'I was not in a position to comment. The report was already done'


INTERVIEW:The papal nuncio says the Vatican’s lack of response to the commission was not intended as a snub

In his first interview since the commission findings were published on Thursday last, Italian-born Archbishop Giuseppe Leanza told The Irish Timeshe did not “feel in the right position” to reply to the draft report of the commission which was sent to him earlier this year, as he only became the papal nuncio in April 2008.

Speaking at the nunciature on the Navan Road, Dublin, yesterday afternoon, he said he was only asked if he had comments on an extract from report. These extracts concerned the nunciature and aspects of canon law. He said he was not asked to present any documentation to the commission.

“This is the only letter I received from the commission. I was not in a position to comment. I was only here from April last year. The report was already done,” he said.

“Since the document was about 1975 to 2004, I was not in a position to comment on the proceedings. The appropriate body may have been the archbishop [of Dublin] because he has the archdiocese, but not myself. I’m not entitled to make comments on the proceedings of the commission.”

Dr Leanza, who is the pope’s representative in Ireland, explained the decision by the Vatican’s Congregation for the Doctrine of the Faith not to respond in September 2006 to a request for information, saying that the proper diplomatic procedure for accessing information was that the Irish Government would contact the Vatican.

He accepted the Murphy commission was set up by the Government and was independent of it and was therefore not a government agency.

The Vatican’s lack of a response was not intended as a snub, he said.

“I think the commission should have requested the Irish Government make a step to the appropriate authorities in the Vatican, and that they would apply to the Government through them.

“If it wishes to go beyond that, norms should be followed. This is the only way. If you go to the British embassy or the American embassy and say to them, ‘Give me what you have in your archives’, let the foreign office of the UK or the United States, let them give the documents,” he said.

Dr Leanza, who has been a career diplomat for the Holy See, said he never intended to demonstrate contempt for the institutions of the State, as had been alleged by Anglican priest Rev Stephen Neill, who called in a blog, carried in The Irish Timesyesterday, for him to be expelled for non-co-operation.

“Absolutely not. For myself, it was not the reason. I saw the article [in The Irish Times], which has been published. Accusations cannot be taken as such because it is not a contempt against the work of the commission, which we respect.”

He also rejected suggestions by Father Brian D’Arcy that the Vatican was hiding behind “smart-ass” legal procedures in not dealing with allegations of paedophilia within the church.

Dr Leanza said Pope Benedict XVI knew about the commission report and “absolutely” shared the horror of Irish people about its contents.

Other figures at the Vatican were also aware of the report, he said, though the Vatican has not officially responded to its publication. “The reactions are one that they [the Vatican] totally condemn the horrible crimes that have been committed,” he said.

“He [the pope] has utterly condemned the child abuse, first of all for Ireland during a meeting with the bishops of Ireland in 2006, and again the Holy Father has condemned child abuse when he was in the United States and Australia and other occasions.”

Dr Leanza said he understood the anger among Irish people about the findings of the Murphy commission and admitted it has brought “shame” on the church.

He believed Irish people were entitled to have high expectations of their clergy. “The people of Ireland should be respected in their own expectations from the church and the church should respond to those expectations.

“I think the church has learned really a big lesson from what happened, especially that concern for the innocent people like children should always be a priority in the life of the church and the church has tried to do, in the last few years, to set up strict measures to avoid such a shameful situation would happen again.

“We condemn totally what happened. The church has apologised already, and it should apologise for what happened to the victims and to the families.”

Profile: Giuseppe Leanza

Archbishop Giuseppe Leanza (66) arrived in Ireland on April 22nd, 2008. Born in Messina, Italy, in 1943, he was ordained in 1966. On being awarded a doctorate in canon law he entered the Vatican’s diplomatic service in 1972 and has since served in Paraguay, Uganda, the US, and at the Vatican’s secretariat of state. In July 1990 he was appointed papal nuncio to Haiti and titular archbishop of Lilybaeum. He was appointed pro-nuncio to Zambia and Malawi in 1991.

In April 1999, he became nuncio to Bosnia Herzegovina and in May 2002 was appointed nuncio to Slovenia and the Republic of Macedonia.

He served as nuncio in Bulgaria from February 2003 until his arrival in Ireland last year.