Church governance to be focus of papal meeting


THE GOVERNANCE of the Catholic Church in Ireland is likely to be at the heart of two days of discussions between Pope Benedict, senior Curia cardinals and the Irish bishops when they gather in Rome next month for a meeting to examine the implications of the church’s 15-year clerical child abuse crisis.

Plans for the meeting will be discussed at an extraordinary general meeting of the Irish bishops at Maynooth tomorrow.

Vatican senior spokesman Fr Federico Lombardi yesterday confirmed Irish media leaks that the bishops’ meeting with the pope will take place in the Vatican on February 15th and 16th but he was unable to give any further details.

Vatican commentators, however, suggest that secretary of state Cardinal Tarcisio Bertone has played a major role in the pope’s decision to summon the Irish bishops. In the wake of his decision last month to write a pastoral letter to the Irish faithful, due before Lent, the “Irish question” has been doing the rounds of the Holy See.

As the pope consulted with his closest advisers, Cardinal Bertone was one of those who argued that, given the dimensions of the Irish crisis, the Holy See’s response should not limit itself to just a pastoral letter.

Cardinal Bertone, the Vatican equivalent of prime minister, has long been one of Benedict’s closest advisers, having served for seven years as secretary for the Congregation of the Doctrine of the Faith (CDF) under Benedict, then Cardinal Ratzinger.

In June 2006, a little over a year after his election as pope, Benedict appointed Cardinal Bertone secretary of state. In his time at the CDF, Cardinal Bertone was involved in controversial disciplinary cases such as the (temporary) excommunication of the Sri Lankan theologian Tissa Balasuriya and restrictive measures against the now laicised Zambian “faith healing” archbishop, Emmanuel Milingo.

Cardinal Bertone was also a contributor to Cardinal Ratzinger’s hardline Dominus Jesusdocument of 2000, a document which stated that non-Christians are “in a gravely deficient situation” while other non-Catholic Christian churches had “defects”.

At next month’s meeting, the Irish bishops will most likely be asked to explain the full range of child protection measures now in place in their dioceses. Questions will most likely be asked as to what went wrong in, for instance, the diocese of Cloyne where, it seems, such measures were in place but not followed.

It is understood that next month’s meeting will be attended by all serving bishops. Vatican spokesmen were unable to confirm if this means that the meeting will be attended by those bishops, Eamonn Walshe, Ray Field and Jim Moriarty, who offered their resignations in the wake of the fallout from the Murphy report.

For the time being, the pope has not accepted those resignations but he may well do so before next month’s meeting.