Sep 7, 2011

Enda Kenny Smacks Down Vatican Parsing

Crossposted from Reflections Journal.

Taoiseach Enda Kenny

Irish Prime Minister Enda Kenny gave his first formal response to the Vatican yesterday and he shows no sign of backing down.

Taoiseach Enda Kenny has stood by his assertion that the Vatican attempted to frustrate a state inquiry into clerical child sex abuse. In its response to the Cloyne report at the weekend, the Vatican described as “unfounded” the Taoiseach’s Dáil claim that it attempted to frustrate an inquiry into abuse “as little as three years ago”.

However, speaking at Fine Gael’s ‘think-in’ at the Radisson Blu Hotel in Galway yesterday, Mr Kenny said the Murphy Commission had requested information and assistance from the Vatican in 2006, 2007, and 2009, and that, in each case, those requests were either refused or rejected.

He stressed that, as the Murphy Commission is a statutory commission of inquiry, nothing less than full co-operation is required. “And anything less than full co-operation in my opinion is unwarranted interference,” he said.

It will be interesting to see if the Vatican will continue to parse Kenny's statements or deal with the substance. Because so far their response has been to nit pick the language in Kenny's blistering attack on the Vatican's credibility following the Cloyne report. As has been the case far too often in regards the sex abuse scandal, the Vatican has absolved itself with legal technicalities. There is something deeply alarming about an institution the purpose of which is making moral pronouncements falling back on legalese when their own moral infractions are exposed.

I think it was probably the obfuscatory nature of the legal minutia that Foreign Affairs Minister Eamon Gilmore was referring to when he complained that the Vatican's response was "very technical and legalistic."

Speaking in Dublin, [Archbishop of Dublin Diarmuid Martin] said: “The Vatican responded to the questions they were asked and some of the questions were about norms and legislation. It is a bit unfair to say that they gave technical answers – they were technical questions.”

It seems to me that the Vatican and its defenders are doing the same diplomatic dance they've always done and the current Irish Government has walked off the dance floor. They've dispensed with diplomatic niceties. They've dispensed with subtlety entirely and are putting the anger of the Irish people in extremely blunt terms. It's a politically safe maneuver because they've so well captured the mood of a people sick to death of slick responses to a very serious problem.

Hitting back at demands by Dublin Archbishop Diarmuid Martin for "specifics" regarding Government assertions that the Church deliberately frustrated investigations into child rape as recently as three years ago, the Tánaiste said Rome should focus on rooting out paedophilia.

"The specifics, let’s be clear about the specifics: children were abused — that’s specific. Let’s not be distracted, let’s not miss the point. No loose charges were made," he said.

"There was the most horrific sexual abuse of children perpetrated by clerics. The Catholic Church did not deal with that as it should have dealt with it. Let’s not be distracted. The Taoiseach and the Government stand over what was said."

In a brilliant column, Fergus Finlay lays what is so thoroughly frustrating and infuriating about the Vatican's posture in this whole affair and why the Irish Government needs to continue to stand firm and not be sucked into an argument on the Vatican's terms.

Gimlet eyes. Sharp-faced lawyers.

Read it in all its painful, pathetic and absurd detail. Then tell me if you can see any real compassion there, any real humility, any real pain at the suffering of victims and survivors. No. It’s 25 pages long and — to be generous about it — roughly a page is all it takes to outline the Catholic Church’s feelings of sorrow and shame at the abuse perpetrated by its priests and covered up by its bishops. The other 24 pages were written by lawyers trying to win on a technicality.

And since it was published they, and their apologists who have been all over the media all weekend, have been demanding that the Government should respond to their specifics with more specifics. Like some sharp-suited lawyers in the tv version of a courtroom drama, they have tried to put the Taoiseach and the Tánaiste on the defensive with page after page of wearying technicalities.

. . .

When it comes to divorce, or family planning, or abortion, the Church has never felt the need to be silent, or to take its lead from teacher unions or the Association of Social Workers. Why in the name of God did the Church feel the need to be led by others in its duty of protecting children?

Yes, it's amazing how proactive the Vatican is on the truly important issues like making sure women remain second class citizens and how cautious and slow they are when children's safety is at stake. If nothing else, they've made their priorities abundantly clear.

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