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.
The Catholic Catechism and just laws
The Vatican’s response to the Irish Government also states that “Furthermore, given that the Church has always insisted on the duty of all citizens to obey the just laws of the State (cf. Romans 13:1-2; Catechism of the Catholic Church, Nos. 1897-1904; 2238-2243), the Holy See does not accept the charge that “the Vatican intervened to effectively have priests believe they could in conscience evade their responsibilities under Irish law”.”
But the cited sections of the Catechism includes the following: “The citizen is obliged in conscience not to follow the directives of civil authorities when they are contrary to the demands of the moral order, to the fundamental rights of persons or the teachings of the Gospel. Refusing obedience to civil authorities, when their demands are contrary to those of an upright conscience, finds its justification in the distinction between serving God and serving the political community.”
And there are no prizes for guessing who decides whether a civil directive is “contrary to the demands of the moral order, to the fundamental rights of persons or the teachings of the Gospel.”
The 1997 Letter from the Vatican
The Vatican concludes that most of the Cloyne Report’s criticisms of the Vatican are based on a misunderstanding of a letter sent by the Vatican to the Irish Bishops in 1997, in response to the Framework Document published by the Irish Bishops in 1996. This letter told the Irish Bishops that their Framework Document was “not an official document of the Episcopal Conference but merely a study document” and that it contained “procedures and dispositions which appear contrary to canonical discipline and which, if applied, could invalidate the acts of the same Bishops.” The Vatican letter also said that if the Irish Bishops followed these procedures, and if there was recourse to the Vatican, then “the results could be highly embarrassing and detrimental to those same Diocesan authorities.”
The Vatican acknowledges that “taken out of context, the letter could be open to misinterpretation, giving rise to understandable criticism.” Fair enough. Let us look at the context of the Vatican’s responses to child sexual abuse when the letter was written. I have outlined earlier in this article the case of Cardinal Hoyos, then prefect of the Vatican’s Congregation for Clergy, who in 1998 told Irish Bishops to ‘be fathers to your priests, not policemen’ and who in 2001 wrote to congratulate French Bishop Pierre Pican for not reporting an abuser priest to the French police. The Vatican has since distanced itself from cardinal Hoyos, but that happened only last year. Around the time of the Vatican letter to the Irish Bishops, this was the Vatican approach to reporting child sexual abusers to the civil authorities.
Back in Ireland, Chancellor Monsignor Dolan of the Dublin Archdiocese has explicitly blamed the Vatican for the stalling of plans to implement the Framework Document. According to Monsignor Dolan’s evidence of to the 2009 Murphy Commission: “The understanding behind the Framework Document was that each diocese or religious institute would enact its own particular protocol for dealing with complaints. This in fact never took place because of the response of Rome to the Framework Document… Monsignor Dolan told the Commission that the Congregation for the Clergy in Rome had studied the document in detail and emphasised to the Irish bishops that it must conform to the canonical norms in force… Monsignor Dolan’s view was that this placed the Bishops in an invidious position because, if they did seek to operate the Framework Document, then any priest against whom disciplinary or penal measures were taken had a right of appeal to Rome and was most likely to succeed. The Bishops, on the other hand, were not in a position to strengthen the Framework Document by enacting it into law. It was his view that the only way a Bishop could properly proceed canonically was with the accused priest’s co-operation.”
And the Archbishop of Dublin Diarmuid Martin has admitted just this weekend that “a cabal” protecting clerical sex abusers may be operating at the highest levels in the Catholic Church. He said: “There may be a cabal in Cloyne. They may have friends in other parts of the Irish Church. They may have friends in Irish society. There may be friends in the Vatican.”
I could write a lot more about the Vatican response to the Irish Government, and I may do so later. But the most important point to remember is that everything that the Vatican says on this topic should be treated with caution. The Catholic Church practices a linguistic trick called ‘mental reservation’ by which “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.
If the Vatican is serious about fully cooperating with the Irish civil authorities, it could start by voluntarily acknowledging that the church is subject to the same democratic civic laws as the rest of us; openly accepting the findings of the various Irish enquiries; voluntarily acknowledging that the Catholic church at an institutional level has covered up crimes by priests against children; voluntarily making public all church files that victims wish to have public about these crimes and about the cover-up of these crimes; voluntarily selling church property to voluntarily compensate victims; voluntarily reporting to the police all priests who have committed crimes and all bishops who have covered up these crimes, and voluntarily pleading guilty to whatever crimes were committed.