Dispute reveals contrasting perceptions of Benedict's role in Rome


Senior Vatican figures hoist the drawbridge when it comes to criticism of the Pope, writes PADDY AGNEW

IT IS NOW clear that the one section of the Taoiseach’s attack on the Vatican in the Dáil last week that has thoroughly annoyed the Holy See is that passage in his speech where Mr Kenny quotes Pope Benedict – then Cardinal Ratzinger – in a 1990 Congregation for the Doctrine of the Faith (CDF) document.

Towards the end of his speech, the Taoiseach talks about “two pieces of legislation” with regard to protecting “the sacred space of childhood” that his Government intended to promote.

At this point, he quotes Ratzinger, saying: “Standards of conduct appropriate to civil society or the workings of a democracy cannot be purely and simply applied to the church.”

Kenny then concludes with an apparently defiant challenge to the Catholic Church, saying that the “standards of conduct which the church deems appropriate to itself, cannot and will not be applied to the workings of democracy and civil society in this republic”.

The clear implication is that given its mishandling of the worldwide sex abuse crisis, the Vatican has no right to inhabit any moral high ground from which it seems to denigrate (or disrespect) democratic principles.

Many have argued that, given the Holy See’s track record of a less than satisfactory, long- distance handling of the Irish clerical sex abuse crisis, such comments from the Taoiseach were long overdue.

While senior Vatican figures now freely, but off the record, concede that the Holy See deserves its share of outspoken criticism for the many mistakes made in the handling of the sex abuse crisis, they hoist the drawbridge when it comes to criticism of the Pope.

Even if it could be argued that Benedict has been a senior and influential church figure for the last 30 years, and as such must bear his share of responsibility for the “company culture”, senior Holy See figures suggest otherwise.

They point to a number of instances that would indicate a genuine desire on the part of the Pope to deal with the clerical sex abuse scourge – his creation of the sex abuse norms in John Paul II’s 2001 Motu Proprio Sacramentorum Sanctitatis Tutela; his (less than fully successful) attempts to denounce notorious church paedophiles such as the late Cardinal of Vienna, Hans Hermann Groer, and the founder of the Legionaries of Christ, Fr Marcial Maciel Degollado; his attack on “filth” within the church in his 2005 Via Crucis homily; the pastoral letter to the Irish and the apostolic visitation to Ireland.

Thus the apparent allegation that Benedict is less than willing to get to grips with the issue is seen as unfair. In particular, the quote from the 1990 CDF document Donum Veritatis, On The Ecclesial Vocation of the Theologian is seen as taken out of the context of a complex 6,000-word document.

However, the offending paragraph 39, which contains the quote, seems designed perfectly to antagonise church critics.

Discussing the “mystery of communion” represented by the church which is “organised around a hierarchy established for the service of the Gospel”, it says that “all the baptised are to strive with sincere hearts for a harmonious unity in doctrine, life and worship”.

For this reason, it adds, the infamous “standards of conduct” appropriate to a democracy do not apply, while the document also ridicules the idea of “polling public opinion to determine the proper thing to think or do, opposing the Magisterium by exerting the pressure of public opinion”.

All of this would represent “a grave loss of the sense of truth and of the sense of the church”.

Unpalatable to some, such views nonetheless represent classic Ratzingerian thought.

Welcome, Mr Taoiseach, to the Catholic Church, where for a long time people have inhabited a moral high ground that does not so much denigrate or disrespect democracy but which simply takes another road altogether.

In that sense, Holy See figures have difficulty understanding the apparent attack on Benedict, a true custodian of a very orthodox, hardline faith.