Papal nuncio attends every session with bishops

Thu, Feb 18, 2010, 00:00

VATICAN MEETINGS:THE PAPAL nuncio to Ireland Archbishop Giuseppe Leanza attended all meetings at the Vatican this week involving Pope Benedict, senior curial cardinals and the Irish bishops.

However, he did not contribute to proceedings nor did he or the Vatican secretary of state Cardinal Bertone make any reference at the various sessions to the decision of Archbishop Leanza not to appear before the Oireachtas Committee on Foreign Affairs, said the Archbishop of Cashel and Emly Dermot Clifford yesterday.

Appointed apostolic administrator to Cloyne diocese last March and Ireland’s longest serving Catholic Archbishop, he told The Irish Times in Rome yesterday that it would probably be advisable to await the result of audits by the HSE and the National Board for Safeguarding Children in the Catholic Church in Ireland before it was decided to extend the remit of the Murphy Commission to other Catholic dioceses in Ireland. Otherwise, he said: “The past won’t be the past for a very long time.”

He felt that where the church was concerned, it was “on the way to having child protection safeguards which are exemplary. Mistakes of the past are being rectified. Bishops are prepared to be corrected and survivors have to be heeded.”

Church procedures on child protection were now more rigorous than those applied by the State, he said. “The State doesn’t have mandatory reporting,” he said.

But he felt “confidentiality, where a person’s good name is concerned, is going to remain a problem when it comes to informing statutory authorities about allegations of child sex abuse”.

He hoped “we will come out of the present difficulty a more humble and more caring church and one where we will not lose our priorities when it comes to the care of children and care for the church’s reputation”.

On whether Bishop of Galway Martin Drennan should resign, he said “that is a matter between himself and the pope”.

He didn’t know why Archbishop Martin had not attended the Irish bishops’ press conference in Rome on Tuesday but disagreed that there was division among the Irish bishops following the fall-out from the Murphy report.

What the pope was referring to in calling for unity among Irish bishops was his hope they would be united “in coming out strongly on the evil of abuse, the putting in place of healing for survivors and of getting the whole church behind, especially during Lent, atonement and repentance for the abuse against innocent children.”

He said the fallout from the Murphy report was a shock to the bishops. The resignations of four bishops “was very unexpected. We still have to deal with it,” he said. Even Archbishop Martin, who had warned that the report’s findings would be shocking, “seemed as surprised as any of us . . . by the report itself.” He also said the Murphy report had a far greater negative effect on older people than the previous Ryan and Ferns reports.

Where the Vatican was concerned he said that, in his experience of dealing with abuse cases, “there was no problem with the congregations. They gave every help and assistance in dealing with individual cases.”

Even if the Vatican did not give recognition to the Irish bishops’ 1996 and 2005 child protection guidelines, “the Irish bishops bound themselves to carry out those [1996 and 2005] procedures, which are stricter than those of the State”.

The meetings with the pope this week were “a unique event”, he said. It had been agreed beforehand that each bishop would speak for five minutes, though this was not rigidly interpreted.

“The pope listened and took notes, before giving his reaction. He was very sympathetic.” So too were the curial cardinals in their interventions, he said.

He said the pope’s pastoral letter to Irish Catholics, which they had seen, “will now be filled out with suggestions from all who spoke in individual interventions”.

He expected it would be published around St Patrick’s Day. Following this week’s meetings with the pope, he said, contact between the Vatican and the Irish church on the clerical child sex abuse issue would be “ongoing.”

As regards the Cloyne inquiry, which is ongoing, he felt precluded by law from saying whether he had given evidence to it. Its report is expected by the end of this year.

Reflecting on his time as archbishop, he said: “It was very pleasant being a bishop until 1992 [when it was revealed Bishop Eamonn Casey had a son]. Since then, it has been one crisis after another.”