Not that long ago, in July of this year, an independent inquiry in Ireland led by Judge Yvonne Murphy detailed in damning terms the massive collusion that existed between the Bishop of Cloyne and "head office" in Vatican City to ensure justice was obstructed again and again. The position of the bishops seemed to be that they had some kind of "diplomatic immunity" that shielded them from answering any questions from the Garda Síochána, the Irish FBI. After several weeks of silence, the Vatican finally posted an official response on its website on September 3 of this month -- an open letter to the Deputy PM of Ireland (who also acts as Foreign Minister, the typical Cabinet post given to most DPMs in the EU). And as a Catholic I'm not impressed one damn bit.
The time frame we're talking about is not three decades back, when much of the abuse happened, but fresh allegations that emerged only three years ago, as the Taoiseach (Irish Prime Minister) Enda Kenny noted in the Dáil (Irish lower house) on his reply to the Cloyne Report. Both the lower chamber and the Irish Senate voted for motions of censure against the Vatican -- itself quite remarkable for a country that is so heavily Roman Catholic and maintains a concordat with the Holy See.
Carefully, the Vatican claims that they're not responding to specific crimes that may still be at investigation by the Gardaí. But it makes some rather dubious claims:
- Similar to the position it took when the US Bishops tried to impose a "one strike and you're out" rule which was vetoed by the previous Pope, JP2, it tries to hide behind a veil that expresses concerns about mandatory reporting of any allegations to civil authorities. It also says the lack of a requirement of mandatory reporting doesn't mean the allegations shouldn't be referred to the police or child protection authorities at all. I'm sorry, but one necessarily leads to the other. The Bishop Emeritus here in Hamilton, Anthony Tonnos, made clear nearly 10 years ago that on this one, regardless of what canon law might say, he is bound by the civil and criminal law -- all allegations are reported without questioning the motives of the alleged victim; that priest, nun or brother would be suspended with pay pending the outcome; and full cooperation by the bishop and his staff with authorities would be automatic while the Episcopal Corporation (i.e. the Diocese) also conducted its own internal investigation. The current Bishop, Douglas Crosby, hasn't amended this one bit.
- It claims it never interfered with procedures or processes conducted by the Irish government or its agencies. Instead, it then immediately hides behind the Apostolic Nuncio (i.e. Vatican ambassador) in Ireland and says that the issue was for the Diocese to handle, not the Embassy. That might be fine were it not for the fact the Bishops' Conference (the governing body of the Catholic Church in a given country) and the Nunciature in the same country work hand in glove and glove in hand. For instance, the Bishops may recommend a worthy priest to serve as a new bishop, but the nuncio can express his objections even before the nomination is forwarded to the Pope's desk for assent. Furthermore, if there was massive corruption going on in Cloyne, surely the Nuncio should have known about it. The Pope is free to fire a Bishop -- when the proof was in the pudding Joe Ratzinger surely gave it the silent treatment.
- As to the claim that a church cannot be bound by the "norms" of a Society, this is truly egregious. As I have noted before, no other church on the planet -- no other church -- has diplomatic immunity at its highest levels nor the ability to extend it to its underlings. If a church cannot be expected to cooperate on child abuse, financial misappropriation, etc., then it should not have state immunity at all. Its tax exempt status should be revoked and any concordats should be ripped up by the receiving state.
- It claims it never interferred with the local church. Local church officials have openly stated and admitted otherwise. Would you believe people locally or from a palace built with "indulgences" centuries ago? Exactly.
- It claims that Bishops do not represent the Church, but Christ. Well of course they do -- but any bishop showing disobedience to the Pope and his most senior advisors (all male, all allegedly "virgins") is considered a grievous violation of norms. If someone on the inside told a bishop to back off, and the bishop says as much, isn't it time to call the kettle black?
- Finally it relies on the notorious Crimen Sollicitationis, which required bishops to keep internal investigations under wraps and effectively was used to prevent disclosures to the police (by way of secret Church Trials, the successor to the Spanish Inquisition. While it also states the maximum penalty is being defrocked and the penalty has existed since 1922, such a penalty wasn't regularly applied until the last decade and a half, and only because the laity demanded it.