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Irish PM: Vatican has 'calculated, withering' abuse stance

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Irish P.M. Enda Kenny (left) and Fr. Federico Lombardi, the Vatican spokesman

DUBLIN -- Irish Prime Minister Enda Kenny has accused the Vatican of adopting a "calculated, withering position" on abuse in the wake of a judicial report that accused the Holy See of being "entirely unhelpful" to Irish bishops trying to deal with abuse.

During a July 20 parliamentary debate, Kenny said an independent judicial investigation into the handling of clergy sexual abuse in the Diocese of Cloyne "exposes an attempt by the Holy See to frustrate an inquiry in a sovereign, democratic republic as little as three years ago."

"And in doing so, the Cloyne Report excavates the dysfunction, disconnection, elitism and the narcissism that dominate the culture of the Vatican to this day," he said.

One day earlier, a leading church official rejected harsh criticism of the Vatican in the wake of Cloyne report.

Jesuit Fr. Federico Lombardi, the Vatican spokesman, told Vatican Radio July 19 that much of the criticism failed to take into account the efforts of Pope Benedict XVI and other church officials to prevent future cases of child sexual abuse and address past cases with openness and determination.

Lombardi said the Vatican was preparing a more detailed response to the Cloyne Report, and that his own comments to Vatican Radio did not constitute an official Vatican reaction.

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The Cloyne Report, published July 13, found that Cloyne Bishop John Magee, a former secretary to three popes, paid "little or no attention" to child safeguarding as recently as 2008. It said he falsely told the government that his diocese was reporting all allegations of clerical child sexual abuse to the civil authorities. It also found that the bishop deliberately misled another inquiry and his own advisers by creating two different accounts -- one for the Vatican and the other for diocesan files -- of a meeting with a priest-suspect.

The report accuses the Vatican of being "entirely unhelpful" to bishops who wanted to fully implement the 1996 guidelines, "Child Sexual Abuse: Framework for a Church Response."

Kenny said that "this calculated, withering position" was "the polar opposite of the radicalism, humility and compassion upon which the Roman church was founded."

He said that "the Irish people, including the very many faithful Catholics who -- like me -- have been shocked and dismayed by the repeated failings of church authorities to face up to what is required, deserve and require confirmation from the Vatican that they do accept, endorse and require compliance by all church authorities here with, the obligations to report all cases of suspected abuse, whether current or historical, to the state's authorities."

Referring to a tendency identified in the Cloyne Report to put the rights of accused clerics ahead of victims, Kenny said "clericalism has rendered some of Ireland's brightest, most privileged and powerful men, either unwilling or unable to address the horrors" of abuse.

He said this "Roman clericalism must be devastating for good priests, some of them old, others struggling to keep their humanity, even their sanity, as they work so hard, to be the keepers of the church's light and goodness within their parishes, communities and the human heart."

Kenny said the church needs to be "truly and deeply penitent for the horrors it perpetrated, hid and denied."

In his July 19 Vatican Radio interview, Lombardi said accusations that the Vatican was somehow responsible for what happened in Ireland went well beyond the language of the report itself, which was carefully worded when speaking about responsibility.

The accusations "show no awareness of what the Holy See has, in fact, accomplished over the years to help face this problem effectively," he said.

He pointed to norms on sexually abusive priests that were introduced in 2001 and updated last year. He also cited Pope Benedict's strong statements on clerical sex abuse in Ireland, the pope's meeting with Irish bishops in 2010 and his decision to order an apostolic visitation to Ireland to investigate the situation.

The results of that visitation are in "an advanced state of study and evaluation," he said.

Lombardi addressed two particular issues that came out in the Cloyne Report:

  • A 1997 letter from the Vatican's Congregation for Clergy to the papal nuncio in Ireland has drawn sharp criticism by some because it indicated Vatican uneasiness about the Irish bishops' 1996 policy document, "Child Sexual Abuse: Framework for a Church Response," and its compatibility with church law.
  • Lombardi said that, as the Irish bishops stated at the time, their document was "far from being the last word on how to address the issues." In that context, he said, the Vatican's critical observations were legitimate and reflected concern that Irish policies and sanctions against abusers would be in vain if they were ultimately found to be in contradiction with church law.

    Even if "one can debate the adequacy of Rome's intervention at that time in relation to the gravity of the Irish situation," he said, the Vatican letter should not be interpreted as an effort to hide priestly sex abuse cases.

  • On the issue of mandatory reporting of abuse allegations to civil authorities, the Vatican also raised objections. But Lombardi noted this did not mean church officials should not respect the laws of Ireland, which at that time did not obligate reporting of such cases. Mandatory reporting was a much-debated issue even in civil society at the time, he said.
  • Lombardi said it was unfair to criticize the church for failing to insist on mandatory reporting in a country that had not deemed it necessary to make it part of civil law.

    He said the Cloyne Report constitutes "a new step on the long and difficult path of searching for the truth, of penitence and purification, of healing and renewal of the church in Ireland." He said the Vatican is participating in this process with a sense of solidarity and commitment.

    [Michael Kelly reported this story from Dublin and John Thais contributed from Rome.]

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