Father Lombardi Denies Cover-Up Attempt by Clergy Dicastery
VATICAN CITY, JULY 20, 2011 (Zenit.org).- Vatican spokesman Father Federico Lombardi is responding to widespread anger erupting in Ireland over a report that accuses the Church of attempting to cover up sexual abuse cases in that country as recently as three years ago.
The director of the Vatican press office released a non-official statement Tuesday that addressed the recently released Report by the Commission of Inquiry into the Diocese of Cloyne, which found that Bishop John Magee of Coyne, who resigned in 2010, ignored the 1996 child protection guidelines set down by the Irish Catholic Bishops’ Conference.
The 400-page Cloyne report, which details allegations against 19 priests between 1996 and 2009, stated that the bishop failed to report to the police at least nine of 15 sexual abuse allegations in that period.
Additionally, it called the “reaction of the Vatican” to the efforts of the Irish bishops to respond to child abuse allegations as “unhelpful to any bishop who wanted to implement the agreed procedures.”
The report cited a 1997 letter sent to the Irish bishops’ conference by then-nuncio Archbishop Luciano Storero (1926-2000), who stated that the Congregation for Clergy considered the child protection guidelines outlined in “Child Sexual Abuse: Framework for a Church Response” as a mere “study document.”
The letter also stated that the framework document contained “procedures and dispositions which appear contrary to canonical discipline and which, if applied, could invalidate the acts of the same bishops who are attempting to put a stop to these problems. If such procedures were to be followed by the bishops and there were cases of eventual hierarchical recourse lodged at the Holy See, the results could be highly embarrassing and detrimental to those same diocesan authorities.”
“In particular,” the nuncio’s letter added, “the situation of ‘mandatory reporting’ gives rise to serious reservations of both a moral and a canonical nature.”
The Cloyne report noted that this letter “effectively gave individual Irish bishops the freedom to ignore the procedures which they had agreed and gave comfort and support to those who […] dissented from the stated official Irish Church policy.”
Father Lombardi stated the text of the letter has been misinterpreted, and that “there is no reason to interpret that letter as being intended to cover up cases of abuse.”
“Moreover,” he added, “there is absolutely nothing in the letter that is an invitation to disregard the laws of the country. 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.”
“The fact that the congregation raised objections was therefore understandable and legitimate,” he said, “taking into account Rome’s competence with regard to the laws of the Church.”
Referring specifically to the letter’s objection to “mandatory reporting,” Father Lombardi recalled that the nuncio was not objecting 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,” he continued, “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.”
Father Lombardi also cited an address given in 1998 by Cardinal Castrillon Hoyos, then prefect of the Congregation for Clergy, to a gathering of Irish bishops. The cardinal 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.”
“In attributing grave responsibility to the Holy See for what happened in Ireland,” the spokesman said, “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.”
To that end, Father Lombardi recalled the personal involvement of Benedict XVI in addressing the 2009 report on sexual abuse in the Archdiocese of Dublin, his 2010 letter to the Catholics of Ireland, and the launch of the apostolic visitation of the nation’s dioceses, seminaries and congregations.
“It is only right,” he said, “to recognize 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.”
Waiting for a response
Meanwhile, the prime minister of Ireland, Enda Kenny, launched a brutal attack against the Vatican, calling the Cloyne report “a tale of a frankly brazen disregard for protecting children.”
Speaking to Ireland’s lower house of Parliament, or Dail, Kenny noted that the report showed how “the rape and torture of children were downplayed or ‘managed’ to uphold instead, the primacy of the institution, its power, standing and ‘reputation.'”
“Far from listening to evidence of humiliation and betrayal with St. Benedict’s ‘ear of the heart,'” the leader of Ireland continued, “the Vatican’s reaction was to parse and analyze it with the gimlet eye of a canon lawyer. […] This calculated, withering position being the polar opposite of the radicalism, humility and compassion upon which the Roman Church was founded.”
He said that the “revelations of the Cloyne report have brought the Government, Irish Catholics and the Vatican to an unprecedented juncture,” and added that the government “awaits the considered response of the Holy See.”
Father Lombardi said in his statement that the Vatican has received a copy of the report, and that “the Holy See’s response and considerations will be forthcoming in the most appropriate time and manner.”