In July, the Irish government issued a report contending that the Diocese of Cloyne, a rural part of County Cork, did not act on complaints of sexual abuse of children against 19 priests from 1996 to 2009. The report was drafted by an independent investigative committee headed by Judge Yvonne Murphy and also found that, while two allegations were reported to the police, no follow-up inquiry ensued. The report provides stark evidence that the Church’s earlier promises to report all abuse cases since 1995 to civil authorities were empty.
From the 1930s to the 1990s, the Irish government found that thousands of children were abused in state-run Catholic boarding schools. As in the US, dioceses often moved predatory priests to different posts, rather than turning them over to the police.
Taoiseach Enda Kenny and the Tánaiste Eamon Gilmore, the Prime Minister and Deputy Prime Minister, both directed harsh words towards the Church after the report was issued in July:
“For the first time in Ireland, a report in 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, elitism . . . the narcissism that dominates the culture of the Vatican to this day.”
After Kenny’s speech, the Vatican recalled its ambassador to Ireland.
The Vatican has now issued its first public statement about the Cloyne report and, not surprisingly, it denies that there was any cover-up of abuse, says the Irish Times. Kenny’s statements were “unfounded,” says the Vatican, which rejected the charge that the it had “intervened to effectively have priests believe they could in conscience evade their responsibilities under Irish law.” The Vatican also denied that it had “hampered or sought to interfere in any inquiry into cases of child sex abuse in the Diocese of Cloyne” and that it had in any way interfered with Irish civil law. Instead, the Vatican said that the Cloyne report’s claims are based on an “incorrect reading” of a 1997 Vatican letter that had “serious reservations” about the Irish bishops’ 1996 policy requiring bishops to report abusers to the police.
Tánaiste Gilmore, who is also Ireland’s foreign minister, responded that the Vatican’s criticism of the Cloyne report was “legalistic and technical.” He also said that he holds “firm to the view that the Vatican had interfered in the affairs of a sovereign, democratic state.”
Terrance McKiernan, the president of Bishop Accountability, which has documented the flood of cases of sexual abuse in the Catholic Church, put it more bluntly in the New York Times, saying that the Vatican’s response “shows that the Vatican is still in denial.”
The Vatican statement also said the Irish government was partially to blame for the sexual abuse cases. Mandatory reporting of suspected abuse by clergy members to the police was debated in the mid- 1990s but not required under Irish law. Presently, Irish parliament is debating a law that would make failing to report allegations of abuse to civil authorities a criminal offense involving jail time.
In its statement, the Vatican did say that it was “sorry and ashamed for the terrible sufferings which the victims of abuse and their families have had to endure within the Church of Jesus Christ, a place where this should never happen.” While it is good to hear such words from the Vatican, many would agree, they are too little and offered way, way too late.
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Photo of the Diocese of Cork in Ireland by Our Lady of Fatima -The Pilgrim Statue