Vatican summons Irish bishops to explain role in paedophile scandals
Tribunal aims to address allegations Church turned blind eye to abuse, writes Malachi O'Doherty
Several Irish bishops may soon find themselves having to explain to their bosses why they ignored or covered up the sexual abuse of children.
The disclosure of the secret shame of the Catholic Church in Ireland has already been massive and shocking, but far from complete.
Now the Vatican itself is poised to summon at least 12 Irish bishops to explain themselves before a tribunal.
The idea for a church investigation into abuse and cover-ups came from the Vatican Commission for the Protection of Minors.
Stirred into action by an almost global perception that the Catholic Church looked the other way while children were abused, and that it was more concerned with protecting its reputation than the victims, Pope Francis has approved the setting up of a tribunal.
So far it is not known which Irish bishops are likely to find themselves explaining their actions in Rome.
The number could include several Northern Bishops who have so far evaded close scrutiny, even while attracting suspicion.
A limited number of inquiries in the past have disclosed a horrific scale of abuse in Dublin and Ferns. But several other dioceses have not opened their files and some of them may now have to do so.
One of those which has preserved the secrecy of its internal management of child abuse and the resettling of offending priests is the diocese of Down and Connor which includes Belfast.
The former Cardinal Cahal Daly, while bishop there, admitted that he had done little to expose or hinder the most notorious paedophile priest, Brendan Smyth, who had abused countless children in schools and care homes as well as in their own homes.
Dr Daly had claimed at the time that he had had no authority to order Smith's seniors in the Norbertine Order to expel, discipline or report him. He had failed to accept that he had been obliged by the law of the land to report his knowledge of abuse to the police.
This was one instance of the Church appearing to pay more regard to its internal rules than to the law of the land.
Daly's own successor as primate of Ireland, Cardinal Sean Brady, later acknowledged that he had investigated abuse himself, without reporting it to the police and had sworn two abused boys to secrecy.
Now victims will be wondering if the Vatican Tribunal will unveil more abuse and sack bishops or whether it will conduct its hearings in secret and give little away.
The huge inquiries into the Dublin and Ferns dioceses revealed a scale of abuse and cover-up that traumatised the Catholic Church in Ireland.
Wider investigations abroad brought suspicion to the very doorstep of Pope Benedict, the previous pope, and there is even speculation that his decision to abdicate was driven by fear that he might be exposed while in office and bring disgrace on the papacy.
He was the head of the Congregation for the Doctrine of the Faith which instructed bishops to refer cases of abuse back to Rome rather than to the police.
His own efforts to assure Irish Catholics of the Church's commitment to ending abuse were widely seen as dismally cosmetic. They included a 'visitation' to hear the complaints of the faithful at public sessions around the country, including in Armagh, chaired by Cardinal Cormac Murphy O'Connor. Yet the 'visitators', as they were known, refused to enter into discussion with audiences or with the media. They were sent simply to listen and to say nothing that could incriminate the church.
Pope Benedict saw the answer to the problem as a call to prayer, with a Eucharistic Congress and a call to bishops to adhere to Canon Law; this at a time when their major failing had been in their neglect of state laws requiring them to protect children and report abuse.