VATICAN CITY – A leading church official rejected harsh criticism of the Vatican in the wake of an Irish judicial report on the handling of priestly sex abuse cases.
Jesuit Father Federico Lombardi, the Vatican spokesman, told Vatican Radio July 19 that much of the criticism failed to take into account the efforts of Pope Benedict XVI and other church officials to prevent future cases of child sexual abuse and address past cases with openness and determination.
Father Lombardi was reacting to the Cloyne Report, issued July 13 after an independent judicial investigation into the handling of clergy sexual abuse in the Diocese of Cloyne, 1996-2009. Among other findings, it said the Vatican was “entirely unhelpful” to bishops who wanted to fully implement the agreed guidelines on abuse.
Father Lombardi said the Vatican was preparing a more detailed response to the Cloyne Report, and that his own comments to Vatican Radio did not constitute an official Vatican reaction.
He said accusations that the Vatican was somehow responsible for what happened in Ireland went well beyond the language of the report itself, which was carefully worded when speaking about responsibility.
The accusations “show no awareness of what the Holy See has, in fact, accomplished over the years to help face this problem effectively,” he said.
He pointed to norms on sexually abusive priests that were introduced in 2001 and updated last year. He also cited Pope Benedict’s strong statements on clerical sex abuse in Ireland, the pope’s meeting with Irish bishops in 2010 and his decision to order an apostolic visitation to Ireland to investigate the situation.
The results of that visitation are in “an advanced state of study and evaluation,” he said.
Father Lombardi addressed two particular issues that came out in the Cloyne Report:
– A 1997 letter from the Vatican’s Congregation for Clergy to the papal nuncio in Ireland has drawn sharp criticism by some because it indicated Vatican uneasiness about the Irish bishops’ 1996 policy document, “Child Sexual Abuse: Framework for a Church Response,” and its compatibility with church law.
Father Lombardi said that, as the Irish bishops stated at the time, their document was “far from being the last word on how to address the issues.” In that context, he said, the Vatican’s critical observations were legitimate and reflected concern that Irish policies and sanctions against abusers would be in vain if they were ultimately found to be in contradiction with church law.
Even if “one can debate the adequacy of Rome’s intervention at that time in relation to the gravity of the Irish situation,” he said, the Vatican letter should not be interpreted as an effort to hide priestly sex abuse cases.
– On the issue of mandatory reporting of abuse allegations to civil authorities, the Vatican also raised objections. But Father Lombardi noted this did not mean church officials should not respect the laws of Ireland, which at that time did not obligate reporting of such cases. Mandatory reporting was a much-debated issue even in civil society at the time, he said.
Father Lombardi said it was unfair to criticize the church for failing to insist on mandatory reporting in a country that had not deemed it necessary to make it part of civil law.
He said the Cloyne Report constitutes “a new step on the long and difficult path of searching for the truth, of penitence and purification, of healing and renewal of the church in Ireland.” He said the Vatican is participating in this process with a sense of solidarity and commitment.