Why did the Vatican think a mere “study document” was sufficient response?

The Vatican’s response to Taoiseach Enda Kenny’s power Dail speech has finally dropped on the mat. It’s quite a lengthy and detailed response (full text for those with the time). Unsurprisingly it rejects Kenny’s assertion that the Vatican was at fault.

As Siobhan Brett notes in the Sunday Business Post:

The Vatican response takes particular exception to the Taoiseach’s accusation that the Holy See ‘‘attempted to frustrate an inquiry as little as three years ago, not three decades ago’’, saying that the statement referred to nothing specific and that neither Cloyne nor any prior reports contain any information to support Kenny’s accusation.

However David Quinn was quick to note at the time what appears to caused the offence to Vatican officials, the selective use of a quotation from the Pope when he was Cardinal and charged with oversight of the Congregation for the Doctrine of the Faith:

Because Mr Kenny was speaking about clerical sex abuse the clear impression is given that this statement from the Cardinal – now Pope Benedict of course – was intended to justify the Church not following the laws of democratic countries concerning child protection. But the quote in question was made in a totally different context.

But the leader in the irish Times cuts to the real quick:

The central issue is a letter from the papal nuncio, Archbishop Luciano Storero, to the Irish Bishops Conference in January 1997. The nuncio described the framework document on child abuse, which urged full disclosure to the civil authorities, as “merely a study document” which could be “highly embarrassing and detrimental”. The Cloyne report finds that this letter gave succour to those within the church who did not wish to comply with the new framework.

In essence, the Vatican’s argument in its response is that the framework was indeed a study document rather than an official and binding statement of church policy. This begs a basic question. Given that the Vatican was heavily involved in the drawing up of the framework document, why did it think a mere “study document” was a sufficient response to such a grave crisis?

Indeed. Or as Stephen Kinsella put it on Marian Finucane’s show yesterday morning, the church’s problem here is that is being seen to resort to the letter of the law rather than embracing the spirit of the problem.

[Note: this blog is an attempt to discuss a serious problem seriously. It’s not for frivolous attacks on the Church by those who already hold it in low esteem.]

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  • Taoiseach

    Nice one Mick. You line up the Catholic ducks and then stick an end note saying please don’t shoot them. I’ve read the Holy See’s response – it is comprehensive, clear and factual – in fact the opposite of Kenny’s rants.

    Here’s the thing – you get a judge to do a report, you haul in the nuncio, demand that the Holy See respond, you attack the Pope with completely misrepresented quotes and then when the Holy See responds point by point you say – oh, that’s not the point, never mind the facts, it’s about the children.

    The Cloyne Report did not “find” anything in relation to the 1997 letter – it merely asserted.

    Kenny has been caught out with accusations he flung around and he cannot come up with the specifics now. It’s the classic, if the facts support you, pound the facts, if the law supports you pound the law – if neither support you, pound the table – lots of table pounding going on – covers up the noise from Roscommon.

  • Lionel Hutz

    I think the Vatican’s response was reasonable. Enda Kenny’s speech was such a blunt attack – a scattergun firing with little accuracy. In one respect his speech said what needed to be said and it is right for a political leader to voice the feelings ofthe people. However, against that Kenny was opening a debate on the Cloyne Report. His speech will have been have been heard by more people thanthe report will itself have been read by. It was very important to be accurate and in that he failed.

    On the 1997 letter, the government has tried to paint the Vatican of frustrating the attempts of the Irish Church and indeed of the Irish legal system to deal with the sex abuse problem. The Vatican expressed its concerns about mandatory reporting and this has been held up as a smoking gun. The hypocrisy of this government just stinks. Many of these people in FG-Lab were in government at the time and actually decided against mandatory reporting.

    So I think the Vatican are right to point it out.

    “Indeed. Or as Stephen Kinsella put it on Marian Finucane’s show yesterday morning, the church’s problem here is that is being seen to resort to the letter of the law rather than embracing the spirit of the problem.”

    I agree that this is a problem. In fairness, the church has time and again expressed it’s shame. The fact is that it doesn’t matter what the church says. It needs to take specific action in particular by dismissing all of those abdicated their moral responsibility for their dioceses. Beyond that, the church will have to accept that it’s main purpose is to take a kicking and to absurd the anger.

  • Discussion on this topic on BBC NI Sunday Sequence – begins two minutes in.

  • pippakin

    “this blog is an attempt to discuss a serious problem seriously. It’s not for frivolous attacks on the Church by those who already hold it in low esteem.”


    Kenny made a long overdue speech condemning the activities of the RCC. The point is not that it was table thumping rhetoric or that it may fail to live up to expectation (how many politicians speeches do) The point is that it was independent. It put the RCC in a separate place from government and it said that in this country the RCC answers to the Irish government, not the other way around.

    The Vatican can say what it likes Cardinal Brady is still a Cardinal and a couple of bishops are still in office, that is disgraceful and arrogant.

    There is a debate to be had about Irish government collusion in the cover up of child abuse cases but that is a separate matter and must be dealt with separately.

  • Taoiseach

    Pippakin – the Catholic Church does not “answer to the Irish government”. Have you heard of separation of Church and State or the notion of freedom of religion?

  • pippakin


    Have I heard of separation of church and State? Not in Ireland until Kenny made his speech. Freedom of religion? not if that freedom includes the freedom to molest and abuse children.

    The church/es answer to the state, obeying the same laws as the rest of us, at least they should and perhaps in the future they will.

    The RCC is not above the law, no religion should be.

  • Taoiseach

    So a ranting speech creates freedom of religion and separation? Personnly I start with the individual human person – they have inalienable rights prior to the State. This of course would be the State where 200 children in care died in the past ten years. This would be the State which never introduced mandatory reporting, which never put its own child protection guidelines on a statutory footing. Who has ever argued that freedom of religion gives you the right to molest or abuse children. For all the ranting, the politicians don’t want to apply the law of the land to the Church, because if they did they know that most of the cases they like to talk about would never be prosecuted. Let the police, DPP and courts do their jobs.

  • wild turkey


    The Catholic church controls about 90 percent of the State’s 3,200 primary schools.

    That is a spectacular separation of church and state.

    you also assert

    “the politicians don’t want to apply the law of the land to the Church, because if they did they know that most of the cases they like to talk about would never be prosecuted. ”

    you may very well be right, but evidence please?


  • pippakin


    Was the speech a rant I’ve watched it and read it and to me it seemed both rational and forceful.

    I think its true that the state has a case to answer but that is separate to the questions the RCC has to answer. Dealing with one does not allow the other to escape, or it shouldn’t, time will tell.

  • I haven’t seen any discussion about what the church is doing to ensure that pedophiles don’t get into the priesthood in the future. Does anyone know?

  • Very funny Lionel. Psychological testing should weed out a lot.

  • Lionel Hutz

    oh come on Joe, this is ridiculous. Do you advocate psychological testing then for all teachers? How about a baby sitter?

  • Rory Carr

    “Psychological testing should weed out a lot.”

    I’m afraid that that places a lot of faith in psychological testing that is unwarranted. I cannot think of a test that would not be intrusive in the extreme that might indicate a strong prediliction for sexual attraction to pre-pubertal minors.

    Besides which it assumes that such a disorder is capable of detection prior to the commission of any acts that would signal its presence. Most often the offence is largely one of opportunity enhanced by the victim’s vulnerability. If these conditions were not present then the offender may have gone on to seek sexual release in another way, with prostitutes, in gay saunas or with likeminded peers. Seedy perhaps but at least acts committed between consenting adults.

    In any case I understand that candidates for the priesthood already undergo psychological evaluation including an exercise designed to evaluate their ability to endure the rigours of celibacy.Not entirely dependable we might consider but may have some value in alerting the Church to personality disorders in some candidates at an early stage.

  • Taoiseach

    Wild Turkey – the evidence is that despite all the reports very few cases proceed to prosecution because the cases are too weak to proceed. It’s easy to say in a report “19 priests were accused of X” – but you can’t prosecute a dead man, or a case from thirty years ago with little evidence, or a bishop who hugged a seminarian. We’ve had Ryan and Murphy and lots of outrage – where’s the prosecutions?

    As for schools, churches established the schools, people chose to go to them. If the State wants more non-church schools they should set them up.

  • Rory,

    Your final paragraph gave me the answer I was seeking. I didn’t mean to suggest that there was an infallible way of determining likely offenders. But prevention is better than a cure as the saying goes.

  • The concept of jesuitical equivocation or how to mislead not by lying, but by evading the truth has been with us since Elizabethan times. In addition, the concept is much admired and routinely practised by others outside the Holy See such as senior civil servants, ministers and ambassadors; we read that particularly fine examples are cherished and circulated.

    A silly example might be:

    Dennis Skinner: How many civil servants are a) men and b) women?

    Tim Renton: All of them

  • Rory Carr

    That is simply a reprise of the old music-hall morale booster in the face of poor box office receipts.

    How many in the audience to night, Charlie?

    Most of ’em, Henry, most of ’em.

  • Mick Fealty


    If you took my note as appeal not to shoot then you misconstrue my intent.

    It was an appeal for intelligent debate in the hope that people might use the links provided and provide others in order to come to deeper and possible a more nuanced understanding of the issues arising.

    I’m not interested in hearing easy opinion from people who already have a malign disposition towards the Church, which is usually too generalised to be of interest or of use in opening out the problem further.

    Alas, I have only been partly successful. For instance who has addressed the primary question raised in the headline yet? And if you feel you haven’t, tell me why have you ignored it?

  • Mick,

    You posed a very difficult question. Who, outside of the Vatican, could really know what they think? It has been obvious since these worldwide scandals erupted that their response has been to circle the wagons, deny and obfuscate. Their recent response is simply more of the same. They can deny it, but, to me, the “study document” was a fairly clear instruction to the Irish bishops to do their best to cover up. It cannot be anything else and is shameful. But they are simply carrying on typical behaviour of diplomatic bureaucrats when they are caught red handed. They have had 100s of years practice.

  • Mick Fealty


    “to me, the “study document” was a fairly clear instruction to the Irish bishops to do their best to cover up.”

    Could you unpack that for us (preferably without infringing the laws of libel and/or defamation)?

  • Mick,

    I think that the following piece from your leader, quoting the Irish Times, speaks for itself and needs no unpacking. It seems clear enough to me.

    The central issue is a letter from the papal nuncio, Archbishop Luciano Storero, to the Irish Bishops Conference in January 1997. The nuncio described the framework document on child abuse, which urged full disclosure to the civil authorities, as “merely a study document” which could be “highly embarrassing and detrimental”. The Cloyne report finds that this letter gave succour to those within the church who did not wish to comply with the new framework.

  • Lionel Hutz

    I cant understand why people wish to read in things which are not there. These crimes aere horrific. The Vatican’s fialure to deal with it was disgraceful. There is no need to embellish it:

    Joe, why misquote the papal nuncio to give the idea that the letter was against the full disclosure as it could be “highly embarassing and detrimental”. Read the letter again.

    “The text, however, contains ‘procedures and dispositions which appear contrary to canonical discipline and which, if applied, could invalidate the acts of the same Bishops who are attempting to put a stop to these problems. If such procedures were to be followed by the Bishops and there were cases of eventual hierarchical recourse lodged at the Holy See, the results could be highly embarrassing and detrimental to those same Diocesan authorities.”

    The implication that this letter may have given succour to those within the church who were against the framework document is neither here nor there. Those who were against it were going to be against it regardless.

  • Lionel,

    I did not (deliberately) misquote. I simply cut and pasted the Irish Times quote from Mick’s post. Take it up with them (IT). I’m from Barcelona and know nothing.

  • Taoiseach

    Mick, I ignored the question because I didn’t accept the premise of the question. I was just looking up the actual wording of the letter but Lionel was ahead of me.

    The point being made was very clear – the concern was that if the guidelines didn’t correspond with existing canon law and a bishop tried to use them against a priest he could find himsel losing on appeal and this is what would be embarrassing and detrimental. No point having guidelines if they make it harder to convict.

    By way of analogy, the police have guidelines on how to treat people accused of drink driving – but if these guidelines meant that people were getting off on appeal (as has happened!) then that would be worse than useless.

    That’s the context in which the phrase “study document” is used – that since it was not passed by the episcopal conference it did not have the force of law and the universal law would take precedence and it was this law that a priest could use on a successful appeal if his case wasn’t handled properly.

    None of this, nothing, suggests anywhere that the civil law of the land should not apply. None of it is an interference in the law of the land.

  • Alias

    Given that the Vatican has comprehensively demolished the claim by Kenny that it tried frustrate an Inquiry in Ireland, he now needs to subtantiate his allegation or apologise to the Vatican for the slur. The same goes for Gilmore.

    Likewise, both the Dáil and the Seanad should issue new motions that withdraw the motions containing the same false allegation. Effectively, the entire political establishment in Ireland has been caught out making an utter fool of itself.

    Fortunately for them, the Vatican hasn’t made retraction a condition of restoring relations but it has made “mutual respect” such a condition so if they keep their dumb little heads down for a while until it all blows over…

  • Mick Fealty


    It’s the construction you put on the leader that you’re being asked to account for.. That’s yours, not the IT’s…

  • Mick,

    Perhaps; but that’s the way I interpret it.
    There still seems to be clear understanding by the Vatican that canon law overrides civil law. That cannot be allowed in a democratic society. I cannot understand Taoiseach’s contention that the purpose of the Nuncio’s letter was to lessen the chance of a guilty person going free and that was what would be embarrasing. The record speaks for itself. The cover ups did take place.
    I acknowledge that it would bring civil law into disrepute if unenforceable laws were passed (confessional, e.g.)

  • Taoiseach

    The Statement notes that after extensive public consultations in 1996 the Irish Government decided not to put in place mandatory reporting and quotes Mr Austin Currie who was minister of State at the time.

    I think the key sentence in the response of the Holy See:

    “Given that the Irish Government of the day decided not to legislate on the matter, it is difficult to see how Archbishop Storero’s letter to the Irish bishops, which was issued subsequently, could possibly be construed as having somehow subverted Irish law or undermined the Irish State in its efforts to deal with the problem in question.”

  • Alias

    “The record speaks for itself. The cover ups did take place.”

    Joe, it’s the old case of Ireland having 26 popes and not 26 bishops. If the policy is decided here then it isn’t decided by the Vatican. The expressions ‘Vatican’ and the ‘Church authorities in Ireland’ are used interchangeably by the public but they’re not the same in terms of accountability. Think NI and ‘shoot to kill’ policy and then try to pin that policy on the British government.

  • There is another way to interpret these diplomatic exchanges. It is to see them as a prelude to a declaration of war by Ireland on the Vatican State, followed by seizure of all its assets in Ireland – something like Henry VIII’s solution to financial problems.

  • Lionel Hutz


    As regards the question in the headline, it seems to me that the Vatican didn’t just leave it with a mere study document. In 2001, it issued its instruction – Sacramentorum Sanctitatis Tutela:


    This is the instruction that required all allegations with “a semblance of truth” to be forwarded to the CDF, who would either deal with it themselves or give advice on how to deal with it.

    The Cloyne report deals with this from page 52 onwards:


    A further guide to that instruction was issued in 2005, which by the way included the line:

    “Civil law concerning reporting of crimes to the appropriate authorities should always be followed”


    How you view those actions will no doubt be influenced by what side of the argument you instinctively fall on. The church will argue that it was an attempt to give a central and uniform response which the Church has to have in order to be the “universal Church.” No doubt others will cry cover -up. Although in the cases of both of these documents, they were published widely, and are availbale on the internet as shown above. So I’m not sure the cover-up argument really stands up.

    Its strange for me, as someone who lost all respect for the church as a teenager, to find myself defending it. But the hypocrisy of the Government and many other commentators needs to be challenged.

    The Cloyne report was important for two majors reasons in my opinion:

    – Firstly it showed how difficult it is for the Church to impose rules on Bishops of Monsignors who do not want to play ball. There needs to be enterprising ways of tackling that. I cant even think of how the church could do this without simply putting in place a radical overhaul of the church structures in Ireland.

    – Secondly it showed that at a corporate level, the Irish Church’s guidelines afforded strong protection for children (if fully implemented) whereas the State has lagged behind. It is now over 15 years since this really started to break and the State has nothing on statutory footing (makign the Vatcian look pro-active by comparison). It seems to me that a robust response from the State could potentially deal with the problems of dissenting clerics.

    The Vatican is mentioned rarely in the Report. Really just two of 27 chapters really concentrate on it. Yet, the focus of Enda Kenny’s presentation of the report was the Vatican, and the motion in Dail also concentrated on the Vatican. The intellectual dishonesty of that is staggering, particularly in view of a report that is comprehensive.

  • Taoiseach

    The Holy See’s assets in Ireland would be very limited – a house on the Navan Road.

  • Alias

    The Irish Times leader creates a misleading impression that the papal nuncio descibes “full disclosure to the civil authorities” about child abuse as being potentially “highly embarrassing and detrimental” to the Church when in actuality the letter refers it being potentially “highly embarrassing and detrimental to Diocesan authorities” if canonical procedures in sanction against a priest are not “meticulously followed” and that priest subsequently appeals the sanction to a higher hierarchical authority which then finds against those authorities. The embarrassment to be avoided, therefore, is the censure from a higher authority, and not public censure.

    It also fails to point that the Cloyne report did not offer any evidence to support the quoted assertion.

    Lastly, it switches the question from one that has been successfully answered by the Vatican’s reply to one that is irrelevant to the allegation made by the State and rebutted by the Vatican.

    The core problem was that the Vatican gave too much autonomy to the local bishops to deal with the issue of sexually abuse by those in their employment. It’s essentially a case of what the Vatican didn’t do rather than what it did. The State should ask itself why it hasn’t been able to hold any of those local bishops to account for their actions, and accept that it hasn’t been able because it hasn’t been willing…

  • Alias,

    I have to admit that I hadn’t given any close attention to the source documents and, thus, may have been misled by the IT leader. If so, that must be true for many others. If there is to be a serious tussle between the Government and the Vatican for hearts and minds, who do you think will win?

  • Alias

    “If there is to be a serious tussle between the Government and the Vatican for hearts and minds, who do you think will win?”

    That depends on who the audience is. Certainly the State will be diminished in the eyes of any serious observer by issuing a blame-deflecting rant that was so easily discredited by its target, with the Vatican enhanced by the quality of its reply and its focus on diplomacy, humility and the need to learn from mistakes so that the protection of children can take priority over a grubby propaganda war that the Vatican is correctly avoiding being drawn into by the State. However, the general public are generally not serious observers.

    The important factor is that deference to both Church and State have been undermined by the exposure of both as systemically failing to act to protect the interests of the most vulnerable members of society so that they are more likely to be monitored by the citizens in future who have cause to suspect such abuse rather than just reported, if reported, and then assumed that either authority will act as expected. The abused children, of course, will be no wiser but – hopefully – the adults will be.

  • Mick Fealty


    “It’s easy to say in a report “19 priests were accused of X” – but you can’t prosecute a dead man, or a case from thirty years ago with little evidence, or a bishop who hugged a seminarian.”

    Quite so. That does not negate the fact that such reports give some sense of scale to a problem we know exists because of the prosecutions already extant. Without some form of judicial testing, we can just never be sure of the degree of error.

    Even in the criminal justice system such prosecutions are tough to prove for the reasons you outline. In contemporary cases it is almost impossible to get the victim from the initial report to even initiating criminal proceedings because of their genuine fear of their tormentors and possible reprisals.

    The strange thing is that whereas 15 years ago being a Catholic preist would have been a perfect cover for a child abuser, it is now almost the worst place for one today since they seem to be the first in line for suspicion even where there is no tangible evidence of abuse taking place.

    That’s the price the Church must pay for its moral laxity on the matter. And it’s the reason they cannot push home the kind of advantage that Taoiseach Lionel and Alias see in this situation. The Vatican is ultimately responsible for the appointment and the administration of the Irish church (even if it doesn’t ‘own’ it).

    It may be that there is some rather nasty kind of revisionism by the state going on here, but it also true the Church has been relied upon as a moral compass by most of the people who are currently (and were back then) running that Irish state. That’s why Kenny’s speech found such resonance within the wider population.

    Again this is the cleft stick the Vatican (consubstantially a church and a state) finds itself in; ie, that its legalistic approach can be so utterly considered and appropriate to the facts, but that it also remains transparently lacking in moral leadership so many of us look to it for.

    Looked at one way, it’s a classic Catch 22. Looked at another the Church is in danger of merely playing a good old fashioned game of moral evasion (aka, Whataboutery) with the State.

    The larger concern with all this singular focus upon a Church that is trying – admittedly too long after the fact – to clean up its act is the assumption that clerical child sex abuse is somehow a more urgent problem than common or garden child sex abuse itself.

    Rather the important thing to observe from the Church’s past behaviour is how powerful a social institution’s instinct for self protection when confronted with child sex abusers in its midst. The urge towards cover up almost irresistible when considered against ‘the appalling vista’ (to use Lord Denning’s revealing term) of its public exposure.

    The answer, perhaps, is to eschew the kind of hysterical responses we’ve seen with the Church, but ensure that such cases are brought to light clinically and rigourously without the victims having to wait 30 years when the evidence trail has gone cold, or their abusers have died and beyond the reach of the criminal justice system.

    The real and existential problem is that such investigations must, by their nature, be confidential. Safe convictions can be prejudiced if public opinion is marshalled a priori against the accused.

    But such confidentiality combined with the internal prejudice of such institutions like the church (the State, for instance) also suggests that avoidance of pain is a much greater motivator than the uncovering of such inconvenient truths.

  • pippakin

    Look every diocese that has had an abusing priest has in the past shunted that priest from parish to parish and covered up the crime. The argument seems to be that the Vatican didn’t know so it was the responsibility of individual cardinals and bishops, that looks ridiculous when you know that the cover up was world wide.

    The evidence is that the method of dealing with child abuse came from the top down, not as the Vatican would have us believe from the bottom up.

    As for Kennys speech this latest reaction looks typical MSM: first praise it then when that stops selling condemn it.

    The Vatican has been less than helpful throughout, not just here but everywhere. In my opinion Ireland was one of the worst cases, not so much because the abusers were worse but because the population is much smaller and the power the church had over the state.

  • Mick,

    That was a powerful argument you just made. I think you hit every nail on the head.
    There is non-clerical abuse, of course, on a large scale, and I regularly see cases being prosecuted both here and over there.( 900% increase in prosecutions in Canada for child pornography in the past 10 years). I think that the reason that the clerics have got more publicity is that they told us that they were somehow”purer” than the rest of us.

  • Taoiseach

    Mick, the problem with the reports is that the don’t give some sense of scale. They look at only one institution, they look at all allegations, they produce a lengthy report which, let’s be honest almost no one reads, and the headlines come out with weasel commentarty by the likes of Patsy McGarry who has more agendas than the UN General Assembly. For a true sense of scale you have to have something to compare the numbers with – that’s what scale is all about, isn’t it. If you had reports which said, in Irish society as a whole100,000 people said they had been abused as a child, of which 2,000 said they were abused by priests. Well that’s some sense of scale. That’s what many priests and ordinary Catholics find frustrating about the whole process. Only the Church has committed itself to these diocesan reports by Elliot and they will be wheeled out every six or twelve months and it will all start over again and people will continue pretending the Church is unique in having abusers and in covering up for them.

    What would be informative would be if journalists would interview some victims and their families (and I don’t mean harrass them – genuinely find out), particulary recent cases and ask them why they didn’t go to the police. Ask them what they expected would happen when they went to a bishop or another priest with a complaint. I think in many cases they would have been horrified if the police had turned up at the door saying “Bishop X told us you’d lodged a complaint”.

  • Taoiseach,

    I understand your argument. Is there no agency, government or non-government, where people can go confidentially and discuss their concerns with an experienced counsellor who knows the law and can give advice as to what options the family or victim has and what would be the likely process if they pick one course of action over another?

  • Taoiseach

    Joe – with mandatory reporting, the short answer is no. You must presume that anyone you tell will tell the police. It’s not an easy situation. A woman breaks down and tells you that her uncle molested her twenty years ago. But she can’t tell anyone because it would hurt her mother and cousins. With mandatory reporting your response must be – em, I’m just away to call the police otherwise you’ll be accused of participating in a cover up.