THE GOVERNMENT last night stood over Taoiseach Enda Kenny's criticism of the Catholic Church's handling of cases of clerical sexual abuse, refusing to back down in its row with the Vatican.
After considering the Vatican's weekend response to Cloyne Report, it replied in a statement released after yesterday's Cabinet meeting.
The statement said that a 1997 letter from then apostolic nuncio, Archbishop Storero, "provided a pretext for some members of the clergy to evade full co-operation with the Irish civil authorities in regard to the abuse of minors".
In his Dail speech in July in the wake of the Cloyne Report, Mr Kenny criticised the Vatican for its "dysfunction, disconnection, elitism, narcissism", which he said dominated its culture.
Last night's statement read: "The Government of Ireland remains of the view that the content of the confidential letter in 1997 from the then Apostolic Nuncio, Archbishop Storero, to the Irish bishops, regardless of whether or not it was intended to do so, provided a pretext for some members of the clergy to evade full co-operation with the Irish civil authorities in regard to the abuse of minors.
"This is a matter of great concern to the Irish Government."
It also defended the strong language used by Mr Kenny and other ministers in criticising the Vatican and church authorities here.
The Taoiseach said this week that the Vatican's failure to provide information to state investigations was an example of "interference" in child-abuse inquiries after he had been asked to clarify his July claim that the church interfered in investigations "as little as three years ago".
"The Government of Ireland must point out that the comments made by the Taoiseach and other political leaders accurately reflect the public anger of the overwhelming majority of Irish people at the failure of the Catholic Church in Ireland and the Holy See to deal adequately with clerical child sexual abuse and those who committed such appalling acts," yesterday's statement said.
"It is the Government of Ireland's hope that in spite of outstanding differences, lessons have been learned from appalling past failures. In this regard, it welcomes the commitment in the concluding remarks of the Holy See's response to a constructive dialogue and co-operation with the Government.
"In welcoming this commitment, the Government expects the fullest co-operation from the Holy See, the Catholic Church in Ireland and all other relevant bodies, with a view to ensuring that Ireland is a society fully safe for children and minors and that all of those with responsibility for the welfare and care of children in this country are fully subject to Irish laws and requirements."
A spokesman for the Irish Bishops' Conference said: "In light of the Government's statement, the Catholic Church restates its commitment to best practice in safeguarding children and to working with state authorities in achieving this.
"The focus should now be on the future."