VATICAN CITY — The Vatican on Saturday vigorously rejected claims it sabotaged efforts by Irish bishops to report priests who sexually abused children to police and accused the Irish prime minister of making an "unfounded" attack against the Holy See.
The Vatican issued a lengthy response to the Irish government following Prime Minister Enda Kenny's unprecedented July 20 denunciation of the Vatican's handling of abuse, in which he cited the "dysfunction, the disconnection, the elitism that dominate the culture of the Vatican to this day."
His speech followed the publication of a government-mandated independent report into the diocese of Cloyne, which found that the Vatican had undermined attempts by Irish bishops to protect children from predator priests.
The dispute has seriously damaged relations between the Vatican and staunchly Roman Catholic Ireland, with the Vatican recalling its ambassador, and it has prompted the already abuse-weary Irish faithful to demand some accountability from Rome.
The Vatican said both the Cloyne report and Kenny's claims were "unfounded" and based on an incorrect reading of a 1997 Vatican letter expressing "serious reservations" about the Irish bishops' 1996 policy requiring bishops to report abusers to police.
A committee of Irish bishops had adopted the policy under public pressure as the first Irish abuse cover-ups came to light, a year after a former altar boy became the first abuse victim in Ireland to go public with a lawsuit against the church.
The Vatican response noted that at the time, in the mid-1990s, there was no law in Ireland requiring professionals to report suspected abuse to police and that the issue was a matter of intense debate politically.
"Given that the Irish government of the day decided not to legislate on the matter, it is difficult to see how (the Vatican's) letter to the Irish bishops, which was issued subsequently, could possibly be constructed as having somehow subverted Irish law or undermined the Irish state in its efforts to deal with the problem in question," the Vatican said.
The Cloyne report also admonished the Vatican for diminishing the policy as a mere "study document" in the 1997 letter from the Vatican nuncio. The policy was presented at the time, with a full-on news conference, as mandatory policy for all Ireland's bishops.
The Vatican said both Cloyne and Kenny were wrong: it said the Irish bishops themselves had never sought to make the policy legally binding by submitting it for official approval by the Vatican.
In fact, the Vatican response Saturday cites a letter from the then-head of the Irish bishops' conference saying the policy wasn't even an official publication of the Irish bishops' conference but rather a code of "recommended practice."
Another letter to the Vatican from the No. 2 at the Irish bishops' conference said the policy wasn't approved by the conference and was merely offered to individual bishops as guidelines "that could — and indeed should — be followed."
"Since the Irish bishops did not choose to seek recognition for the Framework Document, the Holy See cannot be criticized for failing to grant what was never requested in the first place," the Vatican said.