This silly posturing by the
Irish Government on the Cloyne
Report is an embarrassment to everyone in Ireland. It has succeeded, and in
particular the Taoiseach (Prime Minister), Enda Kenny, has succeeded, in
his over-the-top rhetoric in parliament, in turning a local tragedy into a full-blown
international diplomatic brouhaha.
Mr Kenny was scathing
in his reaction to a report which had accused the Catholic Church of
mishandling abuse allegations against 19 clerics in the
diocese of Cloyne. On July 20 he told the Dail, the lower house of parliament:
“Because for the first time in Ireland, a
report into child sexual abuse exposes an attempt by the Holy See to frustrate
an inquiry in a sovereign, democratic republic as little as three years ago,
not three decades ago. And in doing so, the Cloyne report excavates the
dysfunction, disconnection, elitism, the narcissism, that dominate the culture
of the Vatican to this day. The rape and torture of children were downplayed or
‘managed’ to uphold instead the primacy of the institution, its power, standing
Also, as a result of the
report, the government is drafting legislation which would make reporting of
child sex abuse mandatory, even if a priest became aware of it through the
sacrament of confession.
As a result, the Holy
See has recalled its ambassador, Archbishop Giuseppe Leanza.
A Vatican spokesman said that “The
recalling of the Nuncio, a measure rarely used by the Holy See, denotes the
seriousness of the situation, and the desire of the Holy See to deal with it
(with) objectivity and with determination, as well as a certain note of
surprise and regret regarding some excessive reactions.”
However, the Vatican is
not a central player in this matter – nor did the Cloyne Report make it so. Mr Kenny
did. He did so on the basis of a more inept misreading of the ambiguously interpreted
1997 letter from Cardinal Castrillón Hoyos than even the Cloyne Report was guilty
This whole thing is reminiscent
of the rhetoric of the IRA when they held the British Government responsible for
the atrocities they perpetrated in Northern Ireland over the last decades of the
20th century. While they were proclaiming themselves as freedom fighters
they were simply compounding all the alienation between the two Northern communities
which was the real cancer there. Instead of addressing the real and tragic sources
of conflict, they exploited that tragedy to pursue their own anachronistic nationalist
Mr Kenny has now succeeded
in turning the tragedy of the destruction of children’s lives into a weapon which
other ideologues can use to further their barely concealed anti-catholic venom.
This has been called
an “historic” speech.
I think history will in
years to come view this speech as just a piece of ill-judged folly. More than one
commentator has noted the hand of a not very competent speech-writer behind it,
and clearly a speech-writer with an ulterior agenda. It might have been a good speech;
it might have been a just speech; it might even have been a speech which would have
deal a severe body-blow to the clericalism which has bedevilled this country since
Catholic Emancipation in the early 19th century. But it wasn’t.
The leader of a country
can very usefully reassert the principles of independence and sovereignty which
serve the common good of a nation. But it should be done with the dignity worthy
of a people. It should be just and truthful. As it was, it was neither clever, competent
nor just. It misunderstood what the Church is and it misunderstood even the incompetence
of the role which some of the Church’s servants have played in this tragedy. It
was angry but its anger smacked of little more than that of a spoiled child.
Bishop Fulton Sheen once
said “There are not one hundred people in the United States who hate the Catholic
Church, but there are millions who hate what they wrongly perceive the Catholic
Church to be.” Enda Kenny surely added to the number of people in Ireland today
who hate the Catholic Church for the very spurious reasons which he has presented
them with. The bag of supporting letters he boasts of would seem to suggest so anyway.
By failing to distinguish
between errors of individual administrators in the Church, serving the Church badly,
and the Church itself, which – in spite of the incompetence of some and the crimes
of others – gives witness of heroic sanctity and apostolate throughout the world,
he has done no service to anyone. Least of all has he served the victims of abuse
who in truth will only find true healing of their wounds in that very fold which
he so intemperately excoriates.
A reading of this whole
situation has been put to me by a friend from across the Atlantic. It sums up the
fine mess we have got ourselves into as follows.
“From over here the reasoning seems to be: the Irish government is upset at the Vatican because it didn’t
make the Irish bishops take action. The bishops, in turn, didn’t take action because
they thought it was not what the Vatican would want. The behavior of those who committed
these actions would be considered illegal no matter where they took place. So why
didn’t the Irish government bring charges against the individuals involved when
they found out about these actions? Forget about the hierarchy’s response. Is the
hierarchy running the government? Is Ireland ruled by the Catholic Church?
“I would answer my question by saying that a clerical mentality pervades
both the Church and the laity (Irish government). The behavior was covered up or
excused for the reason of not causing scandal. Instead, by covering it up, an even
greater scandal develops. If these cases were dealt with by the criminal justice
system as they arose, that would have served as a deterrent to further such cases.
But the inaction only allowed them to spread. The bishops should have disciplined
right away. And the government should have acted earlier. “
The world looking at Ireland
today can hardly be very edified by any of the local protagonists in this drama.
Clearly, it’s not just our financial credit rating that is at junk level. Our general
governance rating, civil and ecclesiastical, is also languishing with the junk.
Michael Kirke is a freelance writer in
Dublin. He blogs at Garvan Hill.