Vatican responds to Cloyne Report

Cloyne-posterPoster in St. Colman's Cathedral, Diocese of Cloyne, Cobh, Ireland. In a detailed response, the Vatican has rejected charges made against it in an Irish government commission's report on the cover-up of clergy sexual abuse in the Diocese of Cloyne. While "sorry and ashamed" for the victims' suffering, the Vatican denied the report's charge that it "gave comfort" to those within the Irish church who opposed the Irish bishops' 1996 framework for dealing with allegations of clergy sexual abuse.The focus is on a letter the papal nuncio sent in response to the proposed 1996 guidelines. The nuncio said the Vatican's Congregation for the Clergy viewed the guidelines as an unofficial "study document." It contained

"procedures and dispositions which appear contrary to canonical discipline and which, if applied, could invalidate the acts of the same Bishops who are attempting to put a stop to these problems. If such procedures were to be followed by the Bishops and there were causes of eventual hierarchical recourse lodged at the Holy See, the results could be highly embarrassing and detrimental to those same Diocesan authorities. In particular, the situation of `mandatory reporting' gives rise to serious reservations of both a moral and a canonical nature". [Cloyne Report, p. 5, pdf via Wikipedia]

The Vatican has now responded that the Irish bishops had never asked formal approval for the document, and that the Holy See did not formally reject it. It added that the Congregation for the Clergy criticized the document in an attempt to strengthen it by making sure cases against accused priests were brought within the strictures of canon law. It continued:

Meeting canonical requirements to ensure the correct administration of justice within the Church in no way precluded cooperation with the civil authorities. The Congregation for the Clergy did express reservations about mandatory reporting, but it did not forbid the Irish Bishops from reporting accusations of child sexual abuse nor did it encourage them to flout Irish law. In this regard, the then Prefect of the Congregation, Cardinal Daro Castrilln Hoyos, in his meeting with the Irish Bishops at Rosses Point, County Sligo (Ireland), on 12 November 1998 unequivocally stated: I also wish to say with great clarity that the Church, especially through its Pastors (Bishops), should not in any way put an obstacle in the legitimate path of civil justice, when such is initiated by those who have such rights, while at the same time, she should move forward with her own canonical procedures, in truth, justice and charity towards all.

In any case, it said, the Irish government itself did not support mandatory reporting of sexual abuse allegations at the time.While the Vatican maintains that it wanted to improve the Irish bishops' document so that disciplinary cases against accused priests would not be dismissed on technicalities in canon law, its "serious reservations" over over the morality of mandatory reporting seem to suggest opposition to the guidelines rather than an interest in making them airtight. The quote from Cardinal Daro Castrilln Hoyos simply advises bishops not to obstruct justice; it doesn't say they should report abuse allegations to the police.While the Vatican has offered an unusually detailed explanation of the meaning of the nuncio's 1997 letter to the bishops, I'm not sure it deals with the report's key allegation regarding Rome - that the Vatican letter provided cover to Irish churchmen who didn't want to follow the bishops' guidelines. According to the Cloyne Report, this was the case in the Diocese of Cloyne, where Monsignor Denis O'Callaghan oversaw the diocesan response to sex abuse allegations, apparently with little oversight from Bishop John Magee. According to the Cloyne Report, O'Callaghan wrote in a 2008 letter that he was "more than disappointed at the policy of the Irish Bishops as a whole ... The Bishops rolled over under pressure from the media. And they expected Rome to endorse them!"

Paul Moses, a contributing writer at Commonweal, is the author of The Saint and the Sultan: The Crusades, Islam and Francis of Assisi's Mission of Peace (Doubleday, 2009) and An Unlikely Union: The Love-Hate Story of New York's Irish and Italians (NYU Press, 2015). Follow him on Twitter @PaulBMoses. 

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