck York Cathedral. Unfortunately,no power on eaerth can do thing to the Pope – he could in theory sacrifice virgins to Beelzebub, Prince of Demons, and no-one in the Church would be able to try him, let alone excommunicate him. Not even an Ecumenical Council can do that, because the authority of the Pope is needed for a council to be recognised as Ecumenical, and indeed to be summoned.  The Church is a Papal autocracy, and Popes are its god-Emperors. They can’t abolish anything Divinely-revealed, so they can’t abolish dogmas – not in theory: but they can always explain them away or deny they were dogmas. So though there are in theory things Popes can’t do – such as abolish the episcopate – in reality the Pope can do anything at all. It’s all in the presentation.  He is the supreme judge of laws in the Church,  the man who decides what counts as Tradition amd what does not. Catholicism boils down to doing what the Pope says – in practice, though not in theory, he is Lord & Master of the Church. 

    The SSPX did the right thing – people complain about liturgical abuses, but JP2 is their idol, who was guilty of many liturgical abuses. You can do that when you’re Pope – and still be beatified LOL But live and teach the Catholic Faith, form seminarians to be Catholic priests, do everything in your power to encourage the missions, build seminaries, use only completely valid and orthodox & unambiguous & traditional liturgical books and rites, and you get excommunicated LOL !!! In a sane Church, such a man would be well on his way to having a cause for canonisation opened – but in the insane set-up we presently inhabit, John Paul the Atrocious has been beatified. In a sane Church, his cause would have been laughed out within five minutes.

    To quote Esther (Rantzen that is): “That’s life”.

  • Parasum

    In that case, presumably Hitler – who never visited Dachau, Auschwitz, Birkenau, Mauthausen etc., should have been allowed to continue to govern Germany. If he’s responsible, answerable,  for what went on in the Reich & its territories – so is the Pope responsible for the Church. You can’t condemn Hitler as being as guilty as sin, and give the Pope a free pass.

    If X is bad when Hitler does it, X does not become glorious Christian virtue when someone else does it. At least Hitler never made the claims for the Reich that the Pope is supposed to believe are true of the Church. If the Reich was evil, evil should be expected to come from it. One does expect the Holy Church of the Infinitely Holy Christ to produce evil – but it does, and has. Are we really expected to believe that the Popes are supposed to enjoy “power without responsibility – the prerogative of the harlot throughout the  ages” ? Because that is what giving the Pope a free pass, and freedom from responsibility for the Flock of God, amounts to. Such a suggestion blatantly contradicts the behaviour and words of Jesus the Servant-King. The Pope, by abandoning the faithful to the wolves, doesn’t look like a shepherd, but like a hireling, who cares only for himnself – exactly as Jesus warned in John 10 :( That will not do.

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