The Taoiseach has just got it wrong. The Pope isn’t the problem: he is a major part of the solution

Enda Kenny pins blame for the mishandling of abuse allegations on the Vatican (PA photo)

As the Belfast Telegraph comments today: “The blistering attack by Taoiseach Enda Kenny on the Vatican in the wake of the disturbing Cloyne report on clerical child abuse was a seismic moment in the relationship between the state and the Catholic Church in the Republic. He pulled no punches in his comments which would have been unthinkable in an earlier era. But, even more worryingly for the Church, one of its most senior clerics, Dr Diarmuid Martin, Archbishop of Dublin, weighed in with more allegations of continuing cover-ups by elements in both the Vatican and Irish hierarchy.”

It should be noted, however, that Archbishop Martin indirectly confronts one of the most potentially damaging accusations in the Taioseach’s “blistering” speech, one to which Mr Kenny gave additional prominence by climactically ending on it: the accusation that as Cardinal Ratzinger he denied that the civil authorities had any part in dealing with crimes committed within the Church:

Cardinal Joseph Ratzinger said: ‘Standards of conduct appropriate to civil society or the workings of a democracy cannot be purely and simply applied to the Church.’

As the Holy See prepares its considered response to the Cloyne report, as Taoiseach, I am making it absolutely clear, that when it comes to the protection of the children of this state, the standards of conduct which the Church deems appropriate to itself, cannot and will not be applied to the workings of democracy and civil society in this republic.

Not purely, or simply or otherwise.

Now, Mr Kenny’s anger is understandable. But he will get nowhere by characterising the gross failures exposed in the Cloyne report (which found that Bishop John Magee had paid “little or no attention” to child safeguarding as recently as 2008 and that he falsely told the government that his diocese was reporting all allegations of clerical child sexual abuse to the civil authorities) as being a direct reflection of Vatican policy. The Cloyne report also found, according to the Herald’s report, 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”. So, he deliberately kept the Vatican in the dark. The point is that as Archbishop Martin pointed out in his own remarks, “Those in Cloyne ignored the 2001 norms of the Pope, of the present Pope.”

It is important to understand what those norms are, since the Taioseach is now accusing the present Pope (by quoting wholly out of context remarks on the nature of truth made in 1990, in a document entitled “Instruction on the Ecclesial Vocation of the Theologian”, and published of course well before the present child abuse furore) of seeking to exclude the civil authorities from cases of clerical child abuse. This is how the relevant CDF document “Guide to Understanding Basic CDF Procedures concerning Sexual Abuse Allegations”, actually begins:

A: Preliminary Procedures

The local diocese investigates every allegation of sexual abuse of a minor by a cleric.

If the allegation has a semblance of truth the case is referred to the CDF. The local bishop transmits all the necessary information to the CDF and expresses his opinion on the procedures to be followed and the measures to be adopted in the short and long term.


And that is what he reiterated to the Bishops of Ireland in March last year:

It cannot be denied that some of you and your predecessors failed, at times grievously, to apply the long-established norms of canon law to the crime of child abuse. Serious mistakes were made in responding to allegations. I recognise how difficult it was to grasp the extent and complexity of the problem, to obtain reliable information and to make the right decisions in the light of conflicting expert advice. Nevertheless, it must be admitted that grave errors of judgment were made and failures of leadership occurred. All this has seriously undermined your credibility and effectiveness. I appreciate the efforts you have made to remedy past mistakes and to guarantee that they do not happen again. Besides fully implementing the norms of canon law in addressing cases of child abuse, CONTINUE TO COOPERATE WITH THE CIVIL AUTHORITIES IN THEIR AREA OF COMPETENCE.

Incidentally, on the accusation that in 1997 the then nuncio to Ireland gave bishops an excuse for ignoring Irish law on reporting such cases to the civil authority, see Rory Fitzgerald’s recent Herald blog, in which he quotes Fr Lombardi as saying that the letter in fact did not contravene “any civil law to that effect, because it did not exist in Ireland at that time…”

“This is true,” comments Fitzgerald: “there was no such law at the time. Therefore the accusations that the Vatican’s 1997 letter broke the law in Ireland are probably false.” So, it wasn’t just the Church that needed at the time to catch up: it was the civil law, too.

Finally, here is the full context of that 1990 quotation from a document called “Instruction on the Ecclesial Vocation of the Theologian”, which the Taioseach quoted in his speech attacking the Pope:

The Church, which has her origin in the unity of the Father, Son, and Holy Spirit, is a mystery of communion. In accordance with the will of her founder, she is organised around a hierarchy established for the service of the Gospel and the People of God who live by it. After the pattern of the members of the first community, all the baptised with their own proper charisms are to strive with sincere hearts for a harmonious unity in doctrine, life, and worship (cf. Acts 2:42). This is a rule which flows from the very being of the Church. For this reason, standards of conduct, appropriate to civil society or the workings of a democracy, cannot be purely and simply applied to the Church.

The passage in bold type is the quotation produced by Enda Kenny with such a flourish to demonstrate (conclusively, he thought) the present Pope’s alleged belief that clerical child abuse cases were no business of the civil authorities: actually, what it refers to (he omits, notice, the words “for that reason”) is the imperative for all the baptised to “strive with sincere hearts for a harmonious unity in doctrine, life, and worship”. That can hardly be used to prove the Taoiseach’s accusation of “the dysfunction, disconnection, elitism and the narcissism that dominate the culture of the Vatican to this day”.

But that doesn’t make it irrelevant to the Cloyne report. For, what it does draw attention to, with tragic irony, is how very far were so many priests in the Diocese of Cloyne, and how far also were the Cloyne diocesan authorities themselves, from the “harmonious unity in doctrine, life, and worship” that Cardinal Ratzinger called for 20 years ago, and still calls for as Pope. What we need to understand, and what Mr Kenny ought to (but won’t) acknowledge, is that Pope Benedict isn’t the problem; he is a major part of the solution.