Vatican relationship at new low


Relations between Ireland and the Vatican have reached a historic low following the Taoiseach’s unprecedented attack on the Holy See’s role in covering up cases of clerical child sex abuse.

In language never before used by an Irish government leader, Enda Kenny yesterday accused the Vatican of downplaying or “managing” the rape and torture of children in order to uphold its own power and reputation.

Speaking in the Dáil in a debate on the Cloyne report, he said it excavated the “dysfunction, disconnection, elitism, the narcissism” dominating the culture of the Vatican to this day.

The Taoiseach's speech was reported around the world with many media organisations praising Mr Kenny for his criticism of the Catholic Church.

There is still no sign of an official reply from the Vatican to the “considered response” to the report sought by the Government. Minister for Justice Alan Shatter dismissed exculpatory comments by a senior Vatican spokesman, Fr Federico Lombardi yesterday, as unfortunate and disingenuous.

Fr Lombardi had said there was nothing in the advice given by the papal nuncio in 1997 to encourage bishops to break Irish laws.

A spokesman for the Department of Foreign Affairs said last night the Vatican was under no illusions about the seriousness of the situation and a response was expected in a reasonable timeframe. He said the Minister for Foreign Affairs, Eamon Gilmore had established an official and urgent channel of communication with the Vatican and would not be responding to comments made by individual clerics in the Holy See.

A spokesman for the Government said it would not be making allowances for the holiday period in terms of receiving a considered response.

In his statement to the Dáil, Mr Kenny twice referred to the dismay he felt as a practising, faithful Catholic and warned of more reports such as Cloyne unless the State acted swiftly to deal with the church’s “frankly brazen disregard” for child protection.

“Far from listening to evidence of humiliation and betrayal with St Benedict’s ‘ear of the heart’, the Vatican’s reaction was to parse and analyse it with the gimlet eye of a canon lawyer. This calculated, withering position being the polar opposite of the radicalism, humility and compassion upon which the Roman Church was founded.”

The revelations of the Cloyne report had brought the Government, Irish Catholics and the Vatican to an unprecedented juncture, he said. “It’s fair to say that after the Ryan and Murphy reports Ireland is, perhaps, unshockable when it comes to the abuse of children. But Cloyne has proved to be of a different order.”

“Because for the first time in Ireland, a report into child sexual abuse exposes an attempt by the Holy See, to frustrate an inquiry in a sovereign, democratic republic as little as three years ago, not three decades ago. And in doing so, the Cloyne report excavates the dysfunction, disconnection, elitism, the narcissism that dominate the culture of the Vatican to this day.”

The Government spokesman said Mr Kenny’s comment about “three years ago” was not intended to refer to any specific event, but rather described the cumulative effect of the Vatican’s actions.

Mr Kenny continued: “The rape and torture of children were downplayed or ‘managed’ to uphold instead, the primacy of the institution, its power, standing and ‘reputation’.”

Archbishop of Dublin Dr Diarmuid Martin suggested the Vatican should respond to the Government by reiterating its support for the Irish bishops’ approach to child protection, by supporting the reporting of abuse cases to the Irish authorities and by backing further audits of child protection policies in individual dioceses. He suggested there were “cabals” in the church, either in Ireland or the Vatican, who were refusing to recognise the church’s rules on child protection.

“What do you do when you’ve got systems in place and somebody ignores them? What do you do when groups, either in the Vatican or in Ireland, who try to undermine what is being done and who simply refuse to understand what is being done?”

Speaking last night on RTÉ television, he expressed disappointment the Taoiseach hadn’t apologised for the failings of State institutions identified in the Cloyne report, which was critical of the Garda response in a minority of abuse cases. People were let down “across the board”, he suggested.

In fact, the Taoiseach acknowledged that the State needed to “get its house in order”, just as the Vatican did, though he blamed the previous government for allowing “an entirely unsatisfactory position” to persist.