Lack of Vatican co-operation over child sex abuse led to closure of embassy


OPINION:Lay voices who make a living defending the church should see sense on embassy issue, writes PATSY McGARRY

PROTAGONISTS IN the row over the closure of Ireland’s embassy to the Holy See have included some Fine Gael backbenchers not heard from before. Certainly they were silent following the Cloyne report last July, when no one produced a rosary beads at a parliamentary party meeting either.

Recently they’ve had to deal with voters angered at Fine Gael Minister for the Environment Phil Hogan’s stand on septic tanks and household charges. It was a help to have a Labour Minister’s decision to seize on.

The row would not be complete without Fianna Fáil input. On Valentine’s Day Senator Terry Leyden was accused by Fine Gael’s Paul Coghlan of jumping up and down like a jackass on the issue. Leyden is no jackass but would recognise a chance to embarrass political opponents before drawing his first breath of a day, even on Valentine’s Day.

Then there are the usual suspects, lay voices who make a living from defending the institutional church when it is safe to do so, when outrage is settling after the Cloyne report.

It was the same after the Ferns, Ryan and Murphy reports. Their immediate reaction is practised horror. Then, with time, they’re back to their slithering ways, diluting truth, minimising the wreckage, playing it all down.

A particular focus for this Fine Gael/Fianna Fáil/usual suspects “alliance” is Eamon Gilmore, who announced the closure of the embassy in November. He has even been described as “an arrogant atheist”.

Gilmore has said he is an agnostic. He attended Garbally College, Ballinasloe, junior seminary of the Catholic Diocese of Clonfert. In his 2010 book Leading Lightshe described a teacher there, Fr Joe Cassidy, later archbishop of Tuam, as one of 12 people who inspired him most in life. This hardly fits the image of “an arrogant atheist”.

But some will note that one of the great 20th century atheists and tyrants Joseph Stalin also attended a seminary. (Irish seminaries produced their share of tyrants, albeit arrogant believers to a man.) Yet even his detractors would acknowledge that Gilmore is no Joe Stalin.

None of this nonsense has anything to do with religion. The central issue over Ireland and the Vatican has been Rome’s lack of co-operation with two inquiries set up by this State to investigate criminality – the systematic enabling and cover-up by Catholic Church authorities of the rape of Irish children over decades.

Their determination to hide the truth, through lies and mental reservation, rested on what was understood to be required in Rome. Then in May 2001 the prefect of the Congregation for the Doctrine of the Faith Cardinal Joseph Ratzinger (now Pope) contacted every Catholic bishop in the world, including then archbishop of Dublin Desmond Connell and then bishop of Cloyne John Magee.

He directed them to send all clerical child sex abuse allegations “with a semblance of truth” to him. On foot of this and prior Vatican decisions the Murphy commission, which investigated abuse in Dublin, wrote to the congregation in September 2006 seeking co-operation. It got none.

Instead the Vatican complained to Dublin that the commission had not used proper channels, ie it had not gone through the Department of Foreign Affairs. As should have been known in Rome the Murphy commission could not use the Irish State’s “proper channels” as it was also investigating this State’s handling of allegations.

So, in February 2007 the commission wrote to the papal nuncio in Dublin asking for relevant documents. There was no reply. In early 2009 it again wrote to the nuncio, enclosing a draft of its report for comment. There was no reply.

During its later investigations into Cloyne diocese it also wrote to the nuncio. This time he responded to say he was “unable to assist”. That was how the Holy See treated two inquiries set up by our government to investigate the gravest of abuses of thousands of Irish children by priests. It ignored them. This had nothing to do with Catholicism but centrally involved inter-state relations. Because of it, and whatever may happen in the future, the decision to close the Irish embassy to the Holy See was appropriate and proportionate, regardless of the costs argument.

Nor did it amount to breaking off diplomatic relations, as could be inferred from surprising interventions by former Irish diplomats Seán Donlon and Michael Lillis.

It should be noted too that the most Catholic country, Malta, is represented in the Holy See from its capital Valletta, and others from Bern in Switzerland.

It is time common sense entered this row.

Pasty McGarry is Religious Affairs Correspondent