The Irish prime minister, Enda Kenny, yesterday launched a bizarre, rambling attack on the Vatican, accusing it of attempting to frustrate an enquiry into failures of church leadership over clerical abuse and claiming that the Cloyne Report showed the "dysfunction, disconnection, elitism and narcissism" of the Vatican.
But reading the Report, you find nothing of the sort. The criticism of the Vatican centres on a letter by the papal nuncio from 1997 in which he questioned whether the 1996 guidelines drawn up by the Irish bishops were compatible with canon law, notably the idea that church officials should be obliged to pass on all and any allegations to the civil authorities. That letter, claims the Commission of Enquiry into Cloyne diocese under Judge Yvonne Murphy, encouraged the diocese -- or rather Bishop John Magee, and his vicar-general, Msgr Denis O'Callaghan -- to ignore those guidelines.
The Vatican's thinking at this period, before clerical sex abuse cases had been passed to the CDF under Cardinal Ratzinger in 2001, was that it was the victims who should report abuse by priests to the civil authorities, not the bishops. That idea was wrong, and is no longer part of Vatican thinking. But at the time it was also the thinking of the state, which only recently introduced mandatory reporting of abuse of minors. In other words, the Irish prime minister condemns the Vatican for failing to endorse an idea which the state itself did not endorse as Fr Lombardi's statement points out.
The failures of church leadership in Ireland and elsewhere are well known, and have been thoroughly raked over and responded to. The good news about Cloyne -- a small rural diocese in Co. Cork -- is that its failures were first spotted by the Church's own safeguarding watchdog, which brought them to light in December 2008. Judge Murphy, then investigating Dublin, decided to extend her probe to Cloyne. Bishop Magee was stood down, and the Church -- as the Cloyne Report clearly acknowledges -- cooperated fully with the investigation.
Nothing, in short, justifies the Taoiseach's broadside, which conveniently glosses over the state's failures over abuse -- also highlighted in the Report -- or the Commission's findings that the state's guidelines on abuse are more opaque and difficult to understand than the Church's.
But I fear it's open season now on the Church. A senator today has proposed making it a criminal offence not to disclose evidence of abuse when a priest learns of it through the Confessional. That deep seam of Irish anticlericalism - irrational, scapegoating, vicious in its intensity -- has been tapped, and the politicians are keen to dig deep into it.