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David Quinn: An uneasy peace follows State's war with Vatican

ALMOST everything the public knows about both the Cloyne Report and the Vatican's response to it, has been filtered through the media.

The public therefore has a very faulty understanding of both documents and where the truth lies between the Irish Government and the Holy See in this whole affair.

For example, most people probably imagine that the Cloyne Report revealed that Catholic priests were sexually abusing children throughout the diocese down almost to the present day, and that the Vatican frustrated every attempt to control them.

This is simply untrue. In fact, with one exception, every concrete complaint of abuse received by the diocese post-1996 -- when the Irish Church's first set of child protection guidelines were issued -- related to an incident that took place before 1996, and usually long before it.

The majority of incidents took place in the 1960s and 1970s.

Therefore, even if the letter sent to the hierarchy in 1997 giving the Vatican's take on their guidelines is as bad as its worst critics say, it made very little material difference on the ground in Cloyne.

In fact, it almost certainly made no difference because we know that the diocese's child protection officer, Monsignor Denis O'Callaghan, frequently ignored both canon law and the 1996 guidelines when dealing with allegations of child abuse.

That letter of 1997 is Exhibit A in the case against the Vatican.

And the Cloyne Report is right, it was unhelpful -- although no more than that -- chiefly because it had "serious reservations" about mandatory reporting.

The letter was sent by the then Papal Nuncio to the Irish bishops and it expressed the views of the Congregation for the Clergy, which was headed at the time by Cardinal Castrillon Hoyos.

Among other things, Cardinal Hoyos was overly concerned about the right of accused clergy to their good name.

The proof that Cardinal Hoyos's attitude was unhelpful is the fact that in 2001, the present Pope brought about a drastic change in that mentality which has resulted in the 'defrocking' or removal from ministry of around two thousand priests worldwide.

To take the Ferns diocese as one example: since 2001, it has reported 10 priests to the civil authorities, and the same 10 to the Vatican.

Two have been convicted under civil law, and nine have been dealt with under canon law. Of the nine, six have been laicised and three have taken voluntary laicisation. One case is pending.

This proves civil law and canon law can work in parallel and complement, not compete against one another.

(By the way, here is a pertinent question; if the critics are right, and canon law doesn't matter a damn, then why do they get upset when priests aren't 'defrocked' under canon law?)

But if that letter's reservation about mandatory reporting made life awkward for the Irish bishops, so did the Irish State because it also had serious reservations about the matter.

As the Vatican response of last weekend makes very clear, the last Fine Gael/Labour Government which was in office when the 1997 letter was received by the bishops also objected to mandatory reporting.

Therefore, it is hypocritical of the current Government to attack the Vatican over an attitude to mandatory reporting which it largely shared last time it was in power.

In the years since then, the Irish hierarchy has pressed successive Governments to introduce mandatory reporting and it is only now that an Irish Government is getting around to some version of it.

In his speech in July, Enda Kenny attacked the Vatican for frustrating "an inquiry in a sovereign democratic republic as little as three years ago".

This was treated as a virtual cause of war by the Government.

Asked at the time about this incident, the Government said it wasn't referring to anything specific.

Since then it has decided it was referring to the fact that the Papal Nuncio and the Vatican didn't respond to letters from the Commission of Inquiry.

But if this lack of response really did deserve such a strong attack then the Taoiseach should also have rounded on the Office of the Minister for Children because it was asked for information by the Commission but refused to provide it, claiming legal privilege instead.

This is extremely ironic in view of the fact that this was the same office which ordered the Cloyne inquiry in the first place. (Will the office release the required information now it has a new minister?)

SO where does all this leave us? In an ideal world, the Vatican would more readily admit that the attitude of Cardinal Hoyos back in 1997 was unhelpful and the Government would admit its attack was over the top, inaccurate in various ways and treated the Vatican as a virtual enemy state.

Neither has happened. But like the Vatican's response to the Government, the Government's response to the Vatican issued last night has avoided provocative language meaning both sides have chosen to stand down and set about rebuilding normal relations

Irish Independent