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Arrogance at core of canon law

My evocation of the then wholly legitimate trial of Pope Formosus (' Bizarre relationship between Catholic Church and flock ', Letters, August 17) has provoked much debate and commentary.

Unlike the princes of the Catholic Church, I will meet my critics head on.

The trial of Formosus was, if Catholic credo is to have any claim to be credible, a fair and legitimate application of church law of the time. Such law had, in turn, been ordained by its proponents as having been carried out with the authority of God's appointed vicar, the Pope.

Only after the death of the sitting Pope were his actions reviewed and dismissed as being clearly those of a mad man.

This is the essential point; only in retrospect does the Catholic Church begin to address its appalling abuses.

The reign of the de facto joint papacy of Cardinals Wojtyla and Ratzinger will, I believe, come to be characterised as yet another dark period in the legacy of a deeply dysfunctional and morally debased organisation.

If these two discredited men were ever put on trial for their actions, I would argue that only one charge should be put -- that their determined and deliberate application of the doctrine of mentalis restricto -- or mental reservation -- caused the needless rape of thousands of children and prevented the detection of their abusers.

Mental reservation -- or the self-regarded licence to deliberately lie to secular authorities investigating the rape and violent intimidation of children -- formed the central plank of the Catholic Church's policy on child abuse throughout the last papacy and during this one.

This application of a dark-age practice in relation to the abuse of children in the Dublin archdiocese was uncovered by an incredulous Judge Yvonne Murphy in her report.

It was then defended by Cardinal Desmond Connell, who could not understand what all the fuss was about.

At the core of 'canon law' is an arrogance that transcends the ages.

From Formusus to Pope Benedict, the same principle has applied -- "We are answerable to no one or nothing."

The Catholic Church's attitude to the idea of accountability is no different now than the day Formosus was sentenced to having his fingers cut off and his corpse cast into the Tiber.

Declan Doyle

Lisdowney, Kilkenny

Belfast Telegraph