Statement on the “Response of the Holy See to the Government of Ireland Regarding the Report of the Commission of Investigation into the Catholic Diocese of Cloyne”

Pope Benedict XVI’s “response” to the Cloyne report is wholly inadequate, but the mere fact of the response indicates the gravity of the Vatican’s situation. The Vatican’s involvement in child abuse cases in Ireland and elsewhere is finally a matter of public record, and Pope Benedict has been forced to respond. That is progress.

But Pope Benedict’s response shows that the Vatican is still in denial. It still wants people to believe that civil law and the Vatican’s internal policies are parallel legal systems. Benedict cannot grasp the fact that the Vatican is finally being named in civil lawsuits. It has been compelled to produce documents for the first time. It can no longer depend on “cooperation” with politicians to shield it from scrutiny. That is the significance of Taoiseach Enda Kenny’s speech and the Dáil vote, as Benedict well knows. Even in Ireland, where church-state ties are institutionalized and where church attendance was high until very recently, the Vatican no longer receives special treatment:

Pope Benedict’s “response” to the situation in Cloyne is self-aggrandizing and unresponsive. After a single pro forma paragraph stating that “the Holy See is sorry and ashamed” for the “terrible sufferings” of abuse victims and their families, Benedict devotes the rest of his 25-page response to evading responsibility for the disaster in Cloyne. The core of the crisis that the Vatican now faces in Ireland is a letter dated January 31, 1997, that then-Vatican ambassador to Ireland, Archbishop Luciano Storero, wrote to all the Irish bishops, including John Magee, S.P.S., Bishop of Cloyne, calling into question the 1996 Framework of the Irish bishops on child sexual abuse.

Archbishop Diarmuid Martin’s response to the response, which mistakenly identifies Castrillón Hoyos as the author of the Storero letter, is a subtle attempt to find common ground within the current Irish debate. But Martin understates the importance of the Storero letter, especially to a bishop like Magee, who is a Vatican creature. The Murphy and Cloyne reports show that Irish canon lawyers and diocesan officials were hostile to the Framework and all attempts at reform. Clearly Storero’s letter gave aid and comfort to such people.

Pope Benedict attempts to explain away the letter and its significance, and in the process misrepresents the Cloyne report’s own assessment of the letter’s importance. At the end of the day, the fact remains that the Storero letter encouraged Bishop Magee, a former papal secretary, and all his fellow bishops, to ignore the Framework and neglect its implementation. The Cloyne report provides ample and painful evidence of that neglect.

As the Vatican often does, it leavened its statement with moments of inadvertent humor. For example, Pope Benedict offered Cardinal Darío Castrillón Hoyos as an example of the Vatican’s commitment to civil law (page 12). This is the same Castrillón Hoyos who praised a French bishop for refusing to turn over a sex-offending priest to the civil authorities in 2001: “I commend you for not denouncing a priest to the civil administration. You have done well.”

Pope Benedict’s response shows that he is still bewitched by the church’s self-descriptions and policies and procedures, still pretending that the church’s reactive and belated statements break new policy ground, and still unwilling to admit that the structures and policies that emanate from Rome have caused the rape of children, in Cloyne and dioceses worldwide.

Terence McKiernan
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