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:.
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