1. Skip to content

Vatican heaps insult on injury for Irish abuse victims

The Vatican has scored another PR disaster by again failing to acknowledge that there was a cover up of Catholic child abuse in Ireland.

Irish Bishops meet the Pope at the Vatican

After publication of two reports that showed that the sexual and physical abuse of children had been endemic for decades in Irish institutions run by the Catholic Church, the Vatican summoned all 24 Irish bishops to a conference last week. It rapidly became clear that the conference was more about saving the Church’s face than making reparation, or even an apology, to the thousands of victims of Catholic priests.

Victim support organisations condemned the whole exercise as a “charade” and “window dressing”. One group said the Pope had “washed his hands” of the scandal.

The Ryan Report found the Catholic Church and Irish government covered up almost four decades of sexual abuse and beatings by priests and nuns on thousands of children in State care. And the Murphy Report unveiled a catalogue of cover-ups by the Catholic hierarchy in Dublin to protect the Church. But in a Vatican statement, the Pope specifically failed to acknowledge the cover-up or formally apologise for the abuse. The Pope also failed to sack under-fire Bishop of Galway Martin Drennan – or even formally accept the resignations of other bishops, who were criticised in the Murphy Report for their mishandling of cases of sexual abuse. We understand no bishop or higher-ranking Catholic prelate has ever been laicised (sacked) for active or administrative misconduct over child abuse.

Ratzinger also ignored the failure of the Papal Nuncio to co-operate with the Murphy Commission’s investigation into abuse in Dublin.

In a statement, the Vatican said the Pope had told the bishops the sexual abuse of children and young people was not only a heinous crime, but also a “grave sin that offends God and wounds the dignity of the human person created in his image”.

The Vatican created another storm by announcing that the Pope had also told bishops that the “weakening of faith” was a significant contributing factor in the phenomenon of the sexual abuse of minors.

Maeve Lewis, of support group One in Four, said the Pope’s response was inadequate. “It is deeply insulting to survivors to suggest they were abused due to failures of faith, rather than because sex offending priests were moved from parish to parish, and those in authority looked away while further children were sexually abused,” she said.

Campaigner Andrew Madden, who was abused by Dublin priest Father Ivan Payne, said the meeting showed “self-preservation” was the Church’s priority. He said Ratzinger and the bishops placed this over the concerns of people who had been abused for decades.

“That hardly represents change,” Mr Madden said last week. “I can only conclude the Catholic Church remains a disgraced, discredited organisation that seems to be entirely incapable of responding in any intelligent, meaningful way to the findings of the Ferns, Ryan and Murphy reports.”

Another campaigner who was herself a victim of abuse, Marie Collins, said the Pope had insulted the survivors by failing to put the bishops’ resignations on the agenda and again ignoring the chance of reforms. “This is a clerical club in a clerical world ... they are people who live in a different century,” she said after hearing the details. “I see no hope for the future.” She said the Pope had said paedophilia was a “heinous crime” but he should have said that it was a heinous crime for a bishop to put an abusive priest in charge of children.”

Another survivor, Christine Buckley, said she was profoundly disappointed with news that the Pope is to issue a pastoral letter to Irish Catholics on the scandal. “A collection of 24 bishops who appear to have been lectured about the tensions and the disunity of their members rather than trying to find out why these abuses happened and how to resolve them,” she said. “The other part of the statement that really hurts me is there was 17 hours spent on diocesan abuse, there was half an hour spent on the Ryan abuses.”

Another victim, Colm O’Gorman, described the Vatican meeting as “a cynical PR exercise”. Mr O’Gorman said: “For the Pope simply to come out and tell us that the rape and abuse of children was a heinous crime is stating the obvious at this point.”

Rape Crisis Network executive director Fiona Neary said it was “shocking” that the “systemic failures of the institutions of the Catholic faith are not mentioned as being a significant contributory factor in the sexual abuse of minors”. It was clear that the most senior levels of Catholic institutions were unable “to take responsibility for their collusion with the abuse of children in Ireland”. The talks were an opportunity for the Pope to apologise to victims for the Church’s reluctance and failure to report sex offenders to civil authorities, but it "was an opportunity wasted”, she said.

Michael O’Brien of the Right to Peace group said his first reaction to the news from Rome was one of disbelief. “It’s unbelievable what we heard today from the pope. This is the man who is in charge of the Catholic Church worldwide and he hadn’t even the gumption to say he was sorry for what happened to us. All he’s done now is to add salt to the wounds and this is very hurtful. We were expecting something and we got nothing.”

Meanwhile, Irish politicians have denounced the refusal of the Pope’s diplomatic representative (nuncio) in Ireland to testify to a parliamentary panel probing the level of Catholic Church co-operation with investigations into the church’s cover-up of child abuse. The papal nuncio to Ireland, Cardinal Giuseppi Leanza, told MPs in a letter published on Monday that he would not answer questions from the parliament’s foreign affairs committee.

Cardinal Leanza has faced heavy criticism in Ireland for ignoring letters from two state-ordered investigations into how the church for decades suppressed reports of child abuse by parish priests and in Catholic-run residences for poor children. The investigators said the cardinal did not reply to letters seeking the Vatican’s assistance.

An Irish MP, Alan Shatter, said it was “not only deeply regrettable but incomprehensible” that Cardinal Leanza would not explain the Vatican’s lack of co-operation with Irish investigations, given “it is acknowledged in Rome that members of the clergy in Ireland are guilty of abominable sexual abuse of children”.

A campaign to expel the papal nuncio from Ireland has been started on Facebook

See also:

Never let them preach high standards to anyone again

Northern Ireland victims must not be forgotten, says campaigner

Vatican is oblivious to people’s anger

How the Church helps the criminals escape justice

How the Church destroys its victims

Why the Pope’s solution is simply beyond belief