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Wednesday, January 19, 2011

More on the Vatican letter to Irish bishops on abuse

You can read more about the letter in David Gibson's post at dotCommonweal. The comments to the post are well worth reading too. Here's some of what David wrote ...

My sense was that the Vatican’s efforts today to tamp down the controversy by saying that the letter has been “deeply misunderstood” (Vatican lawyer Jeffrey Lena) or that “It refers to a situation that we’ve now moved beyond” (Vatican spokesman Father Lombardi) are insufficient at best.

Then again, Lombardi’s insistence that the existence of the letter was common knowledge in Ireland, while hardly an excuse, is true — but that doesn’t seem to exculpate the Vatican. Rather, the letter only seems to affirm that real cause of the scandal is what is already widely viewed as an endemic culture of secrecy in much of the hierarchy. It wasn’t necessarily some kind of carefully orchestrated, Dan Brown-style conspiracy that needs a “smoking gun.” The scandal is what it is, and always has been.

A plain reading of the letter, especially in the context of what was happening then, seems only to argue more explicitly for the culture-of-secrecy explanation. The Vatican ambassador to Ireland wrote that the bishops new policy was unacceptable to the Congregation for Clergy in Rome, which was then headed by Cardinal Dario Castrillon Hoyos, who was quite open about his insistence that bishops not report their priests to civil authorities.

Jeff Lena says that “the letter nowhere instructed Irish bishops to disregard civil law reporting requirements.” But there were no civil law reporting requirements at the time — the bishops were actually ahead of civil society — and Lena’s statement seems hard to square with the letter’s statement that mandatory reporting “gives rise to serious reservations of both a moral and canonical nature.”

The 1997 Vatican letter seems to have two significant complicating factors now for the Vatican. One is that it casts a further shadow over John Paul’s administration even as Rome prepares for his beatification in May.

Also, the letter seems to directly contradict Benedict’s own letter to Irish Catholics last year when the new revelations were roiling Ireland, and Rome.

In that letter to Irish Catholics the pope expressed his sorrow at the abuse but also blamed the abuse on “fast-paced social change” and a lack of religious devotion by ordinary Irish Catholics, who until recent years have been the most devout Catholics in the world.

Benedict’s letter also chided the bishops for the “often inadequate response” of Ireland’s hierarchy to the abuse and pointed to “a tendency in [Irish] society to favor the clergy and other authority figures.”

But in this case it seems the Vatican was guilty of an inadequate response and was standing in the way of the local bishops who were trying to deal with the crisis ....


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