Wednesday, February 17, 2010

Ireland expects more than platitudes from the Pope over Church abuse

From The Times February 16, 2010

Ireland expects more than platitudes from the Pope over Church abuse
David Sharrock: commentary 4 Comments
Recommend? (2) If it wasn’t so grave an issue, the spectacle of Ireland’s most senior clergy dressed in their finery and lining up to defend themselves, one by one, in a seven-minute address to the Pope might have all the comic ingredients of a public school headmaster giving a ticking off to his prefects.

But, back home, a great deal rides on the outcome of the two-day Vatican meeting, an extraordinarily rare conference called to consider the damage wrought to the Roman Catholic Church by hundreds of Irish paedophile priests who assaulted their young, innocent charges for decades, seemingly with impunity. The past has finally caught up with them.

Last year tworeports came to devastating conclusions about the role of religion in the life of the State. The first found that there was systemic sexual, physical and emotional abuse in Catholic-run residential institutes for children. The second said that the hierarchy had deliberately covered up the crimes of abusive priests, protecting them from the law, in order to save the Church’s reputation.

The decline of a Church that once ruled Ireland’s morals with an iron grip was already under way before the sexual abuse scandals began to emerge more than a decade ago. Mass attendance numbers received a boost from the inflow of Polish workers during the Celtic Tiger period but many have now returned home, leaving parishes wrestling with how to offer services in steadily emptying churches with an ageing pool of priests.

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Ireland remains a culturally Catholic country but the favourite nation of many a Pontiff is no longer as quick to stoop to kiss his ring. Practising Irish Catholics expect more from Pope Benedict XVI than mere expressions of regret in the pastoral letter, which he has promised after listening to his Irish bishops.

Until now the Vatican’s stance has appeared to suggest that the scandals engulfing Ireland are a domestic matter for the Irish alone.

On Sunday the Bishop of Clogher, Joseph Duffy, said that he did not expect the pastoral letter to be issued soon, such are the complexities. The bishop also made a revealing comment about the level of the Pope’s own prior knowledge of the Irish scandals.

He said that the Pope was “very well clued in on this issue. Even before he became Pope he had access to the documentation and he knew exactly what was in the documentation. He wasn’t living in a fool’s paradise”.

In a previous role as Cardinal Ratzinger the Pope was head of the Congregation for the Doctrine of the Faith, which reviews abuse claims against clergy.

For months there have been calls for the Vatican to open its archives to show its own role in responding to sex abuse cases in Ireland.

When the Murphy report into the Dublin diocese was published last year it emerged that the Papal Nuncio in Ireland, Archbishop Giuseppe Leanza, had refused to co-operate with the tribunal, hiding behind a cloak of diplomatic protocol and “sovereign immunity”.

It has been suggested that the Vatican’s failure to set out a global code of conduct on child protection may have much to do with its reluctance to acknowledge its authority over national churches, with bishops and priests its agents in a legal sense.

This could lead to ruinously expensive claims for damages against the Pope by the tens of thousands of victims of abuse around the world.

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