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Saturday, September 03, 2011

The Vatican's response

Sometimes when reading about the Vatican and sex abuse, I'm reminded of The X-Files, in which the concept of plausible deniability was raised to an art form.

As you will recall from the news, the Cloyne report came out, which ...

highlighted a 1997 Vatican letter which expressed "serious reservations" about a policy drawn up the year before by Irish bishops requiring abusers to be reported to the police. It found the diocese then failed to report nine out of 15 complaints made against priests between 1996 and 2005 which "very clearly should have been reported". - The Guardian

The Taoiseach Enda Kenny then made a speech on the issue (I thought it was a a really good speech) ....

And then the Vatican recalled it's ambassador from Ireland, and now has finally responded - Vatican denies claims of abuse cover-up in Ireland. Here's a bit about the Vatican's response, from The Guardian story ...

"The [Vatican] congregation for the clergy did express reservations about mandatory reporting," it said, adding that this was only because of concerns of clashing with the work of church tribunals in rooting out paedophile priests .... "Given that the Irish government of the day decided not to legislate on the matter, it is difficult to see how Archbishop Storero's letter… could possibly be construed as having somehow subverted Irish law." It admitted the Vatican's "shame" over the "terrible sufferings which the victims of abuse and their families have had to endure" in Ireland, but stated the blame for abuse in Cloyne after 1997 was squarely with the diocese.

You can read a lot of commentary on the Vatican's response, from Archbishop Martin, to David Quinn on Vatican Radio, but I can save you some time ..... the Vatican has successfully maintained its plausible deniability in the eyes of these two commentators.

But as the writes in Vatican lays blame at door of local church, What the Vatican does not manage to do in yesterday's statement is to engage with the Irish experience in a way that acknowledges that it might have done more, or that Rome's intervention in respect of earlier guidelines from Irish bishops was damaging in practice while perhaps justified in principle..

And as Maeve Lewis, the Irish director for the anti-child abuse campaign group One in Four, said in The Guardian story, Once again the Vatican has failed to take responsibility for a culture which prevails in the Catholic church which facilitates the sexual abuse of children, ... In the response, they seek to justify actions and present themselves as having been misunderstood, whereas people in the church were using Vatican writing and thinking to find a way to avoid reporting abuse to civil authorities.

The Wikipedia article on plausible deniability defines it as the ... ability to deny a fact or allegation, or to deny previous knowledge of a fact. The term most often refers to the denial of blame in (formal or informal) chains of command, where upper rungs quarantine the blame to the lower rungs, and the lower rungs are often inaccessible, meaning confirming responsibility for the action is nearly impossible. In the case that illegal or otherwise disreputable and unpopular activities become public, high-ranking officials may deny any awareness of such act or any connection to the agents used to carry out such acts.

I think the Vatican has this technique down cold, but no matter how well they employ that X-File maxim 'deny everything', I doubt most people will believe them (and I myself do not believe them). Why, if the Vatican is not involved in covering up abuse, do they not mandate, in language which cannot be misinterpreted, that all abuse allegations must be reported to the police? Further reading ... It takes 25 pages and 11,000 words to say - 'nothing to do with us' by Patsy McGarry at the, Revising history Vatican style by Fr. Thomas Doyle, O.P., J.C.D., and Statement on the “Response of the Holy See to the Government of Ireland Regarding the Report of the Commission of Investigation into the Catholic Diocese of Cloyne” at


Blogger Deacon Denny said...

Hi Crystal --
I thought it was a good speech too. I have followed this story but there are all kinds of references that I hadn't known about. Thanks for the post.

8:10 PM  
Blogger Deacon Denny said...

I did just read the commentary on Archbishop Martin's comments, by the NCR staff. They're not usually inclined to give the Vatican a lot of slack. However, their article is more nuanced. See:

8:45 PM  
Blogger crystal said...

Hi Denny,

Yes, I saw that earlier, but I think (unless I'm wrong?) that that whole thing is Archbishop Martin's comment on the Vatican's response, not a comment on his comment - so it's Martin who is giving the Vatican the benefit of the doubt, not NCR, I think.

12:05 AM  
Blogger crystal said...

Oh, forgot to add - still, interesting that he is taking that stance, which seems to lay all the blame on the Irish bishops and none on the Vatican.

12:06 AM  
Blogger Deacon Denny said...

You're right. It said "NCR staff," at the top of the article, so I read it as a general editorial by NCR. Still, I'm not convinced that there is a "smoking gun" here.

I don't know how you would "prove" innocence in situations like this -- it's the "proving a negative" kind of thing, just as is proving one's innocence in actual instance of sexual abuse. When that happens, I tend to fall back on an overall impression of how transparent and forthcoming a person or institution is...and in that respect the Vatican is not very convincing.

I don't know how much Archbishop Martin knew of "what the Vatican knew and when," but even before this article, he has been very publicly critical of his fellow Irish bishops and unwilling to let them off the hook -- rightly so.

2:53 PM  
Blogger crystal said...

This comment has been removed by the author.

5:33 PM  
Blogger crystal said...

I keep forgetting stuff :) You're right - there's no real smoking gun but I do feel that the Vatican is ultimately responsible. It just makes me so angry that they feel themselves beyond any accountability.

5:59 PM  
Blogger Deacon Denny said...

I agree with you there, Crystal. I still can't forget that Benedict's record as an Archbishop wasn't transparent -- we've both noted that before.

6:08 PM  
Blogger Deacon Denny said...

Hi again, Crystal --

Did you read all the responses to Allen's column about this? He posted it the same date you did, and the responses flooded in. Most were just withering.

6:03 PM  

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