Belfast Telegraph

Thursday 18 September 2014

Vatican feels righteous wrath of Irish Catholics

As the relationship between the state and Church falls to an all-time low in the Republic, Alf McCreary looks at the consequences of the row

The current row between the Irish Government and the Vatican is unprecedented and marks an historic low in the relations between Dublin and Rome.

The row came to a head last week when an angry Taoiseach Enda Kenny accused Rome of frustrating the Cloyne inquiry into the clerical sex abuse of children in the Co Cork diocese. The report accused the Newry-born Bishop of Cloyne, Dr John Magee, and the Vatican, of a cover-up in the handling of sex abuse allegations.

In a remarkably frank speech Enda Kenny told the Dail that the Cloyne Report "excavates the dysfunction, disconnection, elitism and the narcissism that dominates the culture of the Vatican to this day". He also alleged that "the rape and torture of children were downgraded, or 'managed', to uphold instead, the primacy of the institution, its power, standing and reputation''.

The row took a new downturn when the Vatican recalled its Papal Nuncio Guiseppe Leanza to Rome this week to discuss the impact of the Cloyne Report.

The Vatican's publicising of the recall of the Nuncio was unusual, because any diplomat can be recalled at any time for routine briefings. The Vatican's public display of action was thought to indicate the seriousness with which it views the current impasse.

However, the vice-director of the Vatican press office, Father Ciro Benedettini, heightened the tension when he expressed the Vatican's "surprise and disappointment at certain excessive reactions".

This may have been a clumsy attack on Enda Kenny's forthrightness, and it is likely to further harden the attitude of the Taoiseach and his Government.

The press office statement also indicates that the Vatican does not yet understand the degree of anger throughout Ireland at its consistent attempts to evade responsibility for the scandal of continued clerical child abuse.

The Vatican may truly wish to hear more from its Irish Nuncio, but it can also be asked why Rome needs further information from a senior official whose daily job is to report to his bosses about current opinion in Ireland.

The Vatican will soon find out, if it does not know it already, that the Irish people are furious at its perceived double-dealing. It is seen as distancing itself from Irish clerical child-sex abuse and also slow to give clear backing to the current Irish legislation on child protection.

The Vatican should also be made aware that Taoiseach Kenny's historic public criticism has been widely welcomed by the Irish laity and by many parish priests and some senior clergy who are frustrated by the ambivalence of Rome.

It is not known how long the Irish Papal Nuncio will remain in Rome, or how long it will take the Vatican to reply formally to Enda Kenny's criticism.

It is certain however, that the Taoiseach and the Irish people will not be palmed off by honeyed words from Rome or by false promises from the Vatican.

This unprecedented row is unlikely to be resolved quickly in the height of summer when many senior Government and clerical officials are on holiday.

However, if not settled soon, the chilly relations between Dublin and Rome will overshadow next year's Eucharistic Congress in Ireland which is intended to show-case the best of the Roman Catholic faith.

There has been speculation that Pope Benedict might come to the Republic during the Congress and also visit Northern Ireland. Unless relations improve significantly, a Papal visit next year seems very unlikely.

The Catholic Church in Ireland is facing a tough time at all levels and the pressure will remain to ensure that its clerics continue to apply the guidelines on child protection, rather than pay lip-service to them.

The longterm damage to the Church remains incalculable in terms of low morale among priests and faithful laity who are appalled at the Catholic Church's slowness to deal with such malpractice.

As one parish priest said to me this week: "It would be easier to bear if we knew there was an end in sight, but it seems to go on and on."

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