The Vatican has responded to a devastating report on the Church's mishandling of clerical sex abuse in a diocese in Ireland, expressing deep sorrow but also protesting against what it claims are false accusations by the Irish government that it was responsible for covering up the abuse.
The 15-page strongly worded document, published Sept. 3, expressed “profound abhorrence for the crimes of sexual abuse” detailed in the results of a state enquiry into the diocese of Cloyne, published in July.
The Holy See said it was “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.” The Vatican attributed the suffering to “grave failures in the ecclesiastical governance of the diocese.”
But it also expressed its clear unhappiness over unprecedented public statements by Irish Taoiseach (Prime Minister) Enda Kenny and other government officials who singled out the Vatican for strong criticism, and accusing it of interfering with the state enquiry into abuse cases.
So far, the government hasn't backed up these accusations with evidence, despite diplomatic pressure from Archbishop Diarmuid Martin of Dublin and others to do so. The onus is therefore now on Kenny to support the claim or retract it; observers say failure to do so will prevent relations from moving forward and a period of healing to begin.
None of this, however, diminishes the fury felt by the Irish people over the handling of clerical sex abuse in the country. The emotional sentiments expressed by Kenny in his July statement to the Irish parliament (he accused the Vatican of a culture of “dysfunction, disconnection, elitism [and] narcissism”) were generally widely supported in Ireland.
And if the Vatican has been unfairly treated by the accusations, the general feeling is: “So what, they deserved it,” according to Garry O'Sullivan, editor of the Irish Catholic newspaper.
“People have had 15 years of bishops saying: 'I didn't know, oops!'” He told Newsmax that “all level of trust is gone” and that despite false accusations from the Taoiseach, the view is that the buck stops with the Vatican, and that ultimately they were too slow to react.
Referring to the Pope's dismissal in May this year of an Australian bishop on account of his dissenting theological views, O'Sullivan said many wonder why the Vatican couldn't have done the same for the small number of priests guilty of sexual abuse.
“We're reaching the point in Ireland where the brand of the Catholic Church has become so damaged, it'll be irretrievable,” he warned. But he believes the Church could begin salvaging its reputation by making its communications more open, efficient, and transparent.
The Irish government made no secret of its disappointment with the Vatican's response — despite calling for a detailed answer in July. Deputy Prime Minister Eamon Gilmore said the document “probably misses the point”, and argued that the government's main concern is that the “welfare of children and the protection of children” is addressed.
For its part, the Church has tried to tone down the rhetoric. Vatican spokesman Father Federico Lombardi said the Vatican's response showed how the Holy See has given “very serious and respectful consideration to the queries and criticism it has received, and has undertaken to answer them serenely and exhaustively, avoiding polemics even when giving clear answers to the accusations made.”
Gilmore and others are possibly ramping up the rhetoric on purpose as part of a diversionary tactic to steer attention away from the government's own problems, some of which are not dissimilar to those of the Church.
“The Vatican has been a handy little kicking boy for them,” said O'Sullivan. “They've had serious issues to deal with regarding the economy [and] there are huge issues to do with the state in terms of protecting people from all levels of sex abuse.”
But whatever their motivations, the government's reaction is being generally applauded by the Irish people. They feel deeply let down by the Church which, they believe, had too much of a cozy relationship with the state, leading to complacency and sclerosis.
A hoped-for visit by Benedict XVI to the Irish Republic next year now looks highly unlikely.
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