The Irish Times view on the papal visit fallout: now the church must act on abuse

The Vatican must eradicate its cover-up culture

Pope Francis has returned to Rome after his brief visit to Ireland where he charmed with his humility and his plea for forgiveness over the sexual abuse of children by Catholic priests and its cover-up by bishops. Yet, nothing has changed.

As the afterglow of that visit recedes, a Vatican emerges once more where things are as was. There, inadequate mechanisms for holding to account those prelates who cover up the abuse of children remain. This is unacceptable.

Catholics, and others whose children may be in Catholic care, cannot be expected to accept the Vatican’s ongoing resistance to setting up a tribunal with powers of dismissal to deal with bishops and religious superiors who cover up the abuse of children. Describing such people as “caca” may illustrate the depth of revulsion Pope Francis feels towards them but more is required. It demands structures in the church which can assist in eradicating a culture of cover-up.

But there is more. In May 2001 Pope Benedict XVI (then Cardinal Joseph Ratzinger, Prefect of the Congregation for the Doctrine of the Faith) sent two letters to every Catholic bishop in the world, both in Latin. One advised that both be kept secret. The second, De delictis gravioribus (On serious crimes), instructed the bishop to send all clerical child sexual abuse allegations "with a semblance of truth" to the Congregation and it would decide whether these be dealt with at diocesan or Vatican level.

As then chancellor of Dublin's archdiocese Msgr John Dolan later told the Murphy commission, this policy "was subsequently modified as Rome was unable to deal with the vast numbers of referrals". Those documents remain at the Vatican. Unlike the Dublin archdiocese, which handed over 80,000 documents to the Murphy commission, the Vatican refused to hand over any of the documents sent to it by the Dublin archdiocese in 2001 when requested to do so by the Murphy commission in 2006. Benedict was pope then, as he was later when the Vatican refused to hand over documents to the commission investigating Cloyne diocese.

These documents detail what both Pope Benedict and Pope Francis have described as crimes and should be available to legitimate State inquiries, internationally. That such co-operation in investigating crime centred on the protection of children has been resisted by the Vatican is, frankly, intolerable.

Now we see allegations of cover-up move centre stage in the current Catholic Church civil war between liberals and traditionalists, used as mud by both sides to sling at one another.

If the Catholic Church does not address accountability in a manner which ensures children are safe, then the international community should intervene to help it do so.