Though it comes as no surprise, the statement from the Holy See this weekend is indeed a technical legalistic carefully crafted document which seeks to absolve the Cardinals and Bishops of the Vatican of any responsibility for the cover up of the sexual abuse of children by Catholic priests. That cover up of course didn’t just occur in Cloyne. Or Dublin. That culture of cover up, despite its horrendous consequences, is typical of a culture of cover up that existed throughout the Catholic Church in Ireland for decades. And not just in Ireland of course.
A grand jury investigation into Catholic Archdiocese of Philadelphia reported in 2005 that the strategies employed by Catholic hierarchy there to cover up the sexual abuse of children were so similar in nature to tactics reported from other dioceses around the United States that it amounted to the Catholic Church having employed well-orchestrated strategies for decades and in all parts of the United States to keep abusing priests in ministry while minimising the risk of scandal or legal liability.
There have been similar reports too from many European countries over the last few years, including from Germany where Pope Benedict, as Archbishop of Munich, covered up for a priest in 1980. Sadly, as is often the case when abusers are protected, that priest went on to sexually abuse again and was eventually convicted.
In addition to the commonality of practice Cardinals and Bishops engaged in to cover up known child sexual abuse and protect the abusers, there are the 1962 and 2001 Vatican documents instructing Bishops around the world to conduct investigations into allegations of child sexual abuse in secret.
In addition, in respect of Ireland, there is the 1997 letter from the Congregation of the Clergy in the Vatican to the Irish Catholic Bishops which makes it very clear that reporting of any suspected sexual abuse of children to civil authorities gives rise to serious reservations of a canonical nature and that the procedures established by the Code of Canon Law must instead be meticulously followed. The Holy See’s insistence in its statement this weekend that that letter did not serve to deter any bishops from reporting of allegations to civil authorities is simply not true. And no amount of dishonest spin changes that fact.
Though it was clearly wrong for the Vatican to attempt to deter members of the Irish Catholic hierarchy from reporting to civil authorities they really needn’t have bothered because what was newly revealed in the Holy See statement was the fact that Irish Catholic Bishops didn’t take the child protection guidelines any more seriously than the Vatican did in the first place. We are told that Cardinals Daly and Connell clearly understood the difference between a document of the Irish Bishops’ Conference and a document of the Irish Catholic Bishops’ Advisory Committee on Child Sexual Abuse by Priests and Religious: they can ignore the latter.
Disingenuous of them not to have made that clear to the rest of us in 1996 when they deliberately gave the impression that from then on, in all cases where it was known or suspected that the sexual abuse of a child had taken place, they would report it to the civil authorities.
And now, instead of a Catholic hierarchy here and in the Vatican explaining to us why anyone should ever believe a word they say ever again, or ever trust them on the issue of child protection, they seem to think the duly elected leader of our country now owes them an explanation for some of the comments he made during his speech in the Dail following publication of the Cloyne Report.
In his speech Taoiseach Enda Kenny spoke of an attempt by the Holy See to frustrate an Inquiry in a sovereign, democratic republic as little as three years ago. I think the Taoiseach was right to articulate the anger so many people in Ireland felt on hearing not only about Vatican and Papal Nuncio non-cooperation with the Dublin and Cloyne inquiries but also our anger at attempts made by the Vatican to get the Irish Government to instruct the Murphy Inquiry on how it should approach the Vatican during the course of that Inquiry. Non-cooperation with an Inquiry is an act of frustration of that Inquiry.
It should also be remembered that the Cloyne Report tells that there was no attempt to implement child protection guidelines in that Diocese until 2008, despite there being a requirement within the State’s child protection guidelines to do so. That too was an unacceptable frustration of attempts in this country, to advance child protection.
Catholic bishops are owed nothing. They should consider themselves lucky that the only reason many of them are not behind bars is because the disgusting and unforgiveable acts they engaged in to conceal known child sexual abuse and protect abusers were not a criminal offence at the time.