Catholic Ireland's watershed moment


The Irish Prime Minister Enda Kenny surprised most people in Ireland, and further afield, by his hard-hitting statement in parliament on the report of the Commission of Investigation into the Catholic Diocese of Cloyne last week.

The surprise was that his main focus was not so much on the main Irish culprits criticised in the report (Bishop John Magee and his Vicar General, Monsignor Denis O'Callaghan, charged with investigating complaints of clerical child sexual abuse), but on the Vatican itself. 

In undiplomatic language Kenny stated that the Report 'excavates the dysfunction, disconnection, elitism [and] 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 and 'reputation'.'

He supports this serious charge by the claim that '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'.

It is clear that, whatever about the nuances of the allegations made — there is, for example, some puzzlement about his reference to Vatican interference 'as little as three years ago' — Kenny has articulated well the anger of the Irish people towards the Vatican.

His speech was a clear, watershed statement of attitude — this new Government is adopting a less deferential attitude to the Church and the Vatican. This has been welcomed not just by the victims of clerical sexual abuse but also, it would seem at this early stage, by the majority of the general public.

It is true, as some have alleged, that Kenny did not require great political courage to articulate this new position — in Ireland the already greatly weakened Church is an easy target and an attack upon it is bound to garner popular support. However Kenny's sincere position as a practising Catholic offsets the charges of political opportunism. 

It is true also, as some critics of Kenny's speech have noted, that the Cloyne Report itself is not at all as critical of the Vatican as Kenny himself, limiting itself in the main to comments about the Vatican 1997 response to the 1996 Framework Document of the Irish Bishops.

The report notes that this response was 'entirely unhelpful' and 'gave comfort and support to those who ... dissented from the stated official Irish Church policy'. The issue at play here was the insistence on mandatory reporting to civil authorities, and Papal spokesperson Federico Lombardi has noted that mandatory reporting was not then — and is still not — required by Irish civil law. 

The Vatican itself has been on a learning curve on these matters. It seems to have been as late as 2010 (a good 14 years after the Irish Bishops made their position clear) that it came to the unequivocal recommendation that full cooperation with civil authorities is required.

The fact that the Vatican cannot confess its own tardiness and shortcomings in these matters (because of fear of legal proceedings, with attendant financial liabilities?), but comes across as washing its hands and blaming local hierarchies, underlies much of the anger that is felt in Ireland.

This points to the deeper issue underlying this whole saga, in Ireland and elsewhere in the Church. It would seem that the Vatican espouses the principle of subsidiarity when it suits — so, local churches are autonomous and responsible in their own regions in this matter of abuse. But in many other areas — for example, of the translation of the New Missal, the role of women in the church, the decision-making powers of laity — there is scant evidence of effective subsidiarity. 

Brendan Hoban, founding member of the Association of Catholic Priests in Ireland, noted that 'Kenny has articulated another obvious truth about the Irish Catholic Church: that the domination of Rome is strangling the emergence of a people's Church in Ireland'.

There is, of course, an important role for Rome and the papacy, but not at the expense of a vigorous local and regional autonomy: and, the basis for that, as Hoban goes on to say, 'is to be found not in some revolutionary manual but in the documents of the Second Vatican Council'. 

Perhaps, pace all the qualifications raised by critics, the Irish people — and many further afield — agree with Kenny because they too sense that our present model of Church is dysfunctional and requires radical renewal.

Gerry O'HanlonGerry O'Hanlon SJ of the Jesuit Centre for Faith and Justice is author of A New Vision of the Catholic Church: A View from Ireland, Dublin: Columba Press, 2011.

Topic tags: Gerry O'Hanlon, Ireland, sexual abuse, Vatican, Enda Kenny, subsidiarity, Catholic Church, Lombardi



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The recent Cloyne report detailing widespread clergy sex crimes and cover ups by Irish Catholic officials also contained information showing that bishops in Brisbane also endangered kids and failed to reach out.

"In his first direct contact with the Archdiocese of Brisbane, Monsignor O’Callaghan wrote suggesting that it take a similar course of action. In this letter he also stated that the Diocese of Cloyne had concerns that there might be other victims in Cloyne. He did not ask directly about [the accused priest's] history in Brisbane but did say that he “may have had a history before retirement but, in the absence of the principles of good practice currently in place, that would not necessarily have been communicated to Cloyne”." (section 20.10)
The Archdiocese of Brisbane had not mentioned two abuse complaints to Irish Church officials in Cloyne because they “never asked” if there were any other complaints about the accused priest. (section 20.19)

Commission’s assessment
"The Commission is astonished that the Archdiocese of Brisbane did not tell the Diocese of Cloyne or Andrew about the two earlier complaints. It is, however, true that Monsignor O’Callaghan never asked the direct question." (section 20.39)

SNAPAustralia dot org

Judy Jones, SNAP USA, | 26 July 2011  

Learning curve. Oh please. Enough. We all know what this is. Criminal complicity.

Michael Elphick | 26 July 2011  

What amazes me about all this is the fact that in 1936 there was a scandal over child abuse (including murder) in a state reformatory in Dublin. The two Christian Brothers responsible were hurriedly sent to Africa before they could be charged but the government removed the church from control of all state reformatories. The movie "Song of the Raggedy Boys" was made of the incident.

Jim Macken | 26 July 2011  

I m 77years old and still have my father's voice in my head - he never missed Mass but often said that the organisation from Rome down was the same any other political orgnisation - into power. I do not appreciate the recent changes in the Mass and still read the Duay version of the Bible which is wonderful language. Still, it is up to the next generation now, old margaret

margaret o'reilly | 26 July 2011  

Another mild swipe at the Vatican.

Look, this organisation has had 2000 years to get-it-right and there is no evidence so far to indicate that those in the Vatican, or in Ireland, or in the USA or in Newcastle Australia, or anywhere else in the world, have got any idea about how to behave in the service of Jesus and God.

It is far easier to regard the Vatican as a Mafia-like centre of organised crime, plundering the minds and pockets of the faithfully simple and those least able to question the world about them.

Of course, the range of intellectual brain power here is not restricted to the low IQ groups or even to the ill educated or not at all educated levels of society.

No, the unquestioning faithful are to be found at the highest levels of intellectual achievement, particularly amongst politicians who seek votes and an easy life in their own electorates.

I wonder what Gerry O'Hanlon sees as a 'new vision for the Catholic church'? Would it be vastly different to the message of Jesus?

Hardly, that would put Gerry on-a-par with Jesus I'd have thought.

Surely, for the last 2000 years the Vatican has followed 'the old vision' of Jesus?

Wy the need for a 'new vision'?

Ah, I get it. The last 2000 years were wrong.

Harold Wilson | 26 July 2011  

Any first year student of logic will be able to tell you that by choosing to address the Vatican rather than the specific crimes committed in Ireland, the Prime minister Enda Kenny is simply committing the argumentum fallacy of composition.

Veracitly, let me start by putting straight some inherent facts to the 'unsuspecting' consumers of the prime ministers quixotic statements.

To begin with, Ireland is neither a theoretical state nor constituent province of the Vatican state.

Secondly, all subjects of any soverign state must be subservient to and abey the supreme law of that state.

And thirdly, the fundamental responsibility of any sovereign state is to protect its citizens.

Arising from the above therefore, Enda Kenny lacks a locus standi to supplicate the authority of the vatican to protect the sovereign citizens of Ireland.
In actual sense, the prime minister owes an explanation to the people of Ireland as to why the perpetrators of crimes in Ireland (including the church) can not face the full force of the supreme law of the land.

Ironically, Enda uses the mandate bestored upon him by the good people of the sovereign republic of Ireland to enhance his political standing by blaming a non-biding third-party authority for the "failures" of his government to honour its obligations.

Hillan Nzioka | 26 July 2011  

Thanks Gerry, the snowball is at last getting legs.

Ann Barker MP Oakleigh, Victoria is just back from Ireland gathering data to move for a Victorian Parliamentary enquiry into clergy sexual abuse and church cover up.

She was in the Dail Eireann for Taoiseach Enda Kenny in moving the motion on the report of the Commission investigating the Catholic diocese of Cloyne

Victorian Police have long argued unsuccessfully for a removal of the Pell Process and Towards Healing that sets up parallel church procedures as alternative to the legislation and police protocols.

The Pell Process and Towards Healing challenge the responsibilities of the sovereign state of Victoria to protect children from sexual abuse by catholic priests.

As the Irish have shown such in-house processes cannot be trusted and lead to malevolent consequences.

I am in a small group of 15 who were motivated by ‘Hell on the way to Heaven’. We were all raised Catholic, some still practice, eight are ordained with some in parishes and others married.

We seek a simply public symbolic gesture of solidarity for the innocent victims.

We would also like to show solidarity with those generous celibate priests who continue with the ‘abuse cover up’ pall overshadowing their ministry, who quest to serve Jesus and his people in spite of the clerical church.

One suggestion is like Joshua 6; 1-27 we encircle the cathedral on a nominated day with ‘We shall overcome and Kumbayah songs, then walk to the Archbishop’s Gould penthouse to lie prostrate then gather in the Fitzroy gardens to share bread and wine and conversation 1 Corinthians 11:23-26.

I have sought the support of Russell Northe MP Gippsland and suggest we each brief our local members to support the Brisbane and Ann’s Parliamentary enquiry into clergy sexual abuse and church cover up.

Michael Parer | 26 July 2011  

Absolute power corrupts try to say the Pope is infallible ( god-like) is worshipping a false god.Old Testament told us not to continue this.

The Vatican would be a true powerhouse if it had followed the transformation spelled out in it's watershed moment -Vatican Council II.

The church is stunted and dysfunctional,dying by it's own sword.

catherine | 26 July 2011  

I welcome the opportunity to join with others to express the solidarity that Michael Parer encourages. In offering these two gestures, solidarity to the abused and those who support and nourish them – it is not just some priests, Michael, that support and nourish, stand up and question the appalling practices that go on in the church around cover up and being complicit in cases of sexual abuse by clerics, that need a show of solidarity. I am involved in a circle of people who have over many decades challenged the clergy, bishops, school principals, and the catholic education commission in WA. Within our families, friends, work places some of these people would choose to back the institution not the person who has been abused. In doing this there has debris and fall out. In recent times we have been strengthened by solidarity with the Jesuits. A journey together that has time for listening, acknowledging the immense pain and healing. This is about human beings at their most vulnerable sharing their stories. No process such as the Pell Pot process or Towards Healing is resourced sufficiently with people and money to operate on this human scale. I would be interested to speak with you Michael.

jo dallimore | 26 July 2011  

I can fully understand and support the anger of the Irish people against the tardiness of the Church in recognising its flaws and attitudes regarding protecting the institution against the welfare of innocent children. It seems to me it is too little too late in trying to repair the damage that has been done to innumerable lives, often a good 14 years after the The Irish Archbishops made their position clear.

The church like any other institution has to be made accountable for the welfare of its people, and has to stand up for the honesty values and principles that it preaches.

Maria Prestinenzi | 26 July 2011  

How I admire the Irish Primeminsters "undiplomtatic" (as you call it) speech. Why calling his words undiplomatic while they he speaks from facts?
I wish from all my heart that some Austrian politician would have the guts to speak like this as we are facing similar here. These lies and foul excuses, the not acting of the Catholic church are just disgusting.

Wilhelmina Austria | 26 July 2011  

Thanks Jo, I would be glad to chat - Skype mpare33 or 0351221345 or Tuesday I am back to Cambodia and ‘Developing Cambodia by Degrees' http// I admired your 'Pell Pot process' play on words with all its Khmer overtones especially in these days of the continuing Khmer Rouge trials

Michael Parer | 27 July 2011  

The scribes and pharisees can ignore the rest of us with relative impunity. It might be harder for them to ignore Prime Minister Kenny. Thank God there are some genuine leaders out there. Wonder if he might consider coming here under the Skilled Migration Program?

Peter Downie | 27 July 2011  

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