All-Ireland primate Cardinal Sean Brady has welcomed the Vatican's response to the Cloyne Report and claimed it conveyed "profound abhorrence" for the abuse.
In its formal response to the Government in the wake of the damning findings of abuse allegations in the diocese of Cloyne, the Vatican has rejected claims by Taoiseach Enda Kenny that it tried to frustrate a clerical child abuse inquiry insisting the accusations were unfounded.
The Holy See said that it in no way hampered or interfered with the inquiry.
“In particular, the accusation that the Holy See attempted ’to frustrate an Inquiry in a sovereign, democratic republic as little as three years ago, not three decades ago’, which Mr Kenny made no attempt to substantiate, is unfounded,” the Vatican said.
Cardinal Brady said the Vatican has expressed "sorrow and shame" for victims' sufferings.
“I believe the response has been carefully prepared and respectfully presented,” Cardinal Brady said.
“The time taken to prepare the reply, and its content, indicates the commitment on the part of the Holy See to deal with this matter earnestly, fairly and sensitively.
“It shows an appreciation of the seriousness of the questions raised and of the importance, especially for survivors of abuse, of effectively combating this crime.
“I ask people to read the document for themselves and to evaluate it objectively. I believe it will contribute to the healing of those who have been hurt and also to a closer working together of all concerned with the safeguarding of children.”
In an unprecedented attack in the Dáil in July, Mr Kenny accused the Vatican of downplaying the rape and torture of Irish children by clerical sex abusers.
In a damning assessment of Rome’s attitude to paedophile priests, Mr Kenny claimed the Cloyne inquiry into clerical abuse cover-ups exposed a dysfunctional, elite hierarchy determined to frustrate investigations.
The Taoiseach’s attack, which opened a special Dáil debate, followed the publication a week earlier of the fourth major report in six years into the Church’s cover-ups of clerical abuse.
Cloyne Diocese in Co Cork was the latest part of the Church to be exposed with former bishop John Magee, a Vatican aide to three Popes, singled out for misleading investigators and “dangerous” failures on child protection.
His resignation was accepted by Pope Benedict last year.
The Vatican statement, more than 10,300 words long, was issued after Foreign Affairs Minister Eamon Gilmore demanded answers from the Vatican on claims it allowed priests to ignore mandatory reporting guidelines on suspected child abusers within the church.
It said the Holy See was ashamed for the “terrible sufferings which the victims of abuse and their families have had to endure.”
“The Holy See is deeply concerned at the findings of the commission of inquiry concerning grave failures in the ecclesiastical governance of the Diocese of Cloyne and the mishandling of allegations of abuse,” it stated.
“It is particularly disturbing that these failures occurred despite the undertaking given by the bishops and religious superiors to apply the guidelines developed by the Church in Ireland to help ensure child protection and despite the Holy See’s own norms and procedures relating to cases of sexual abuse.”
The Vatican became embroiled in the latest Irish church scandal after revelations about a 1997 letter, from the then papal nuncio to Irish bishops, a year after reporting guidelines were enforced to enhance child protection.
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.
But the Vatican says that taken out of context, the comments in the letter from Archbishop Luciano Storero to Irish bishops "could be open to misinterpretation, giving rise to understandable criticism.''
It said the description of the bishops’ policy as a study document was not a dismissal of the serious efforts being undertaken to address the child abuse problem, but senior church figures wanted to ensure that “nothing contained in it would give rise to difficulties should appeals be lodged to the Holy See”.
The Holy See also denied that bishops sought recognition from Rome for its so-called framework document.
“In the light of the findings of the Cloyne Report, the basic difficulty with regard to child protection in that diocese seems to have arisen not from the lack of recognition for the guidelines of the framework document but from the fact that, while the diocese claimed to follow the guidelines, in reality it did not,” the Vatican said.
The Holy See said the response of the congregation for the clergy, through Archbishop Storero, was not a rejection of the framework document, but an invitation to bishops to re-examine it carefully.
It said the congregation was not forbidding mandatory reporting, “or in any way encouraging individuals, including clerics, not to cooperate with the Irish civil authorities, let alone disobey Irish civil law”.
The Vatican said that as the Government did make mandatory reporting of suspected abuse cases law at that time, it was difficult how concerns raised in Archbishop’s Storero’s letter could be construed as having subverted Irish law.
The Government has now committed to tough new child protection in the wake of Cloyne, including making it an offence to withhold information about crimes against children and introducing new vetting to allow “soft information” transfers.
The Holy See said while it cannot comment on the proposed legislation, it welcomes and supports attempts to protect children.
The Vatican said the Cloyne Report "marks a further stage in the long and difficult path of ascertaining the truth, of penance and purification, and of healing and renewal of the Church in Ireland".
“The Holy See wishes to state once again that it shares the deep concern and anxiety expressed by the Irish authorities, by Irish citizens in general and by the bishops, priests, religious and lay faithful of Ireland with regard to the criminal and sinful acts of sexual abuse perpetrated by clergy and religious.
“It also recognises the understandable anger, disappointment and sense of betrayal of those affected – particularly the victims and their families – by these vile and deplorable acts and by the way in which they were sometimes handled by church authorities, and for all of this it wishes to reiterate its sorrow for what happened.”
Fr Federico Lombardi, director of the press office of the Holy See, rejected Mr Kenny’s allegations in an interview with Vatican Radio.
“This is not grounded, there is no reason ... it is not corresponded to the reality,” he said.
“We do not understand what was in the mind of the Prime Minister.”