Rapprochement with Vatican still possible


ANALYSIS:Enda Kenny will have to stand up his allegations about Vatican interference as the leader of a party with strong church ties

AT ONE point in his landmark speech to the Dáil on the Cloyne report last July, Enda Kenny claimed the Vatican’s instinctive response to child abuse was to “parse and analyse it with the gimlet eye of a canon lawyer”.

To judge from the Holy See’s 25-page, 11,000-word reply to the Government, the lawyers in the Vatican are still working overtime.

While the document is bookended by expressions of sorrow and regret for the abuse that occurred, its core is entirely devoted to a detailed rejection of the allegations made by the Government.

However, by dint of its detailed rebuttal of the accusations hurled by the Taoiseach and the Tánaiste over the summer, it puts the ball firmly back in their court.

The response demands of both men that they substantiate the claims they have made against the spiritual leaders of the country’s dominant faith.

Eamon Gilmore indicated yesterday he has no interest in being drawn into a prolonged bout of nit-picking with the Vatican over “this phrase and that”. As the leader of a secular, left-wing party, he can probably afford to adopt this stance, safe in the knowledge that it will play well with his natural support base.

The Taoiseach faces a different challenge, both personal and political.

He is a committed, Mass-going Catholic, and this fact lent his criticisms of last July particular pungency. He is also the leader of a traditional, right-of-centre political party with long historical ties to the church. As such, he can’t just brush off the implied criticism of his position contained in the Vatican’s response. He must also pay heed to the words of Archbishop of Dublin Diarmuid Martin, almost a lone voice in his church in criticising his colleagues’ response to abuse.

Archbishop Martin, on this occasion, has sided with the Vatican in claiming a lack of evidence for some of Kenny’s remarks.

In the bluntest line of his Dáil speech, the Taoiseach accused the Vatican of downplaying or “managing” the rape and torture of children in order to uphold its own power and standing.

Curiously, the Vatican’s response makes no reference to this claim – the “r word” appears nowhere in its document. It does, however, respond in detail to Kenny’s central claim that the Cloyne report exposes the attempt by the Holy See to “frustrate an inquiry in a sovereign, democratic republic – as little as three years ago, not three decades ago”.

The Vatican deals with this accusation by denying something it wasn’t accused of.

It says Cloyne and earlier reports contain no evidence to show it “meddled in the internal affairs of the Irish State” or was involved in the day-to-day management of the Irish church in relation to abuse cases.

Yet what the Cloyne report plainly says is that the Vatican “gave comfort” to those in the Irish church who dissented from agreed policy on handling clerical sex abuse cases. Its approach gave individual Irish bishops the freedom to ignore these agreed procedures, the report states – an accusation somewhat short of “meddling” in Irish affairs. The report also highlighted the Vatican’s failure to co-operate fully with its inquiries.

Shortly after he made the speech, The Irish Times asked the Taoiseach through a spokesman what he was referring to when he mentioned an event of “three years ago”. The reply was that he wasn’t referring to any specific incident; it was, rather, a figure of speech.

In its response, the Vatican highlights this clarification, yet it does not provide any information about the handling of abuse cases from Cloyne which were reported to its Congregation for the Doctrine of the Faith. As the report points out, four cases have been reported to Rome; in one, the priest has died, and nothing is known of the outcome in the other three cases.

Despite the fact that the Government and the Vatican appear to be still at daggers drawn, there are grounds for hope of a satisfactory outcome to this spat. In his Dáil speech, Kenny sought confirmation from Rome that it required compliance by all church authorities here with the obligations to report cases of suspected abuse, whether past or present, to State authorities.

In its response, the Vatican addresses this demand in various ways. It says all citizens, including members of the church, are subject and accountable to the laws of the State on sexual abuse. Elsewhere, it states that in such cases involving clerics, “church authorities are to co-operate with those of the State, and are not to impede the legitimate path of justice”. Later in the document it says the Holy See expects the Irish bishops to co-operate with the civil authorities to ensure the “full and impartial application of the child safety norms of the church in Ireland”.

There may in these statements be elements of obfuscation and mental reservation, but equally there may lie the basis for agreement on the future handling of clerical abuse cases, whatever about the church’s – and the Vatican’s – failings in the past.