Vatican Calls Claims of Irish Interference 'Unfounded'

The Vatican forcefully denied undermining efforts by Irish bishops to protect children from sexual abuse in an 11,000-word response to the findings of an Irish judicial panel on the handling of abuse allegations in the Diocese of Cloyne. According to the response, released on Sept. 3, the Vatican recognizes “the seriousness of the crimes” detailed in the Cloyne Report and “has sought to respond comprehensively.”

“The Holy See is sorry and 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 response said.

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The Cloyne Report, issued on July 13, had provoked harsh criticism of the Vatican from Ireland’s Prime Minister Enda Kenny. In a row that shows little sign of abating, Kenny said he did not regret his accusation on July 20 before the Irish parliament that the Vatican attempted to “frustrate an inquiry in a sovereign, democratic republic as little as three years ago.” Kenny said then that the report “excavates the dysfunction, disconnection, elitism and the narcissism that dominate the culture of the Vatican to this day.”

The Vatican communiqué described Kenny’s claim of interference as unfounded. The Vatican also said it “understands and shares the depth of public anger and frustration at the findings of the Cloyne Report,” saying those feelings were reflected in the prime minister’s speech. “In this regard, the Holy See wishes to make it quite clear that it in no way hampered or interfered in the inquiry into child sexual abuse cases in the Diocese of Cloyne. Furthermore, at no stage did it seek to interfere with Irish civil law or impede the civil authority in the exercise of its duties.”

The Cloyne Report charged that then-Bishop John Magee of Cloyne paid “little or no attention” to safeguarding children as recently as 2008. But the report also accused the Vatican of being “entirely unhelpful” to Irish bishops who wanted to implement stronger norms for dealing with accusations and protecting children.

The Vatican said the report “brought to light very serious and disturbing failings in the handling of accusations of sexual abuse by children and young people by clerics,” but it said the local bishop and his vicar general were to blame. The Vatican response emphasized three points: that the Congregation for the Clergy’s concerns with the Irish bishops’ 1996 child protection guidelines did not nullify the guidelines nor prevent local bishops from adopting them in their dioceses; that church officials, including bishops, are required to follow their nation’s civil laws regarding mandatory reporting of crimes; and that the sexual abuse of children is a crime both in civil law and in church law.

Ireland’s Deputy Prime Minister Eamon Gilmore expressed disappointment on Sept. 5 with the Holy See’s response. “There was the most horrific sexual abuse of children perpetrated by clerics,” he said. “The Catholic Church did not deal with that as it should have dealt with it. Let’s not be distracted. Let’s not miss the point.”

In its response, the Vatican showed cautious openness to proposed legislation in Ireland making it a criminal offense to withhold information about child sexual abuse but specified that information conveyed within the seal of the confessional would have to remain secret.

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