06 September 2011

The Vatican's Response to the Irish Government: First Thoughts

Whether or not it was the Californian Senator Hiram Johnson who coined the phrase, 'when war comes, the first casualty is truth,' is a matter of some debate. What's clear, though, is that others expressed a similar sentiment before him. Samuel Johnson, for instance, writing in The Idler in 1758, numbered the diminution of the love of truth among the calamities of war. More than two thousand years before Johnson, however, the Athenian Thucydides had made the very same point in his description of social unrest and civil war in the Greek world of the fifth-century BC:
'Words had to change their ordinary meaning and to take that which was now given them. Reckless audacity came to be considered the courage of a loyal ally; prudent hesitation, specious cowardice; moderation was held to be a cloak for unmanliness; ability to see all sides of a question, inaptness to act on any.'
I've been thinking about this passage quite a bit over the past few days, as I've been watching from afar the reactions in Ireland to the Vatican's response to the Cloyne Report and to the views expressed about that report by the Irish government.

I happen to think that the response is a good one. It comprehensively explains the Vatican's own actions in connection with the Cloyne Report in a calm and measured way, attempting to banish misconceptions while at the same time seeking to defuse tensions.

Unfortunately, it seems that where the current Irish government is concerned, to be accurate is to be 'very technical and legalistic', while facts are to be dismissed as 'pettifogging detail'. For others, familiarity with what the Cloyne Report actually says is not straightforward evidence of the document having been read in a careful and responsible way, but rather is the unmistakeable sign that 'the gimlet eye of the canon lawyer' has been at work. 

I'm not sure when accuracy, honesty, and thoroughness stopped being regarded as virtues. I may have been away too long.

Anyway, Let's take a look at the Vatican's response. Not in detail -- it's short enough for everyone who actually cares about this matter to read the whole thing for themselves, and I'll return to this tomorrow in any case -- but just to pull out a few salient points to help in thinking about it. It might be worthwhile, first, to refresh your memories on the key issues related to the Cloyne Report.

1. Who's the response for?
The response is addressed, quite explicitly, to the Irish Government, in the person of the Tánaiste and Minister for Foreign Affairs. It is a formal diplomatic communication from the government of one state to that of another. Atypically, this communication has been published on the Vatican website, but this is in the interests of transparency and of the need to refute publicly certain public allegations made against the Vatican. Unlike last year's pastoral letter it is not directed to the Irish Church or the Irish people in general, and should not be read as though it is.

This must especially be kept in mind when Irish politicians or pundits complain about the response being largely devoted to stuff that's of little interest to Irish parents or the Irish people in general. Leaving aside how I'd hope that Irish people would, in the main, still be interested in the truth, the response isn't addressed to Irish parents or the Irish people in general. It's addressed to the Government.

2. What does the response address?
As requested by the Irish Government, the letter is a response to two things: the Cloyne Report itself, and the Irish Government's views on the matter. At its heart is a response to the Tánaiste's demand for an explanation of why, in the Government's view, the Vatican intervened to have priests believe they could in conscience evade their responsibilities under Irish law:
'I want to know why this State, with which we have diplomatic relations, issued a communication, the effect of which was that very serious matters of the abuse of children in this country were not reported to the authorities.'
Given the Cloyne Report's allegations about the effect of one letter from the Vatican, the Governmental comments about that claim and allegations of Vatican interference in the development of the Cloyne Report, and the subsequent parliamentary censure of the Vatican, it is entirely natural that the Vatican response focuses, in the main, on those claims. The Irish Government made very serious allegations about the Vatican. It's hardly surprising that the Vatican's response is a rebuttal of those charges.

3. Why doesn't it say more about abuse and cover-up in Cloyne?
Why would it? The letter's a response to a demand from the Irish Government for an explanation about the Vatican's own actions; it's not a response to a demand for a comment on the behaviour of Irish clergy.

The Vatican takes pains in the response to avoid interfering in the business of the Irish State, and as such properly refrains from commenting on the detail of matters which may yet come before the Irish courts. Having said that, it utterly condemns the abuse of children by Irish clergy, is unambiguous in its condemnation of the failures of John Magee and Denis O'Callaghan to follow either the Irish bishops' agreed child-protection policies or the universal rules of the Church as a whole, and expresses deep sorrow for abuse committed by Irish clerics, and for the suffering undergone by their victims.

Pundits and politicians wittering and whinging about how 'the Vatican just doesn't get it' are themselves missing the point. The Vatican was asked for an explanation of why it allegedly interfered in and obstructed Irish matters, and it has given such an explanation. Anything else is completely off-topic. This response is very much to the point.

4. Okay, well, what exactly are the issues the Vatican's addressing?
A few things, really, all of them being concrete and clearly defined.
  • The Cloyne Report's claim that in a 1997 letter the Vatican refused the Irish bishops' request that their 1996 Framework Document be granted  formal recognition and given the status of Canon Law (4.21).
  • The Cloyne Report's claim that the Vatican letter undermined the Irish bishops' Framework Document by describing it as a 'study document' (1.18, 4.21).
  • The Cloyne Report's claim that the Vatican's  letter greatly strengthened the position of those in the Irish Church who were opposed to the implementation of the Framework Document, and encouraged them in their opposition to it (1.76, 4.22, 4.91).
  • The Tánaiste's claim that 'the Vatican intervened to effectively have priests believe they could in conscience evade their responsibilities under Irish law'.
  • The Taoiseach's claim that, 'for the first time in Ireland, a report into child sexual abuse [the Cloyne Report] 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.' 
  • The Taoiseach's implication that the Pope takes the view that the Church is not bound by the standards of conduct appropriate to civil society or the workings of a democracy.
  • The Taoiseach's claim that the Vatican responded to evidence from Cloyne abuse victims in a way that was legalistic rather than sympathetic.
  • The Dáil motion that deplored the Vatican’s intervention as contributing to the undermining of the child protection framework and guidelines of the Irish State and the Irish Bishops.

5. Didn't Enda also accuse the Vatican of downplaying and managing the rape and torture of children in order to uphold the power and reputation of the Church?
He did, yes. The Vatican's response doesn't directly address this, as it's a very broad and vague claim, and one which is in no way supported by the Cloyne Report. I don't see how it could have been addressed head-on without escalating matters further; it seems to me from reading the Vatican's response that the Vatican is in fact pulling its punches, stopping short of pointing out the clear fact that the Cloyne Report, the Taoiseach, the Tánaiste, and the Dáil had all, in effect, made claims against the Vatican that would under other circumstances constitute defamation under Irish law.

That said, the response points out that during the period covered by the Cloyne Report, the Vatican received no evidence of abuse in Cloyne until 2005, when one case was submitted to Rome (21.40), with the effect that the offending priest was barred from exercising his priestly ministry (21.62); he has since, of course, been given an eighteen-month suspended sentence by the Irish State. Since then, a few cases have been referred to Rome in 2009, but as no decision on these cases had been made at the time the Report had been drawn up, the Report didn't comment on the Vatican's handling of them in any sense; Enda could hardly have had them in mind when he made his claims about how the Vatican responded to abuse allegations from Cloyne. Implicitly, then, by showing how the only abuse case handled in full by the Vatican while the Murphy Commission was investigating Cloyne had resulted in the barring of a priest from acting as one, the response demonstrates the absurdity of the Taoiseach's claim.

What's more, the response details at length, in sections entitled 'Church legislation on child protection', 'Circular Letter of the Congregation for the Doctrine of the Faith (3 May 2011)', and 'Specific attention to the situation in Ireland: the Letter of Pope Benedict XVI to the Catholics of Ireland (2010)', the constructive steps the Vatican has taken to address the problem of child abuse by clergy, steps that can hardly be dismissed as attempts to downplay abuse.

If the 2002 SAVI figures are accurate, over a quarter of Irish adults are survivors of child sexual abuse, with roughly one adult in 240 having been abused by a priest. This is a horrifying reality, and is something we all need to work together to fight. By effectively turning the other cheek in response to the most vicious of the Taoiseach's allegations, the Vatican is declining the opportunity to exacerbate the situation by replying in the polemical manner the Taoiseach's calumnies deserve; instead it's giving everybody a chance to lower their arms and work together to protect and help Irish children.

6. Right. Well, why didn't the Vatican grant the Irish bishops' request that their 1996 Framework Document be granted  formal recognition and given the status of Canon Law?
For two reasons, basically, the first of which was that the Irish bishops didn't ask for it to be granted such recognition, and the second of which was that the Vatican felt that such recognition wasn't necessary, given the unanimous support of the Irish bishops for the new guidelines and the ability of each bishop to implement the guidelines within their own dioceses.

There's more to it than that, but that's the essence of it. You'll note that the Cloyne Report got this wrong, by the way. It expressly states that the Irish bishops sought recognition for the guidelines, when they did no such thing. As I've said before, the report is far from being a perfect document.

7. Well, why did the Vatican describe the Framework Document as a 'study document'? 
Because that's basically what it was. It was presented to Rome as a step towards a formal legislative process, due to be published not by the Irish bishops but by an advisory committee for the bishops. It was as a step towards a formal legislative process that the Vatican commented on it. The Congregation for Clergy had already played a part in the creation of the Framework Document, and it most certainly did not reject the guidelines, let alone bar the Irish bishops from applying them. On the contrary, it merely expressed some concerns about the guidelines, which were obviously in need of being field-tested, and warned against the implementation of the guidelines in such a way that could later lead to the overturning -- on procedural grounds -- of disciplinary decisions.

8. Isn't it true, though, that the 1997 letter encouraged those who were opposed to the guidelines?
It doesn't seem to have done. It's not even clear how widely disseminated this letter was; the Cloyne Report describes it as a strictly confidential letter to the Irish bishops (4.21), and gives no indication that it ever passed beyond the bishops themselves

In any case, whatever the Irish government may say, the Vatican is right to say that there is not a jot of evidence in the Cloyne Report that supports its claim that the Vatican's 1997 reservations about the Irish bishops' 1996 child-protection guidelines had any impact whatsoever on the implementation of those guidelines in Cloyne or any other diocese. I'd challenge anyone who doubts this to trawl through the Cloyne Report in search of any evidence for this hugely damaging and -- I believe -- false allegation. The nearest thing the report offers in support of its claim is a scornful 2008 quotation from Denis O'Callaghan about how the Irish bishops had expected Rome to endorse a wholly separate 2005 document.

9. But what about the Tánaiste's claim that the Vatican convinced priests they could in conscience evade their responsibilities under Irish law?
What responsibilities? What law? You can't evade things that don't exist.

Up until 1997, the failure to report a felony was but a misdemeanour in Irish law, and it was removed from Irish law altogether by April 1997's Criminal Law Act, which created the new offence of 'concealing an offence', applicable only when someone has been bribed to conceal an offence. Of the fifteen members of the current cabinet, nine had been members of the government that introduced that Act, five -- including the Taoiseach -- as full ministers and members of the cabinet, and four -- including the  Tánaiste -- as ministers of state.

It is true that the Congregation for Clergy had reservations about the Framework Document's requirement that any allegations of abuse -- or even concerns expressed about the possibility of such -- should be reported to the State, but given that the Irish Government itself decided over the course of 1996 and 1997 against the introduction of mandatory reporting, I don't see that there's any evidence that the attitude of the Congregation for Clergy in 1997 was any different from that of Enda Kenny, Richard Bruton, Michael Noonan, Brendan Howlin, or Ruairi Quinn.

10. So aside from the fact that that claim is a case of the pot calling the kettle black, it's got no basis whatsoever, as you can't undermine something that's not there?

For what it's worth, time and again throughout the Vatican's response, it stresses the need for the Irish Church to cooperate with the laws of the Irish State, how bishops have never been impeded from reporting cases of abuse to the State, and how bishops were explicitly told in 1998 never to obstruct in any way the course of civil justice. Indeed, it's a basic principle of Church teaching that all Catholics are obliged to obey all just laws of the State in which they live.

(Obviously, some states have blatantly unjust laws, and Catholics are most certainly not bound to obey them. Have a think about things that, say, Idi Amin's government or Pol Pot's came up with and you'll understand why the Church doesn't demand that Catholics obey the law regardless of what it might be.)

11. What about Enda's claim that the Cloyne Report exposed -- for the first time ever -- an attempt within the last three years by the Vatican to frustrate an official Irish inquiry?
Well, as I said at the time, that was clearly nonsense, and the Vatican's pointed that out. The Cloyne Report in no way criticises the Vatican for a failure to cooperate with it, reserving its sole criticisms in that regard for the State. With reference to the Papal Nuncio, it says he told the Commission that he held no documents that would be of use to it, but that the Diocese, which held all documents, would be obliged to cooperate fully; the Report says it did just that, even supplying all privileged communications.

I'll come back to this tomorrow, as Archbishop Martin has asked the Taoiseach to explain his public allegation, and the Taoiseach has responded with a self-refuting ball of bluster. In the meantime, this fellow nails what really happened: the Taoiseach lied to the Dáil. 

12. And the Taoiseach's implication that the Pope didn't regard the Church as needing to operate in line with the standards of civil society?
As the Vatican points out, the passage the Taoiseach quoted was one about theological methodology, basically saying that theological truth isn't a matter of passing fashion, and as such cannot be determined by opinion polls or focus groups or even the collective views of groups of academics. It had nothing to do with Church governance or canon law or anything other than theology, as I explained back in the day.

13. It sounds like the Taoiseach has tried to mislead the Dáil in more than one way, so. And with success. What of his line about the Vatican responding to allegations of abuse not with sympathy, but with the gimlet eye of a canon lawyer?
I think this is very unfair on the canon lawyers, who are just trying to ensure the rules are followed. More to the point, though, I covered this above, at point 5, and back in the day, at point 31 of a very long post on the Cloyne Report in general. Given that the report details only one instance of abuse that had been dealt with by Rome, that being submitted to them in 2005 with the complainant being believed and the accused priest being barred from exercising any priestly ministry, there's simply no evidence on which the Taoiseach could base such a claim.

14. That leaves us with the Dáil motion, deploring the Vatican’s intervention as contributing to the undermining of the child protection framework and guidelines of the Irish State and the Irish Bishops. How does the Vatican respond to that?
Well,  we've basically covered this too, at point 8 above. The Dáil deplored the effect of the Vatican's 1997 letter, but as we've seen, there's nothing in the Cloyne Report that hints at the letter having had any effect at all. The Report shows Denis O'Callaghan as having openly viewed the Framework Document with contempt, but it doesn't cite him as drawing on the Vatican's letter in support of his views, and indeed, it makes it clear that he was as opposed to implementing canon law as he was the Irish bishops' own guidelines.

15. Okay. I've heard people claiming that in this response, Rome is trying to localise the problem, to say it's nothing to do with the Vatican, and that it's an Irish problem. Is there any truth to that?
The fact is that contrary to popular belief, the Church is incredibly decentralised, with most decisions being taken at the lowest possible level. This shouldn't really surprise us: given that the Vatican's operating budget isn't a lot more than half that of University College Dublin, it can hardly be expected to micromanage things. In practice, as the Ferns Report explained back in the day and the Vatican's response spells out, dioceses have a huge degree of autonomy, to an extent to which one might almost hold that every bishop is Pope in his own diocese. Almost.

The point being: it's impossible to analyse these issues fairly unless we understand just how localised the Church is. Indeed, the Irish Church has more than 180 separate parts, and there's nothing remotely resembling a clear chain of command in Ireland, leading everything back to Rome. It's very clear that Magee and O'Callaghan did their own thing in Cloyne, and nobody in Rome was any the wiser until the Elliott Report brought their mismanagement of affairs to light. That, of course, was promptly followed by a debate over whether Magee should step down, with him being unwilling to do so until he had a meeting with the Nuncio, after which he requested that he be relieved of duty.

Yes, I know these localised problems appear to have happened everywhere, both in terms of the abuse itself and of mismanagement of abuse. This does not mean that the mismanagement was in any way centralised, though. If anything, it seems that it was something that arose naturally from clericalist cultures and the natural tendency of people to trust and look after those with whom they have close ties. What Benedict seems to have been trying to do from Rome is to find a centralised way of short-circuiting the all-too-common local tendency towards clericalist mismanagement.

There are those who don't like Rome having an influence on how the Irish Church runs things, but given the hames the Irish Church has made of dealing with clerical abuse, I don't see that we should be looking for an exclusively Irish solution to an Irish problem.

And child abuse -- let's not beat about the bush -- is most definitely an Irish problem

More tomorrow, with particular reference to the Taoiseach's claims. And sorry I've been slow with this. I've been away, and I've been very busy at my own work, it being at a crucial stage, and in terms of this I've been trying to get a handle on the original nature of the Irish request, the text of the response, and the governmental and media reactions at home.


Anonymous said...

Your doggedness is not unappreciated.

But I have trouble everytime you quote from SAVI. No doubt because my mathematical ability is of the dynamic, variable kind.

This last time out you say that per SAVI one adult in 240 is abused by a priest.

But when I look at table 4.11, it seems to show:
3.9% of abusers of boys were religious teachers
1.9% of abusers of boys were religious ministers
0% of abusers of girls were religious teachers
1.4% of abusers of girs were religious ministers.

Thus 1 in every 17 boys who were abused were abused by a religious/cleric.
And 3 in every 200 girls who were abused were abused by religious/cleric.
This means that for every 200 boys and girls who were abused 7.2 of them, or 1 in 28 were abused by a religious/cleric. I think. 

Also, I wish you would dwell more on the terms of reference of the Cloyne Commission. Who set it up and what were they trying to bring judgement on? 
Even if they had demonstrated evidence, which they did not, that Rome's response to the Framework led some to disregard it, by what mandate is the Commission entitled to castigate Rome for that?
I mean, suppose instead the Commission had castigated the Irish bishops for being “entirely unhelpful” in refusing to acknowledge and trying to accommodate the Congregation for Clergy’s expressed reservations about mandatory reporting and possible technical conflicts with canon law. Suppose the Commission had castigated the Irish bishops because their failure to accord with Rome’s legitimate concerns meant that it gave succor and encouragement to people like Monsignor O’Callaghan to ignore the Framework agreement. Would not their reasoning in castigating the Irish bishops for being unhelpful be identical to their reasoning in castigating the Vatican for being unhelpful? And would not their reasoning in both cases be based on exactly the same evidence, exactly the same set of facts?
But by what right would the Commission have to cast either judgement if neither  the Bishops or the Vatican have broken civil law?

The Thirsty Gargoyle said...

I take your point on the maths. To be frank, working out the detail of the SAVI report is tricky. I think some people must have answered some questions but not others, as they don't add up. The first thing I'd say about it is that it makes sense to look at it as a totality. If we start breaking it down on a gender basis it starts to unravel. People have ignored it for the last decade, so we need to start pointing to the headline figures.

Table 4.3 says that 72.9% of interviewees hadn't been abused, and that 27.1% had been. Yes, there's a higher percentage of girls abused than there are boys, but still, let's stick with that headline, being 27.1%. It's more than one in four.

Tables 4.10 and 4.11 break down abuse cases by types of abuser, and says that just under 1.7% of abuse cases (12 out of 722) were perpetuated by religious ministers. In priciple these could have been Church of Ireland ministers, say, or Rabbis, but I think that, realistically, we should assume all were Catholic priests. That's a 1 to 59 ratio of children abused to clergy to children abused by people who weren't clergy.

I take your point on teachers from religious orders -- brothers, mainly -- but I don't think it makes sense to lump these in with clergy for taxonomic or analytical purposes. It would, I think, make more sense to lump them in with teachers in general: after all, unlike priests they had access to children due to being teachers, and they were, in theory anyway, answerable the the Department of Education.

I think it makes sense to treat clergy as the discreet group they surely are in this matter, without bumping up their numbers by including unordained teachers. Having said that, I understand the argument to the contrary, and I think your one-in-twenty-eight figure can be argued with credibility, provided the Government's failures in this regard are also pointed out.

On Cloyne's Remit, have I never talked about that? That's hugely remiss of me, if so.

The Murphy Commission was established to examine how abuse allegations had been handled by Church and State authorities in the Dublin archdiocese between 1975 and 2004. Its remit was not to establish whether or not abuse occured, but simply to examine the institutional response to complaints, doing this by looking at a representative sample of allegations. Following the Church's own Elliott Report into Cloyne, and concerned that the Church's own guidelines were not being followed in Cloyne, on 31 March 2009 the Government asked the Murphy Commission to follow its Dublin investigation with a similar one in Cloyne examining all complaints, allegations etc about abuse by clerics made to Church and State between 1 January 1996 and 1 February 2009.

Again, it was not the remit of the Commission to establish whether or not abuse took place. Rather, its main task was to consider whether the response of the Church and State authorities to complaints and allegations of clerical child sexual abuse was “adequate or appropriate” and to establish the response to
suspicions and concerns about clerical child sexual abuse. The Commission judged the Church by the standards the Irish Church set for itself, which is recognises as high and indeed as rather higher than those of the State.

As for the Commission's right to castigate anything or anyone, I'm afraid I don't know. I suspect the Government has the right the set up statutory inquiries into almost anything in Ireland, and to have those inquiries comment as they deem appropriate. But again, I don't know. I'm no lawyer, unfortunately.

thegrem said...

How I wish I could introduce you to some victims. To the parents of victims who will go to their graves before they forgive themselves. The days when your spin could pull the wool over the eyes of the faithful are gone. This blog is not just an insult to the abused but to the Irish people.

The Thirsty Gargoyle said...

Well, I know at least six abuse victims. I know them very well. And I know the parents of five of them. And I don't think any of them think that telling the truth like this is an insult to them, to their children, or to the Irish people.

To be frank, given the statistics, it'd be weird if I didn't know a lot more than that. One in four Irish adults are victims of sexual abuse. That's the figure. If you're Irish there's a decent chance that you are a survivor. There's a decent chance that I am. You'd want to be careful what kind of claims you're making.

I don't doubt for a moment the reality or the scale of the abuse that was committed by Irish priests, and indeed have argued forcefully with those small few I've met who have doubted it. However, I've also immersed myself in all the publicly-available data and scholarly literature on this I've been able to find, and I'm absolutely certain that this situation is far more monstrous than it seems.

Abuse in the Irish Church is a facet, and a small one at that, of abuse in Irish society. A quarter of the Irish adult population are abuse survivors. Of those, for every victim of clerical abuse, there are 59 victims of non-clerical abuse. This seems to be something that's endemic in Irish society.

For all your shouting about the victims of clerical abuse, what do you ever say about the victims of non-clerical abuse? There are 59 times as many of them, you know. And what do you say about the perpetrators of that abuse?

Because here's the thing. If you have Irish friends, it's not just that a quarter of them will have been abused; a hell of a lot of them will have been abusers. What are you doing about that?

Mike said...

Just come across this site from a link on another site. Just want to say thank you for the painstaking work that you have done on this issue. We should all be very grateful that there are people such as yourself who are prepared to put the time and effort into finding the truth and making it public.

Rob Fuller said...

Another readable, cohesive, well-researched article by The Thirsty Gargoyle.

Donum Vitae said...

Dear Thirsty Gargoyle....I wish to say thank you and express gratitude for your honest, truthful, well researched, and brilliant post.

I totally agree with you re abuse and survivors, that most of the people who attack those who clarify or defend the injustice that Enda Kenny committed, most likely do zero to try to rid this country of this widespread problem that for so long was swept under the carpet. The culture of the day silenced everyone - victim, and those who know about it, not least the families themselves, and also gardai.

Heartfelt thanks.

Family and Media Association said...

Excellent! Thank you!

'Hour Faith'

'Faith in the Media'

"When first we practice to deceive..." -- Unbalanced reporting produces some surprising effects!

Anonymous said...

Well done Thirsty Gargoyle! We do need measured and calm analysis of the Cloyne Report and the Vatican's response, with no triumphalism or point scoring; just seeking the truth... Keep it up. Baz

GOR said...

As before TG, thank you again for taking the time to put all of this in perspective. It has to have been a lot of work for you and I just want you to know there are many of us out here who appreciate your efforts. Well done!