Given the vitriolic statements from the Irish Prime Minister and other Irish Government ministers, it is worth drawing readers' attention to the following measured response from Father Federico Lombardi SJ, director of the Vatican Press Office, as published by Zenit on July 20th:
The Report by the Irish Commission of Inquiry into cases of child abuse committed by clergy in the diocese of Cloyne, published July 13, as with the previous report on the Archdiocese of Dublin, has once again highlighted the gravity of the facts which have occurred, this time in a rather recent period. In fact, the period covered by the new report goes from 1.1.1996 to 1.2.2009.I think it is also worth reminding ourselves that the Catholic Church is not a corporation with its HQ in Rome. Each bishop has full authority in his diocese to take action in accordance with Canon Law whenever credible allegations are made against a priest or any other office-holder in the Church. It is the failure of bishops to exercise their authority in this matter that has in great part led to the current situation. It is not all Rome's fault!
The Irish authorities have forwarded a copy of the Report to Rome by way of the Nuncio, requesting a response from the Holy See. It is to be expected, therefore, that the Holy See’s response and considerations will be forthcoming in the most appropriate time and manner.
For my part, however, I believe it opportune to say a few words on the Report and how it has been received, while underlining -- as I have already mentioned -- that these considerations do not in any way constitute an official response from the Holy See.
First, it seems only right to recall and renew the intense feelings of grief and condemnation expressed by the Pope during his meeting with the Irish bishops, summoned to the Vatican on December 11, 2009, precisely to deal with the difficult situation of the Church in Ireland in light of the Report into the Archdiocese of Dublin, then recently published. At the time, the Pope openly spoke of his "shock and shame" at the "heinous crimes" committed.
We must also remember that following this meeting, and a subsequent one from February 15 to 16, 2010, the Pope published his well-known and wide-ranging letter to the Catholics of Ireland, the following 19 March, which contains the strongest and most eloquent expressions of his participation in the suffering of victims and their families, as well as a reminder of the terrible responsibility of the guilty and the failures of church leaders in their tasks of government or supervision.
One of the concrete actions that followed the Pope's letter was the Apostolic Visitation of the Church in Ireland, divided into the four visitations of the archdiocese, the seminaries and religious congregations. The results of the visitation are at an advanced stage of study and evaluation.
Therefore it is only right to recognise the Holy See’s decisive commitment in encouraging and effectively supporting the efforts of the Church in Ireland towards the "healing and renewal" necessary to definitively overcome the crisis linked to the dramatic wound of the sexual abuse of minors.
It is also important to recognize the efforts made by the Holy See in the normative field, with the clarification and the revision of the canonical norms concerning the issue of sexual abuse of minors. A milestone in this regard -- as noted -- was the 2001 Motu proprio, which unified all competencies under the Congregation for the Doctrine of the Faith, and subsequent updates until the promulgation of the reformulated norms in July 2010.
As for the more distant past, in recent days a Letter dated 1997, 14 years ago, has had particular resonance. Mentioned in the new Report, but already published last January, it is a letter addressed by the then Nuncio in Ireland to the Bishops Conference, which emphasises that, according to information received from the Congregation for the Clergy, the document "Child Sexual Abuse: Framework for a Church Response" lent itself to objections, because it contained aspects that were problematic from the point of view of compatibility with universal canon law. It is only fair to remember that this document was not sent to the Congregation as an official document of the Bishops Conference, but as a "Report of the Irish Catholic Bishops' Advisory Committee on Child Sexual Abuse by Priests and Religious," and that its foreword stated: "This document is far from being the last word on how to address the issues that have been raised". The fact that the Congregation raised objections was therefore understandable and legitimate, taking into account Rome's competence with regard to the laws of the Church, and -- although one can argue about the adequacy of Rome's intervention in relation to the seriousness of the situation in Ireland at the time -- there is no reason to interpret that letter as being intended to cover up cases of abuse. In fact, it warned against the risk that measures were being taken which could later turn out to be questionable or invalid from the canonical point of view, thus defeating the purpose of the effective sanctions proposed by the Irish bishops.
Moreover, there is absolutely nothing in the letter that is an invitation to disregard the laws of the country. During the same period, Cardinal Castrillon Hoyos, then Prefect of the Congregation for the Clergy, in a meeting with the Irish Bishops stated: "The Church, especially through its pastors, should not in any way put an obstacle in the legitimate path of civil justice ... while, at the same time she should move forward with her own canonical procedures" (Rosses Point, Sligo, 11/12/1998). The objection the letter referred to regarded the obligation to provide information to civil authorities ("mandatory reporting"), it did not object to any civil law to that effect, because it did not exist in Ireland at that time (and proposals to introduce it were subject to discussion for various reasons in the same civil sphere).
Therefore, the severity of certain criticisms of the Vatican are curious, as if the Holy See was guilty of not having given merit under canon law to norms which a State did not consider necessary to give value under civil law. In attributing grave responsibility to the Holy See for what happened in Ireland, such accusations seem to go far beyond what is suggested in the Report itself (which uses a more balanced tone in the attribution of responsibility) and demonstrate little awareness of what the Holy See has actually done over the years to help effectively address the problem.
In conclusion, as stated by several Irish bishops, the publication of the Report on the Diocese of Cloyne marks a new stage on the long and arduous journey in search of truth, penance and purification, of healing and renewal of the Church in Ireland, from which the Holy See does not in any way feel extraneous, but in which it participates in solidarity and with commitment in the various forms that we have outlined here.