It makes no sense

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I am at a loss to understand what the mandatory-reporting-kerfuffle in the Vatican is all about.  In essence, that’s the nub of the Response of the Holy See to the Government of Ireland:.

03 September 2011: Response of the Holy See to the Government of Ireland regarding the Report of the Commission of Investigation into the Catholic Diocese of Cloyne

The response  is short – 20 pages –  but, I would say,  not an easy read.  Much of the language is canonical.  The tenor is legalistic.  It is also defensive.  And, there is no signature – not one name at top or bottom of any Cardinal, Archbishop, Bishop or priest who may have compiled the report.  For now the author(s) is a mystery.

At the root of the hoopla is  a 1996 document penned by the Irish Catholic Bishops Advisory Committee:  Child Sexual Abuse Framework for a Church Response Report of the Irish Catholic Bishops’ Advisory Committee on Child Sexual Abuse by Priests and Religious( the Framework Document).  The document, witness the following excerpt, advocates mandatory reporting:

In all instances where it is known or suspected that a child has been, or is being, sexually abused by a priest or religious the matter should be reported to the civil authorities. Where the suspicion or knowledge results from the complaint of an adult of abuse during his or her childhood, this should also be reported to the civil authorities”

Good for them.

On to the Response…

Yesterday’s response from the Holy See circles around accusations in the Cloyne Report that the Apostolic Nuncio to Ireland (Archbishop Luciano Storero) dismissed the Framework Document as “merely a study document” and not “an official document of the Irish bishops, ” but, more to the point wrote:  ”In particular, the situation of ‘mandatory reporting’ gives rise to serious reservations of both a moral and canonical nature.”

The Cloyne Report in turn gave rise to  Irish Prime Minister Enda Kennedy’s accusation that “for the first time in Ireland, a report into child sexual abuse 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” and those of Deputy Prime Minister and Minister for Foreign Affairs and Trade of Ireland, Eamon Gilmore, that “the Vatican authorities undermined the Irish Church’s own efforts to deal with clerical child sexual abuse by describing the framework document adopted by the Bishops’ Conference as a mere ‘study document’” and “intervened to effectively have priests believe they could in conscience evade their responsibilities under Irish law.”

The Response to this is 20 pages of dancing on the head of a pin trying to disprove the allegations.

It really is bizarre.  Mandatory reporting for certain sexual crimes was already the law of the land in  Northern Ireland!  It’s not in the South (the Republic), but it is in the North (Northern Ireland).  So why the fuss by the Vatican?

Look at this, straight from the Framework Document itself:

The Law in the Republic of Ireland

The present statutory framework does not make mandatory the reporting of incidents of child sexual abuse to either the health board or Garda Síochána. Accordingly, there is no statutory obligation on any person to report child sexual abuse or suspicions of child sexual abuse.

The criminal law does contain a little-known and seldom-used offence called  ‘misprision of felony’, which punishes failure to report the commission of offences categorised as felonies, which include rape and buggery. Many of the offences relevant in the context of child sexual abuse are not felonies and, accordingly, misprision is of limited relevance.

The Law of Northern Ireland 

The law in Northern Ireland was the same as the law in the Republic of Ireland until 1967 when the Criminal Law Act (NI) was passed. It was an Act intended to abolish the division of crimes into felonies and misdemeanours. Section 2 (i) of that Act created a new offence, an ‘arrestable offence’, being any offence for which the Court can by law sentence the offender to imprisonment for a term of five years or more, including attempts to commit any such offence.

Section 5 of the Act provides:

where a person has committed an arrestable offence, it shall be the duty of every other person, who knows or believes

(a) that the offence or some other arrestable offence has been committed;


(b) that he has information which is likely to secure, or to be of material assistance in securing, the apprehension, prosecution or conviction of any person for that offence to give that information, within a reasonable time, to a Constable and if, without reasonable excuse, he fails to do so he shall be guilty of an offence …

Most cases of child sexual abuse fall within the category of arrestable offences. Since 1861 it has been an offence, punishable by up to ten years imprisonment, to commit an indecent assault on a male. Until 1989 such an offence against a female carried only a maximum of two years imprisonment but that was increased to ten years. However, certain sexual offences against children, including gross indecency, are not arrestable offences and there is no obligation imposed by law to report these.

It should be noted that, where the obligation to report exists, the report must be to a constable.

What constitutes a reasonable excuse is a question of fact in each individual case.

Now, of interest here is the fact that ALL  bishops of both the North and South of Ireland are members of the Irish Bishop’s Conference.  The laws of Northern Ireland are applicable to all clergy and bishops serving in Northern Ireland.  Those serving in  Northern Ireland are mandated to report “arrestable offences” to a constable.  Most cases of child sex abuse are “arrestable offences.”

So why then did the Nuncio , Archbishop Luciano Storero, say re the 1996 Framework Document:  ”In particular, the situation of ‘mandatory reporting’ gives rise to serious reservations of both a moral and canonical nature”?

And why is “the Holy See” turning itself inside out to justify these concerns, all the while claiming that “The Framework Document correctly recognizes the need to respect both civil and canon law”?

The civil law in Northern Ireland demands mandatory reporting.  It did when the Framework was released in 1996. It still does.

And why,  in light of the mandatory reporting requirement in the North, does “the Holy See” justify its obvious discomfort with mandatory reporting with claims that lots of others are opposed to it too?  Look at this:

The Holy See is aware that public consultations about placing a legal obligation on designated professionals to report known or suspected abuse to the authorities took place in Ireland in 1996 following the publication of the document Putting Children First at the request of the then Minister of State at the Departments of Health, Education and Justice, Mr Austin Currie. At that time, while some Church-related bodies, such as the above-mentioned Advisory Committee, were broadly favourable to the introduction of mandatory reporting, other Church-related bodies and professional groups in civil society, including representatives of the medical, social service, educational and legal areas, expressed reservations or in some cases were opposed to the proposal. The complex issues relating to mandatory reporting were acknowledged by Mr Currie in a detailed presentation in Seanad Eireann on 14 March 1996.

On 6 November 1996, Mr Currie stated in Dail Eireann that over two hundred submissions from groups and individuals had been received in response to Putting Children First, that the submissions reflected a wide diversity of views on mandatory reporting and that the majority expressed reservations or opposition to mandatory reporting. Given that the Irish  Government decided not to introduce it in a formal way but instead to issue guidelines for the reporting of suspected child abuse by professionals and non-professionals, postponing any further consideration of mandatory reporting for three years. 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 to the Irish Bishops, which was issued subsequently, could possibly be construed as having somehow subverted Irish law or undermined the Irish State in its efforts to deal with the problem in question.

Note that  the Holy See tries to show that it had lots of company in opposing mandatory reporting, and points out that in 1996 the Irish government decided NOT to proceed with such legislation.  And then  the Holy See  complains that  ” it is difficult to see how Archbishop Storero’s letter to the Irish Bishops, which was issued subsequently, could possibly be construed as having somehow subverted Irish law or undermined the Irish State in its efforts to deal with the problem in question”!

The Nuncio may not have subverted Irish Law or undermined the Irish State, but, – here we go again – what about the law of Northern Ireland?  Did the Nuncio not perhaps subvert the law of Northern Ireland?

Grated it’s a rather unique situation for the Irish bishops to be in:  one set of reporting laws for clergy serving this diocese, and another set for those serving in that.  But, that’s the reality. The law of the land in Northern Ireland is no less the law than the of the Land than the Republic of Ireland.  Both must be obeyed.

Am I missing something here?  It makes no sense.  Nor for that matter does it make sense for Prime Minister Kennedy to say that: “it is unacceptable to the Irish Government that the Vatican intervened to effectively have priests believe they could in conscience evade their responsibilities under Irish law.”  At this time, there is no duty to report/mandatory reporting in the Republic of Ireland.  What then is Kennedy talking about? Is he concerned that Vatican intervention prompted bishops to evade their responsibilities in Northern Ireland?  If not, what is he talking about?

I really would like to spend more time to try to sort and make sense of this, but, it’s late, and it’s a long weekend, and I have company coming, so, I must call it a day.  Please, if I have overlooked something of significance one way or the other which would make sense of this, pass it along.  Those with time to read through the relevant documents please do so and tell me what you think.

Final point.  Do I think the Vatican intervened?  I do indeed.

Enough for now


This entry was posted in Bishops, Circling the wagons, Clerical sexual predators, Ireland, Vatican and tagged , , . Bookmark the permalink.

8 Responses to It makes no sense

  1. Sylvia: As I understand the document, the Vatican’s concern had to do with the protection of the seal of confession, which was not explicitly stated in the proposed document.

    In short, this diplomatic response to the Irish government (which was requested by the government in response to the Cloyne Report) is making one simple argument: that the letter from the Nuncio to the Irish Bishops did not provide the ‘cover’ that the authors of the report attribute to it; and that the problem was with some Bishops not enforcing the policy that they themselves had adopted. It’s 20 pages of ‘don’t blame us… we didn’t do it!’ Not exactly an enlightened or sensitive response, eh? I would have thought they could have made the same point in a much more compassionate and understanding way.

    I hope that the suggestion recently put forward by folks like George Weigel will be accepted and the entire country will be reorganized into fewer diocese while replacing all but a few of the current Bishops. Rocco Palma, who blogs on ‘Whispers from the Vatican’ is reporting that this is exactly whats coming in the next few months. He’s got an amazing track record at being right. Let’s hope he is this time too.

    Fr. Tim

  2. Sylvia says:

    I see what you’re saying Father. But, my issue is the failure by the Vatican to acknowledge that in 1996 when the Bishops of Ireland published their Framework/guidelines which recommended and advocated mandatory reporting they already had a duty to report in Northern Ireland.

    So, what was going on when the Congregation for Clergy, via the Nuncio, told the Irish bishops that “‘mandatory reporting’ gives rise to serious reservations of both a moral and canonical nature’”?

    Why were there no similar serious moral and canonical reservations about the duty to report in Northern Ireland?

    Did they (those in the Vatican) decide that ALL acts of clerical sexual abuse committed in the North were those of gross indecency and hence there was no duty to report and therefore the law was not applicable to them?

    Or, did they decide that there would always be a “reasonable excuse ” at the ready and hence no need to worry?

    Did the powers that be in the Vatican perhaps feel that Framework/guidelines pushed them further than was required by State law in the the North? Is that it? There’s no exclusion for “gross indecency” in the document, and, there’s no exclusion for those with a “reasonable excuse.”

    There IS exclusion for the Confession. But, exclusion for nothing else.

    I’m going to paste the paras from the Framework’s Recommended Reporting Policy here with footnotes in brackets. And, back to my question: With a duty to report already State law in Northern Ireland, and the Framework/guidelines specifically proving exception to Confession, what upset the Vatican to the point of relaying a message to the bishops via the Nuncio that “‘mandatory reporting’ gives rise to serious reservations of both a moral and canonical nature’”?

    Here are the paras from the Framework:

    2.2 Recommended Reporting Policy

    2.2.1 In all instances where it is known or suspected that a child has been, or is being, sexually abused by a priest or religious the matter should be reported to the civil authorities. Where the suspicion or knowledge results from the complaint of an adult of
    abuse during his or her childhood, this should also be reported to the civil authorities.

    2.2.2 The report should be made without delay to the senior ranking police officer for the area in which the abuse is alleged to have occurred. Where the suspected victim is a child, or where a complaint by an adult gives rise to child protection questions, the designated person within the appropriate health board (Republic of Ireland) /health and social services board (Northern Ireland) should also be informed. A child protection question arises, in the case of a complaint by an adult, where an accused priest or religious holds or has held a position which has afforded him or her unsupervised access to children.

    2.2.3 The Advisory Committee recognises that this recommended reporting policy may cause difficulty in that some people who come to the Church with complaints of current or past child sexual abuse by a priest or religious seek undertakings of confidentiality. They are concerned to protect the privacy of that abuse of which even their immediate family members may not be aware. Their primary reason in coming forward may be to warn Church authorities of a priest or religious who is a risk to children.

    2.2.4 The recommended reporting policy may deter such people from coming forward or may be perceived by those who do come forward as an insensitive and heavy-handed response by Church authorities. This is particularly so where the complaint relates to
    incidents of abuse many years earlier.

    2.2.5 Nonetheless, undertakings of absolute confidentiality should not be given but rather the information should be expressly received within the terms of this reporting policy and on the basis that only those who need to know will be told. ( The recommended reporting policy does not apply to the relationship between penitent and confessor; the seal of confession is, of course, inviolable. [Cf. the Code of Canon Law, c. 983.5])

    2.2.6 In making its recommendations in regard to reporting, the Advisory Committee considers to be paramount the safety and protection of children and the need to prevent, where possible, further abuse.

  3. Sylvia: The protocol in place in Northern Ireland was most likely the British policy, whereas the Irish Bishops were trying to establish their own independent protocol. The first draft of this proposal was sent to the Vatican for review and was found wanting because it didn’t make appropriate reservation for abuses which are committed by an offending priest in the confessional. There are special protocol and canonical trials that apply in conjunction with the civil investigation and/or trial. This issue was expressly addressed under the British Bishops policy but was missing in the Irish proposal.

    At least, that’s how I interpret the Vatican’s argument. It’s like trying to read through page after page of mathematical formula in a physics text (which I’m trying to do right now) since it’s written in ‘Catholic’ diplomatic and moral language. So I am certainly open to correction. But from what I’ve been told by people more knowledgeable than me in these matters that this is the case, I’m fairly confident that I’m correct.

    Either way, it missed the point that the Irish were asking for. I think it’s like when after a significant spat in which insults were hurled between spouses. Perhaps what you need and want is a simple apology and an assurance of improvement and concern… but what you get is a reasoned argument of justification for why he said what he did. It may be true… but it doesn’t help.

    I understand the reason that these things are expressed in diplomatic and theological language, but I can’t help believing that the Vatican just doesn’t possess an ear for these things. I hope the next Pontiff is an emotionally intelligent kind of man who understands how heavy are the crosses that we all carry everyday in these times. Not so much a ‘Clintonian’ “I can feel your pain” type of guy, but a JP I type. I think such a Pope would do a great deal of good for the church these days.

    Fr. Tim

    • 1 abandonded sheep says:

      Father Tim sounds like just another apologist for the Church- giving MAYBE reasons why, adding more confusion to what is plain and simple. The Church is acting outside of its own stated reasons for existing- to do The Will of God!
      From the Gospels it is easily discerned that Jesus had little time for legalisms, and those who used them to hide behind.
      Until the Church and the Fr. Tims come to realize there role is that of a servant, not a dictator, nothing will change. Change must come from the heart- not from many words. !

      • Lina says:

        1 abandonded sheep,

        I know we had our share of differences. (opinions)

        I also realize your faith is very important to you.
        As a matter of fact, you are stronger than I could ever be as a Roman Catholic.

        As for Fr. Tim Moyle…in this case (regarding to your post) I agree with you.


  4. Sylvia says:

    Fr. Tim

    The bishops of Ireland who serve in Northern Ireland are subject to the law of the land in Northern Ireland. The law of the land in Norther Ireland has a duty to report. It’s a little loose, but there is a duty to report. My only point was that I don’t understand what all the fuss is about when there already was/is a duty to report with which the Bishops of Ireland were familiar and to which some were already subject. When the Bishops published the Framework they had to meet their legal obligations in both the North and South. What is all the fuss about now?

    And, it’s getting stranger. By the sound of it the law which will be introduced in the Republic of Ireland will be very similar that of the North, specifically in that there will be a duty to report unless there is a “reasonable excuse.” It sounds as though there will not even be mention of the Seal of Confession.

    IF that’s the case, what was all the hoopla? I am not saying I am either for or against the legislation, I am only trying to understand why the heated debate. IF the legislation winds up being the same as that in Northern Ireland, and IF there is no mention of the Seal of Confession, and IF there is No duty to report when there is a “reasonable excuse” not to do so, what was this all about? A lot of hot air?

    Let’s see what happens with the legislation.

  5. Sylvia: Agreed. Let’s see how it all works out when the legislation is brought forward. It should make for some interesting times ahead in Ireland and perhaps beyond.

    Be assured of my continuing prayers in your ministry.

    Fr. Tim

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