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Is the Vatican cooperating fully with the Irish government?

The most significant sentence in the Vatican’s response to the Irish Government about the Cloyne Report comes on the second-last page, just before the concluding remarks. It says: “From the foregoing considerations, it should be clear that the Holy See expects the Irish Bishops to cooperate with the civil authorities, to implement fully the norms of canon law and to ensure the full and impartial application of the child safety norms of the Church in Ireland.”

This sounds reasonable on the face of it. But it conceals a vital distinction that the Catholic Church has already used to mislead people in Ireland on the same issue. Look again carefully at the wording: the Bishops should implement “fully” the norms of canon law, and ensure the “full and impartial” application of the Church’s child safety norms. Yet when it comes to cooperating with the civil authorities, as opposed to the internal rules of the Church, the important word “fully” is missing.

This missing word “fully” is the exact formulation that the Dublin Archdiocese used in 1997 to mislead people about its response to the sexual abuse of Marie Collins. When the priest who had abused Collins was convicted, the Archdiocese issued a press statement claiming that it had cooperated with police in relation to her complaint. Collins was upset by this and told her friend Father James Norman. Father Norman told police that he had asked the Archdiocese about the statement and the explanation he received was that “we never said we cooperated ‘fully’, placing emphasis on the word ‘fully’.”

The Catholic Church calls this linguistic trick ‘mental reservation.’ As Cardinal Desmond Connell explained in 2009, “there may be circumstances in which you can use an ambiguous expression realising that the person who you are talking to will accept an untrue version of whatever it may be.” In some circumstances, of course, this may well be true. But not in the circumstance of responding to the rape and torture of children. Now we have the Vatican using the same formulation to create the impression that it is cooperating fully with the civil authorities, while leaving open the defence that it never said ‘fully’.

Vatican refuses to address main Cloyne Report findings

The second most significant sentence in the Vatican’s response comes on the second page. Here the Vatican acknowledges that the Irish Government asked it to respond to both the Cloyne Report and the Irish Government’s views on it. But it has chosen to respond substantively only to those sections of the Cloyne Report that refer directly to the Vatican, and only to those aspects of the Irish Government’s views that refer directly to the Vatican.

The Vatican says that this is because “Since the Cloyne Report is being examined by the relevant Irish civil authorities with a view to determining whether there are grounds for criminal and civil prosecution, the Holy See does not wish to encroach on matters which may currently be the object of study and investigation by these instances.”

This decision shows that the Vatican does not intend to fully cooperate with the civil authorities. If the Vatican was serious about fully cooperating with the Irish Government, it would have said something like the following: “Since the Cloyne Report is being examined by the relevant Irish civil authorities with a view to determining whether there are grounds for criminal and civil prosecution, the Holy See is happy to provide any information to assist any such investigations.” But of course the Vatican did not say this, because it has no intention of fully cooperating with the Irish authorities.

The Cloyne Report concluded that the Cloyne diocese “positively lied”, “positively misled”, “deliberately misled”, deliberately created two different accounts of the same meeting, a true one for the Vatican and a false one for the local diocesan files, gave false assurances to the Government Minister for Children and the Health Service Executive, “tried to bury the matter” of the requirement to report “evidence of a vicious sexual assault”, and advised that statements to the gardai should be “minimal”. The Vatican’s response to being asked about this? It “does not want to encroach” on the questions that it has been explicitly asked to address.

Vatican congratulated French Bishop for not reporting abuser

Elsewhere in its response, the Vatican quotes Cardinal Dario Castrillon Hoyos, then prefect of the Vatican’s Congregation for Clergy, as telling the Irish Bishops in 1998 that they should not put an obstacle in the legitimate path of civil justice. Again, the quote sounds reasonable on the face of it: “I also wish to say with great clarity that the Church, especially through its Pastors (Bishops), should not in any way put an obstacle in the legitimate path of civil justice, when such is initiated by those who have such rights, while at the same time, she should move forward with her own canonical procedures, in truth, justice and charity towards all.”

But again, look carefully at the qualifying words that Cardinal Hoyos employs: the “legitimate” path of civil justice (without saying who decides whether it is legitimate) and the equally flexible “when such is initiated by those who have such rights” (without saying who decides whether they have such rights). Just a year after that speech, according to a recent report on the RTE programme Would You Believe, this same Cardinal Hoyos told the Irish Bishops in Rome to be “fathers to your priests, not policemen” when it comes to reporting child sex allegations.

And in 2001, the same Cardinal Hoyos wrote to congratulate French Bishop Pierre Pican after he was convicted of not reporting an abuser priest to the French police: “I congratulate you for not denouncing a priest to the civil administration. You have acted well and I am pleased to have a colleague in the episcopate who, in the eyes of history and all the others bishops of the world, preferred prison rather than denouncing one of his sons, a priest.” Last year Cardinal Hoyos revealed that this letter was circulated in 2001 to every Catholic Bishop in the world with the approval of Pope John Paul II.

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