Cowen shows he is 'second an Irishman, first a Catholic'

Thu, Dec 3, 2009, 00:00

DUBLIN DIOCESAN REPORT:LISTENING TO Taoiseach Brian Cowen in the Dáil on Tuesday as he delivered his semper fidelis (always faithful) defence of the Vatican and the papal nunciature to Ireland over their lack of co-operation with the Dublin diocesan commission, was to be reminded of other days and another taoiseach, writes PATSY McGARRYReligious Affairs Correspondent

In April 1951, during debate on the ill-fated Mother and Child Scheme, opposed by the Catholic bishops led by Archbishop John Charles McQuaid, then taoiseach John A Costello felt impelled to announce, “I am an Irishman second: I am a Catholic first and I accept without qualification in all respects the teaching of the hierarchy and the church to which I belong.” He told the Dáil: “I, as a Catholic, obey my church authorities and will continue to do so.”

It is hardly unfair to suggest that in his doughty defence of the Vatican’s non-co-operation with a commission of this State, set up by a Government of which he was a member, our current Taoiseach has discovered he too is “an Irishman second”.

You might say the same of his dismissal of requests for him to call for the resignation of bishops currently in office and named in the Dublin report, as a matter for the church not the State.

Is it not truly remarkable that a Taoiseach of this State can be so sanguine about an institution whose officer class oversaw the mass cover-up of rape and abuse of children in this State?

And all this in the face of findings that this same institution, willy nilly, moved child rapists and child abusers hither and thither, without regard to the children they had or would destroy, as it protected itself. To be specific, the report concluded that “the welfare of children, which should have been the first priority, was not even a factor to be considered in the early stages”.

It continued that instead their focus “was on the avoidance of scandal and the preservation of the good name, status and assets of the institution and of what the institution regarded as its most important members – the priests.”

Instead of criticising the bishops, the Taoiseach pointed the finger at the commission in the Dáil last Tuesday. It was not “unreasonable to assume the Holy See was open to responding to a further approach through diplomatic channels” from the commission, he said. Similarly where the papal nuncio was concerned.

He said “neither is it unreasonable to assume that when the papal nuncio received correspondence from the commission, in February 2007 and earlier this year, both the present and previous papal nuncios believed the matter was more properly addressed by the diplomatic note”.

The Irish Times has learned that contacting the Vatican’s Congregation for the Doctrine of the Faith (CDF) in September 2006 the commission understood it was communicating with a church not a State. Similarly, in communicating with the papal nunciature in Dublin, it felt it was addressing the papal legate (pope’s spiritual representative) rather than the Vatican’s diplomatic representative.

As explained in its report, the commission felt constrained in communicating with the Vatican or papal nunciature to Ireland through diplomatic channels because of its own status as independent of this State. As its remit involved investigating how State agencies dealt with allegations of clerical child abuse, it felt constrained from using State diplomatic channels in dealing with Rome. It is also believed the commission was not consulted in preparation of the Taoiseach’s written reply on the matter which he read to the Dáil on Tuesday.

It is understood that though the commission wrote to the CDF in September 2006, it was March 2007 before the CDF responded to the Department of Foreign Affairs through the Irish Embassy to the Holy See, explaining its protocol difficulties. The papal nunciature in Dublin ignored all correspondence from the commission, in February 2007 and early 2009.

The commission was interested in the Vatican’s 1922 Crimen Solicitationis document, updated in 1962, which addressed clerical child abuse, and in its letter of May 2001 to all Catholic bishops worldwide.

Sent by then CDF prefect Cardinal Joseph Ratzinger (now Pope Benedict XVI) Sacramentorum Sanctitatis Tutela requested that all allegations of child sex abuse which had reached the threshold of “a semblance of truth” should be referred to the CDF in Rome.

The purpose of the letter, which was accompanied by separate correspondence also in Latin asking that it be kept secret, was to ensure a uniform response to the abuse issue, it was explained. According to the Dublin report the current chancellor of the Dublin archdiocese Mgr John Dolan told the commission that this 2001 CDF policy was later modified as “Rome was unable to deal with the vast number of referrals”.