| 8.1°C Dublin

Vatican ‘disgraceful’ over child sex abuse by clergy – Taoiseach

The Vatican's unhelpful approach to clerical abuse inquiries in Ireland has been branded a disgrace.

In the wake of the fourth damning report into the Catholic Church's cover-ups of sex attacks by priests, Taoiseach Enda Kenny warned that new laws would not be stopped by canon rules.

The Holy See was severely criticised over a 1997 letter which stated that child protection guidelines agreed by Irish bishops a year earlier were "merely a discussion document".

Amid deepening fallout over the inquiry into the Cloyne Diocese in Co Cork, Mr Kenny said the Irish Government's concerns must now be dealt with.

"I think this is absolutely disgraceful that the Vatican took the view that it did in respect of something that's as sensitive and as personal with such long-lasting difficulties for persons involved," he said.

The Pope's ambassador to Ireland, Papal Nuncio Archbishop Giuseppe Leanza, was been summoned to a lunchtime meeting with Eamon Gilmore, Tanaiste and Minister for Foreign Affairs. to answer the criticisms.

The report on Cloyne covers 1996/2009 and contains devastating criticisms which go right to the top of the Catholic Church.

The Government has branded the letter, which also stated that the Vatican had serious moral and canon reservations about mandatory reporting of clerical abuse, unfortunate and unacceptable.

The report, the second expose by Judge Yvonne Murphy, accused the Holy See of an "entirely unhelpful" reaction to inquiries.

It singled out retired bishop John Magee, the former head of the Cloyne Diocese and a personal secretary to three popes, for misleading inquiries into the mishandling of abuse claims.

It found Rome effectively gave a carte blanche to Bishop Magee to ignore guidelines and offer "comfort and support" to senior clerics such as his second-in-command, Monsignor Denis O'Callaghan, who defied official policy on paedophile priests and did not believe they should be reported to authorities.

The Taoiseach was adamant that new laws of five years in jail for anyone who withholds information on child abuse will not be limited by Church rules on the Holy sacrament of confession.

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

The Taoiseach added: "In situations where these appalling activities took place let them be reported and let the law of the land apply.

"So from that perspective, irrespective of the location or circumstance of the persons involved, this is not about Ireland of long ago, it's about the Ireland of contemporary times and it's now got to be dealt with."

Archbishop Leanza refused to take questions after the meeting with the Tanaiste.

In a brief statement outside Iveagh House, the Department of Foreign Affairs, he said: "Naturally I`m very distressed myself at the failures in ensuring the protection of children within the Church.

"Despite all the good work that has been done, I wish to stress however, the total commitment of the Holy See for its part in taking all the necessary measures to ensure the protection of children."