Enda Kenny’s quiet bombshell of a speech on the Cloyne report leaves more questions open than answered. This point may be written off as the opinion of implacable enemies of the Church who will never be satisfied. That would be a mistake. The taoiseach may have attacked the gimlet eyed legalism of the Vatican’s provisional response to the report. But he has been forced to acknowledge the limited justice of Vatican spokesman Fr Lombardi’s reply in terms, asking where was the Irish State when Rome was at least acknowledging gaps in canon law and their own procedures.
Mr Kenny has announced two pieces of legislation – firstly, to make it an offence to withhold information relating to crimes against children and vulnerable adults; and secondly, at long last, to allow for the exchange of ‘soft information’ on abusers.
Rather than breaking new ground, I assume these underscore existing legal obligations and formally bring the priestly function under the purview of the State. But do they override the secrecy of the confessional in relevant circumstances? In those circumstances what would an Irish court decide? Are we liable to witness before long the mother and father of all clashes of conscience? Similarly, can church leaders be required to disclose hitherto privileged exchanges with each other and the Vatican? Without such requirements, what is the real substance and sanction of the proposed new laws?
The taoiseach has issued a barely veiled challenge to the Pope personally.
Cardinal Josef Ratzinger said “Standards of conduct appropriate to civil society or the workings of a democracy cannot be purely and simply applied to the Church.”
As the Holy See prepares its considered response to the Cloyne Report, as Taoiseach, I am making it absolutely clear, that when it comes to the protection of the children of this State, the standards of conduct which the Church deems appropriate to itself, cannot and will not, be applied to the workings of democracy and civil society in this republic.
Brave words. And yet he still appears ot be leaving it up to the Church to comply. After three reports with more to come, is this enough? Surely the time is overdue for the Irish State to take full charge of the supervision of the lives of its own children rather than delegate it to a supranational body which has demonstrated its institutional unsuitability for the role. Let individual Church people and qualified sections of it become branches of an Irish Big Society, if they have the skills and can locally demonstrate their mission. But remove the institution from any say.
Former BBC journalist and manager in Belfast, Manchester and London, Editor Spolight; Political Editor BBC NI; Current Affairs Commissioning editor BBC Radio 4; Editor Political and Parliamentary Programmes, BBC Westminster; former London Editor Belfast Telegraph. Hon Senior Research Fellow, The Constitution Unit, Univ Coll. London