Dismay in Vatican at negative Irish response to 'historic' meeting


REACTION:ON THE day after the historic two-day meeting between the Irish bishops and Pope Benedict, there was a certain dismay in the Vatican at the widespread negative Irish media reaction.

Speaking of what he called a “dialogue between deaf parties”, one commentator said neither the Holy See nor Irish public and media opinion had fully understood the other. What seemed a very useful, groundbreaking meeting to one, looked like a total waste of time to the other.

From the Vatican viewpoint, all sight has been lost of the exceptional nature of this week’s meeting and, above all, of the forthcoming pastoral letter.

This letter, destined to become a benchmark and part of the magisterium of the church, represents the first time that a pope has devoted an entire teaching to the complex and painful question of clerical child sex abuse.

Vatican insiders argue that a meeting like that held this week could never produce obvious, tangible results. This meeting was much more about listening and understanding.

The issue, they say, is too complex, and the Holy See moves to a very different beat than that of the secular media.

Issues such as the resignations of bishops and arranging a “symbolic gesture” meeting between abuse survivors and Pope Benedict were simply never on the agenda.

Some insiders acknowledge, however, that the Holy See could have handled the historic meeting with greater dexterity. In particular, the limited scope of the talks should have been more fully explained to the world’s media.

Furthermore, many commentators wonder if, prior to this meeting, the Holy See fully understood the level of Irish public anger. There seems little doubt but that this message has got through now, amidst the fall-out from the gathering.

Even the refusal of the papal nuncio to Ireland, Dr Giuseppe Leanza, to go before the Oireachtas foreign affairs committee is seen as a misleading polemic. Experienced diplomats argue that not all ambassadors are willing to go before such committees.

It is also true, however, that the Vatican has a legendary reluctance to allow nuncios to take any step that might imply any sort of legal culpability, in this case in relation to sex abuse.

Pope Benedict himself knows this problem all too well, having himself been sued in relation to clerical sex abuse.

As Prefect of the Congregation of the Doctrine of the Faith he was sued in 2004 by three victims of clerical sex abuse in the US. Lawyers argued that the then Cardinal Ratzinger had acted outside his authority in sending a letter to bishops, subjecting accusations of abuse against priests to secrecy and the authority of his office.

One year later, by which time he had become Pope Benedict, the court ruled that he was covered by “head of state immunity”.