The Pope’s ambassador to Ireland has been ordered to get answers from the Vatican on damning revelations that it allowed priests to ignore the law.
Papal Nuncio Archbishop Giuseppe Leanza was told to take a message to the Holy See that the Irish Government believes its conduct in clerical child abuse inquiries has been disgraceful and unacceptable.
The Catholic hierarchy in Rome stand accused of effectively briefing clergy in a 1997 letter to allow them to defy guidelines and not report paedophiles in their ranks.
Pressure is also intensifying on disgraced former bishop John Magee – found to have misled authorities over abuse allegations in the Diocese of Cloyne in Co Cork as recently as 2008 – to come out of hiding.
He resigned in 2010 but two bishops have led calls for him to publicly answer for his failures.
Amid the increasingly damaging fall-out from a report in the Cloyne Diocese, Taoiseach Enda Kenny warned that canon law and church policy would never again defend priests for failing to report abuse allegations.
“The law of the land should not be stopped by crozier, or by collar,” Mr Kenny said.
Eamon Gilmore, Tánaiste and Foreign Affairs Minister, said he has warned the Archbishop about a new law of five years’ jail for anyone who does not alert authorities about crimes against a child.
“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,” the Tánaiste said.
“I told him that I believed that a response is required and I look forward to receiving it.”
The Archbishop, who was summoned to the Department of Foreign Affairs in Dublin for a second time in two years in the wake of a damning report on clerical abuse, was given a copy of the Cloyne report to pass on to the Vatican.
He refused to answer questions after the meeting but said he was distressed by the findings, which go to heart of the Church.
“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,” he said in a brief statement outside Iveagh House.
“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.”
Former bishop Magee is no longer living in Cloyne and has told a spokesman he does not want to add to a statement issued yesterday where he apologised and said he accepted the findings of the report.
The Vatican’s most senior spokesman Fr Federico Lombardi declined to answer questions on the scandal – the fourth major clerical abuse inquiry in Ireland to rock the Church.
The report on Cloyne covers the 13 years up to 2009 and contains devastating criticisms which go right to the top of the Catholic Church.
It is the second exposé by Judge Yvonne Murphy. It accused the Holy See of an “entirely unhelpful” reaction to inquiries.
The Government has branded the 1997 letter, which came a year after Irish bishops set down reporting guidelines to enhance child protection, unfortunate and unacceptable.
The correspondence stated that the bishops policy was “merely a discussion document” and that the Vatican had serious moral and canon reservations about mandatory reporting of clerical abuse.
The Taoiseach said: “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.”
The report singled out Bishop Magee, a personal secretary to three popes, for misleading inquiries into the mishandling of abuse claims.
It found Rome effectively gave him carte blanche 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 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.”
Two Socialist Party TDs called for Archbishop Leanza to be expelled from Ireland over the scandal. It is understood such a dramatic move is not being considered by the Government.