Monday, December 13, 2010

Church's response
Days of genuflection
Mon, Dec 13, 2010

THE INSTITUTIONAL face of the Catholic Church, as represented by the Vatican, has been left in a dark place of its own creation because of its hopelessly inadequate response to clerical child abuse. And the more we learn about its behaviour, the more it appears to dig itself into a deeper mess, increasingly obscuring the values it might be expected to espouse.

The latest disclosures – via US embassy cables published by WikiLeaks – suggest that requests for information from the Murphy Commission, which was investigating the handling of clerical child sex abuse allegations in the Dublin archdiocese between 1975 and 2004, “offended many in the Vatican” who felt that the Irish Government had “failed to respect and protect Vatican sovereignty during the [Commission] investigations”.

The views, attributed to the Vatican by US diplomats, chime with much of what we know about how the Church, as an institution, deals with such matters and did so in this case. And it is not simply an issue of diplomatic etiquette – the Vatican, in seeking to assert its sovereignty, is adhering to a calculated and consistent defence aimed at protecting the Church and its assets from litigation arising from clerical child abuse in dioceses around the world.

There is no mistaking the sense that the institutional Church and its bureaucracy are engaged in a long game: that the voices of victims who speak with such pain and eloquence of their awful experiences cannot be sustained indefinitely; and that an organisation that has been in existence for some two millennia can simply close ranks and wait. But if this is the case, to what end? What of the tenets of Christianity? What of protecting the weak? For these are the values that matter: not the pomp or the splendour, not the paraphernalia and the bishops’ palaces. Nor the men who live in them, however well-intentioned some of them may be.

The WikiLeaks cable records an Irish diplomat as saying the Irish Government acceded to Vatican pressure and granted it immunity from testifying. That accords with the position taken by the Taoiseach when, in the aftermath of the Murphy report, he defended the Vatican and said that as the Murphy commission was a body set up by government, all communications to the Vatican state should have been routed through diplomatic channels. Given the commission’s horrific conclusions, this response was spectacularly inadequate: the Vatican is at liberty to dig holes for itself but the State must not follow. The days of genuflection are over.

© 2010 The Irish Times

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