Brian Cowen tonight defended the Vatican’s refusal to deal directly with an investigation into paedophile priests in the Dublin diocese that has shocked the country.
The Taoiseach insisted Rome’s effective snub of Judge Yvonne Murphy’s inquiry was in keeping with international law concerning diplomatic channels.
Last week’s report by the Commission of Investigation into child abuse in Dublin revealed two letters requesting information from the Pope’s ambassador, the Papal Nuncio, were not answered.
A similar request to the Vatican Congregation for the Doctrine of the Faith led to a missive to the Department of Foreign Affairs that the commission was not going through the proper diplomatic procedures.
Mr Cowen described as “a matter of regret” that the Holy See didn’t give a substantive response but said the Vatican made sure the note was passed on to the commission because they didn’t want officials to feel they were ignoring the request.
“My belief is that the commission and the Holy See appears to have acted in good faith in this matter even if the best outcome was not achieved,” he said.
Mr Cowen added: “It is of course regrettable that the failure to acknowledge either letter has given rise to the impression that the Holy See was refusing to co-operate with the Commission.
“The approach by the Holy See was consistent with international law, according to which dealings between states should be conducted via the diplomatic channel unless other arrangements are made by mutual consent.”
Commission chairperson Judge Murphy had insisted her inquiry was independent of the Government and so was not party to the diplomatic channels.
Fine Gael leader Enda Kenny said it was discourteous that the Vatican did not respond.
Justice Minister Dermot Ahern revealed that calls to a special Garda telephone line set up after the Ryan report into child abuse in church and state-run schools has resulted in about 60 cases being actively investigated.
“Many of those cases will result in files being forwarded to the Director of Public Prosecutions,” he said.
Mr Ahern insisted the report’s criticism of the Garda related to just a small number of individual officers in the past that treated the Church as if it was above the law.
The force was not alone in “showing such deference” to the Church at the time but those days had changed, he said.
“Those who have not yet been brought to justice for these crimes should spend every day of the rest of their lives realising that there is no hiding place for them and that justice – even where it may have been delayed – will not be denied,” he said.
As an extra precautionary measure, the Garda Inspectorate has been asked to review the force’s arrangements for handling of complaints of sexual abuse against children, he told the Dáil.
During a debate on the report, Labour leader Eamon Gilmore said bishops criticised for mishandling sickening child abuse complaints should not be allowed to remain as school patrons.
But Mr Cowen said school patrons did not have direct control and played only an ’ex officio’ role.
“There is no question of an executive role by patrons in schools,” he said.
“It is an ex-officio position that is held by bishops of dioceses historically and that continues,” Mr Cowen said.