Vatican wary of resignation 'domino effect' in Rome


ANALYSIS: The Holy See appears to have differentiated between sins of omission and sins of commission in relation to clerical sex abuse scandals, writes PADDY AGNEW

VATICAN OBSERVERS last night speculated that Pope Benedict’s decision not to accept the resignations of Dublin auxiliary bishops Eamonn Walsh and Ray Field is an indication of a Holy See “Maginot Line” on the question of episcopal resignations in light of the clerical sex abuse scandals.

For months now, Vatican commentators have argued that the delay in accepting resignations originally tendered last Christmas indicated a reluctance to see more heads roll.

This reluctance is at least twofold. First, there is nothing the Holy See would like less than to be seen to be dismissing bishops, solely in response to pressure from the media and public opinion. Secondly, senior Vatican figures are concerned about a possible “domino effect” for the Irish hierarchy. In other words, there may still be many Irish bishops with “mishandling/bureaucratic”, sex abuse skeletons still in the cupboard who would also have to resign.

To a certain extent, say observers, the Vatican has opted to differentiate between sins of omission and sins of commission in relation to the clerical sex abuse scandal.

While it was absolutely imperative for example that the Bishop of Bruges Roger Vangheluwe should resign last April, after admitting that he had sexually abused a boy, the Holy See argues that the level of “culpability” of the two auxiliaries on the whole does not merit resignation.

In particular, too, the secretariat of state has recalled the excellent work done by Eamonn Walsh in the role of apostolic administrator in the Wexford diocese of Ferns in the wake of the controversial tenure of Bishop Brendan Comiskey.

Commentators also argue that this most recent decision regarding bishops Field and Walsh is very much in line with the decision of the Archbishop of Armagh, Cardinal Seán Brady, not to resign last spring despite his involvement 35 years ago in a case concerning infamous priest paedophile Brendan Smyth.

There is little doubt, too, but that those decisions, regarding Cardinal Brady and regarding the Dublin auxiliaries, will have been taken only with the approval of Pope Benedict.

Vatican insiders acknowledged that, at least to some extent, this decision has to be seen as a setback for Archbishop of Dublin Diarmuid Martin in his attempts to come to terms with the whole ugly sex abuse heritage.

At least one commentator compared him to Austrian Cardinal Christoph Schönborn who was summoned to the Vatican in June for a very public rap on the knuckles after he had criticised former secretary of state Cardinal Sodano. The Austrian primate had claimed that Cardinal Sodano had in 1995 blocked a Vatican inquiry into sex abuse allegations against the late, disgraced Cardinal of Vienna, Hans Hermann Groer, accused of paedophilia.

Furthermore, Cardinal Schönborn had said that Cardinal Sodano had done “massive harm” to victims of sex abuse when, during Easter Sunday Mass in St Peter’s, he dismissed international criticism of the church in relation to the sex abuse crisis as “idle gossip”.

After a “clear-the-air” meeting with Pope Benedict, also attended by the current secretary of state, Cardinal Tarcisio Bertone, Cardinal Schönborn said that “equivocations” created by his words had been due to mistaken (media) interpretations. Cardinal Bertone, a tacit supporter of the current centre-right Italian government led by Silvio Berlusconi, is also believed to have been involved in the decision regarding bishops Walsh and Field.