Should a Taoiseach’s statements be factually true or merely emotionally satisfactory?

It seems that Enda Kenny is happy to let foreigners at the Vatican take the blame (Photo: PA)

Only two logical possibilities arise from the Irish government’s statement on the Vatican’s response to the Cloyne report, released Thursday evening. Either:

(a) The Taoiseach has evidence of the 2008 Vatican interference with the Irish inquiry he alleged last July – and he is withholding it; or

(b) The Taoiseach has no such evidence of interference and is covering up the embarrassing fact that he made a false statement in international diplomacy.

Either way, the Irish people – and Catholics worldwide – deserve straight answers, and not the sort of disregard for fact and truth that enabled widespread abuse to go undiscovered for so long in the first place.

The government statement on the Vatican’s response to the Cloyne report was published yesterday evening. It struck a conciliatory tone in places, but reiterated the government’s view that that the now infamous 1997 letter “from the then Apostolic Nuncio, Archbishop Storero, to the Irish Bishops, regardless of whether or not it was intended to do so, provided a pretext for some members of the clergy to evade full cooperation with the Irish civil authorities in regard to the abuse of minors.” This may well be true.

However, when it comes to the Taoiseach’s specific allegation that the Vatican interfered in an Irish enquiry three years ago, the statement only contains the extremely spurious line that “the comments made by the Taoiseach and other political leaders accurately reflect the public anger of the overwhelming majority of Irish people at the failure of the Catholic Church in Ireland and the Holy See to deal adequately with clerical child sexual abuse…” However, such emotional accuracy is hardly a proper substitute for factual accuracy.

Kenny’s speech most certainly did reflect widespread – and in many ways justified – public anger at the Church. However, the head of a government engaged in international diplomacy should not be acting as the leader of a therapy group. He should make statements based on fact, in the interests of his people and – in this case – most especially in the interests of the victims of child abuse.

Given that Kenny is extremely unlikely to hide evidence of any Vatican wrongdoing, the Taoiseach’s ongoing failure to substantiate his allegation forces us to conclude that, in all likelihood, he has no real evidence of the Vatican interference he so dramatically claimed last July. So, why did he make such a claim?

The Irish state, at all times when the abuse in question was perpetrated, had a free press, a police force, a judiciary and democratically elected politicians – of which Mr Kenny was one since 1975. Ireland even had an army, if it came to it. In reality, there was little to stop the Irish state from protecting its children, except a bizarre prevailing attitude that meant sexual crimes by clergy were utterly unthinkable to most people – and therefore became unsayable too. That, and the actions of some bishops, police and others amounted to a horrendous cover-up in officialdom and in the Church.

The state had the ultimate responsibility for supervising schools. It had a responsibility for looking after its citizens. It failed. And not just as regards Catholic schools, but Protestant ones too – and it continues to fail children in civil society to this day, as very recent reports have shown.

This should not be allowed to distract from the Church’s failures, and the terrible crimes that were committed by some of its clergy. The failures of Church and state are closely related, in fact, as one of the reasons for the state’s failure was the refusal of some bishops (and police) to act effectively on claims of abuse. In the cases of some bishops this cover-up amounted to outright deception and the perversion of justice. Such crimes should be revealed, proven and punished.

Yet likewise, the Irish state should not be allowed to make apparently false accusations against the Vatican to distract from its own failings. The Taoiseach should not be allowed to get away with piling further untruths upon decades of deception and cover up. In the alternative, if what he said is true – and he has evidence for it – the Vatican should not get away with any alleged interference in 2008.

In all likelihood, it appears that the Taoiseach or his speechwriters made an error and Kenny is now too proud to admit it. Additionally, he feels under no political or media pressure to clarify his accusation, as everyone is happy to leave the blame rest with the foreigners in the Vatican. Kenny’s apparent error should be admitted, as truth-telling is precisely the objective of these inquiries into child abuse – with the ultimate aim of making sure similar crimes never happen again on such a scale.

Concern for the truth should be paramount. Out of all of this, surely one lesson has been learned: lies, half-truths and emotionally satisfactory versions of the truth are the cause of decades of cover-up – they will not be the solution to it.