It is frequently the case that, though something is strongly suspected to be true, it comes as a shock when it is finally confirmed. Such happened this week for many people on learning that former Vatican secretary of state Angelo Sodano, in discussion with then president Mary McAleese, suggested a concordat with Ireland which would ensure Church documents were beyond the reach of then ongoing Irish statutory child abuse inquiries.
He did so at a private meeting in November 2003. McAleese ended the discussion immediately. Possibly worse was the Cardinal's attempt at another private meeting one year later, in November 2004. This time he proposed to then minister for foreign affairs Dermot Ahern that the Irish state might indemnify the Catholic Church against legal actions for compensation by clerical child sexual abuse survivors in Ireland.
Months previously the Irish bishops had been told that such compensation could be as high as €50 million over the following decade. As with McAleese in 2003, Ahern rebuffed the Cardinal in clear, unambiguous terms and the matter was not heard of again.
Cardinal Sodano had form in such matters. Vatican secretary of state from 1991 until 2006, he is believed to have stopped a Church abuse investigation into former archbishop of Vienna Cardinal Hans Hermann Groër, who resigned in 1995 following allegations, later proven, that he had abused young students. The Cardinal also successfully ended a 1998 abuse investigation into Fr Marcial Maciel Degollado, founder of the Legionaries of Christ. Maciel would later be found to have abused many young men and to have fathered children with a number of women.
And, where Ireland was concerned, there was also the case of Cardinal Castrillon Hoyos, prefect of the Congregation for Clergy until 2006. He repeatedly refused Vatican approval for child protection guidelines prepared by the Irish bishops because they recommended that cases should be reported to the Irish civil authorities. It meant the guidelines were useless to the Church in dealing with abuser priests.
In his 2011 address to the Dáil, following publication of the Cloyne report on the handling of clerical child sex abuse cases in that diocese, then taoiseach Enda Kenny said it exposed "the dysfunction, disconnection, elitism . . . the narcissism . . . that dominate the culture of the Vatican to this day." It had shown the need for the Vatican "to get its house in order, he said. That was certainly the case then.
More recently, almost daily, reports indicate little has changed at the Vatican where handling the clerical child sex abuse issue is concerned.
In Ireland later this month Pope Francis might explain how, at last, the Vatican plans to get its house in order on the issue.