Enda Kenny should be embarrassed that his attack on the Vatican had so little basis in fact

The Taoiseach said the Holy See attempted to 'frustrate an inquiry in a sovereign, democratic republic as little as three years ago' (Photo: PA)

On July 20 2011 Taoiseach Enda Kenny made a ferocious speech to the Irish parliament in the wake of the Cloyne Report. He said: “For the first time in Ireland, a report into 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.”

The Vatican’s response, published on Saturday, says that Kenny “made no attempt to substantiate” this allegation, which it calls “unfounded”. It continues: “When asked, a government spokesperson clarified that Mr Kenny was not referring to any specific incident.”

The Vatican also notes that the reports “contain no evidence to suggest that the Holy See meddled in the internal affairs of the Irish state”. It denies that it sought to interfere with any Irish civil processes.

Kenny’s was a serious and clearly defined accusation: he said that, as recently as 2008, the Vatican attempted to frustrate an Irish inquiry into child abuse. Naturally, this statement grabbed headlines all over the world.

Yet it now seems that his most eye-catching allegation has little basis in fact. This should be deeply embarrassing for any statesman. Nor will the cause of child protection be served well by being so slipshod with the facts.

However, the Taoiseach said on Tuesday that his central accusation “still stands”, saying: “This was a statutory commission of enquiry and as such nothing less than full co-operation is required. And anything less than full co-operation, in my view, is unwarranted interference.”

This is clearly a reference to Judge Yvonne Murphy’s attempts to obtain assistance from the Vatican. However, the Archbishop of Dublin, Diarmuid Martin – who has vocally called for an explanation of the Taoiseach’s accusation – last weekend referred to that same incident on RTE radio, saying that the Holy See actually said “it would co-operate” and that “very often in the news reporting that last sentence is left out. Why did the Irish government not follow up or insist in some way that this co-operation takes place? That is a question which has to be answered on the Irish side.”

The Taoiseach has yet to provide any evidence that his most extraordinary accusation is true.