The Irish Times – Thursday, January 20, 2011
PADDY AGNEW in Rome
THE HOLY See moved into damage-limitation mode yesterday in relation to controversial comments in a 1997 letter from the then papal nuncio in Ireland, Archbishop Luciano Storero, to the Irish Bishops’ Conference.
In the letter, disclosed on last Monday night’s Would You Believe on RTÉ, Dr Storero expressed “serious reservations” about “mandatory reporting” to civil authorities of clerical sex abuse cases.
The Holy See yesterday insisted the Vatican “in no way” urged “the law of the land should not be respected”. Claiming that the letter has been misinterpreted, the Holy See argued that it did not contain an instruction to bishops urging them not to report priests to the relevant civil authorities.
Dr Storero’s January 1997 letter voiced concerns of the Vatican’s Congregation for the Clergy about the Irish church’s 1996 Child Sex Abuse framework document.
“In particular, the situation of ‘mandatory reporting’ gives rise to serious reservations of both a moral and canonical nature,” wrote Dr Storero.
Amnesty International’s Irish director and abuse victim Colm O’Gorman said the letter was highly incriminating, and proof that the Vatican had “deliberately and wilfully been instructing bishops not to report priests”.
Vatican spokesman Fr Federico Lombardi said the letter had been misinterpreted: “It must be pointed out that the letter in no way indicates that the law of the land should not be adhered to. However, the letter also insists on the importance of always respecting canon law in order to avoid situations where guilty parties might not find a cause for appeal and therefore obtain the opposite result to that desired.”
Fr Lombardi argued that the “reservations” about “mandatory reporting” referred to in the letter concerned the impact that such reporting might have on any subsequent canonical proceeding.
For example, if reporting to civil authorities involved breaking the seal of confession, then this would pose canonical problems and perhaps afford grounds for a successful appeal by the abuser priest. The Vatican spokesman concluded by pointing out that the Storero letter was written before the 2001 norms, which essentially handed jurisdiction in all sex abuse matters to the Congregation for the Doctrine of the Faith, then headed by Pope Benedict XVI.
Victims’ groups said the letter implied that it was church policy to cover up sex abuse. Barbara Dorris of US survivors’ group Snap ridiculed the idea that “we mere mortals” were “too dumb to understand the subtle and sophisticated Vatican document”.
She added: “Wouldn’t it be reassuring to hear Pope Benedict say, simply and clearly, ‘It’s now official and binding – every church member and employee must report every known and suspected child sex crime to law enforcement. And every time a cleric breaks this rule, he’ll be severely disciplined.’ But he hasn’t.”
Dublin abuse victim Marie Collins said the Pope should come out now with a clear statement “that mandatory reporting by church representatives to the civil authorities in Ireland of any complaint of child abuse has his approval”.
Maeve Lewis of One in Four queried whether the letter explained the Vatican’s refusal to co-operate with the Murphy commission’s investigation into the Dublin archdiocese. The discovery undermined the credibility of the apostolic visitation to Ireland, she said.
MURPHY REPORT: LITTLE REFERENCE TO VATICAN LETTER
THE MURPHY report into clerical child sex abuse in the Dublin archdiocese makes no explicit reference to the January 1997 letter from the Vatican to each Irish bishop, writes Patsy McGarry. However, there is a reference to its content in the 2009 report.
Chapter 7, The Framework Document , says “the Congregation for the Clergy in Rome had studied the document in detail and emphasised to the Irish bishops that it must conform to the canonical norms in force . . .”
Dublin archdiocese chancellor Msgr John Dolan told the Murphy commission that “the congregation regarded the document as merely a study document”.