| 10.2°C Dublin

State at war with Rome over silence on Cloyne sex abuse

THE Government was at war with the Vatican last night over its silence on the Cloyne sex abuse report as anger grew over the failure of Bishop John Magee to publicly apologise for his role in the scandal.

As both Taoiseach Enda Kenny and Tanaiste Eamon Gilmore demanded answers from the Vatican:

•Fine Gael chairman Charlie Flanagan called for the Papal Nuncio, Archbishop Giuseppe Leanze, to be expelled.

•The fallout raised suggestions that an expected visit by Pope Benedict XVI to Ireland next year may not now take place.

•A number of victims accused the Vatican of shielding former Bishop of Cloyne Dr Magee.

Relations between the State and the Holy See deteriorated dramatically yesterday, with Mr Kenny describing the Vatican's attitude towards the reporting of abuse allegations as "absolutely disgraceful".

Mr Kenny backed tough new laws that will compel priests to report paedophiles to gardai, even if they are told of the abuse in the confession box.

"The law of the land should not be stopped by crozier or by collar," he said.

The hardline government stance followed revelations in the Cloyne Report that Bishop Magee and the Vatican encouraged the concealment of abuse allegations.

The bishop has not appeared in public since the Commission of Investigation report, published on Wednesday, found him primarily responsible for the failure of the diocese to report clerical abuse allegations to gardai over a 13-year period.

One victim told the Irish Independent it was "beyond belief" that Catholic authorities had not insisted Bishop Magee be available to answer questions about his actions.

"It speaks volumes about the attitude from top to bottom. It is absolutely appalling and heartbreaking," she said.

Irish church officials last night denied any knowledge of Bishop Magee's whereabouts.

He has not been seen at his home in Mitchelstown, Co Cork, in several weeks and locals said they believed he had travelled to the US.

Archbishop of Cashel and Emly Dermot Clifford, who has taken over the running of the diocese, said it would be "helpful" for Bishop Magee to be available to answer questions.

Earlier, Mr Gilmore summoned Dr Leanza to the Department of Foreign Affairs to explain why the Vatican gave individual bishops the freedom to disregard agreed 1996 child protection guidelines.

Mr Gilmore said the report's "deeply disturbing" conclusions had given rise to a new public anger at the failure of the church and Vatican authorities to deal adequately with clerical child sexual abuse in Ireland.

"I told him that the Government considered it unacceptable that the Vatican intervention may have led priests to believe that they could in conscience evade their responsibilities under Irish laws," Mr Gilmore said.

"This is not something that occurred in the dim-distant past, this is very recent, and it is absolutely unacceptable."

It was the second time in the space of 18 months that Dr Leanza has been summoned for a meeting in the Department of Foreign Affairs.

He was previously called in after the Murphy Report into clerical child sexual abuse in the Dublin Archdiocese found the Vatican had refused to co-operate with its request for documents.

Then-Taoiseach Brian Cowen defended the Vatican in the wake of the report by saying that it had acted in "good faith", even if the best outcome was not achieved.


However, both Mr Gilmore and Mr Kenny have taken a much tougher line in relation to the Vatican after it was again criticised in the Cloyne Report.

Dr Leanza said he had been given a copy of the report by Mr Gilmore and would be bringing it immediately to the attention of the Holy See.

He declined to answer questions following the meeting, but said: "Naturally I am very distressed myself at what have again been failures in assuring the protection of children within the church despite all the good work that has been done."

Mr Flanagan later called for the archbishop to be expelled.

"In any jurisdiction if the representatives of another jurisdiction conspired with citizens of that state to commit criminal acts, they would be gone," he said.

However, the Government is going to wait for the response of the Vatican to the Cloyne Report before taking any further action.

The coalition last night refused to rule out the prospect of shutting Ireland's embassy in the Vatican.

Mr Gilmore said: "The issue of embassies, and where we will have them in the future, is something I will be considering."

Irish Independent