Vatican publishes response to Irish report on clerical sexual abuse

(UPDATED STORY: Vatican responds to Irish government report on clerical sexual abuse)

VATICAN CITY — “The Holy See understands and shares the depth of public anger and frustration at the findings of the Cloyne Report,” the Irish government report on how allegations of the sexual abuse of children were handled in the Diocese of Cloyne.

The Vatican today released a 19-page response to statements in the Cloyne Report and in formal Irish government observations about it that accused the Vatican of undermining “the Irish church’s own efforts to deal with clerical child sexual abuse.”

The text said:

At the outset, the Holy See wishes to state its abhorrence for the crimes of sexual abuse which took place in that Diocese, and indeed in other Irish Dioceses. The Holy See is sorry and ashamed for the terrible sufferings which the victims of abuse and their families have had to endure within the Church of Jesus Christ, a place where this should never happen. It appreciates how difficult it must have been for them to approach the authorities and speak of their appalling and traumatic experiences, which continue to blight their lives, and hopes that the sharing of these experiences will go some way towards healing their wounds and allowing them to know inner peace and serenity.

The Irish government’s Cloyne Report was issued July 13 and examined how the Diocese of Cloyne handled accusations of clerical sexual abuse. It said the local bishop paid “little or no attention” to safeguarding children as recently as 2008, but it also accused the Vatican of being “entirely unhelpful” to Irish bishops who wanted to implement stronger norms for dealing with accusations and protecting children.

In late July, the Vatican took the unusual move of recalling its nuncio to Ireland, Archbishop Giuseppe Leanza. The Vatican said calling the archbishop back to Rome signaled the seriousness of the situation and how intent the Vatican was on drafting a comprehensive response to the Cloyne Report.

The Vatican Secretariat of State and the Congregation for the Doctrine of the Faith, which oversees the church’s response to the sex abuse scandal and handles cases involving accusations against priest, were the primary drafters of the response. But it also included input from the congregations for clergy and bishops.

A central focus of the Cloyne Report’s criticism of the Vatican was a January 1997 letter to the Irish bishops containing observations from the Congregation for Clergy regarding the bishops’ 1996 document “Child Sexual Abuse: Framework for a Church Response.”

The Vatican congregation had described the document as “not an official document of the episcopal conference, but merely a study document.”

In the Vatican’s view, the Cloyne Report quoted sections of the letter out of context and misunderstood the technical nature of what constitutes an official document of a bishops’ conference with Vatican-approved norms binding on all the bishops in that country.

The Vatican’s response said the Irish bishops never asked for that formal recognition, so “the Holy See cannot be criticized for failing to grant what was never requested in the first place.” But the response also said that each of the bishops, who have the power to institute norms for their own dioceses, knew they had the authority to adopt the norms for their own dioceses.

The failure in the Diocese of Cloyne to protect children, the Vatican said, was not the result of the Vatican telling then-Bishop John Magee that he didn’t have to follow the Irish norms — in fact, he had said he intended to implement them in Cloyne.

“The basic difficulty with regard to child protection in that diocese seems to have arise not from the lack” of formal Vatican recognition, “but from the fact that, while the diocese claimed to follow the guidelines, in reality it did not,” the Vatican response said.

Jesuit Father Federico Lombardi, Vatican spokesman, told reporters this morning that the Vatican’s primary concern in drafting its response was to promote “constructive dialogue and cooperation” with the Irish government “so that all institutions, whether public or private, religious or secular, may work together to ensure that the church and, indeed society in general, will always be safe for children and young people.”

This morning, he said, Msgr. Ettore Balestrero, the Vatican undersecretary for relations to states, personally delivered the report to Helena Keleher, charge d’affaires of the Irish embassy to the Holy See in Rome.