- Associated Press - Saturday, September 3, 2011

VATICAN CITY (AP) — The Vatican on Saturday vigorously rejected claims it sabotaged efforts by Irish bishops to report priests who sexually abused children to police and accused the Irish prime minister of making an “unfounded” attack against the Holy See.

Irish officials defended their claims that the Vatican exacerbated the abuse crisis and criticized the Holy See for offering an overly “legalistic” response to the scandal.

The Vatican issued a 24-page response to the Irish government following Prime Minister Enda Kenny’s unprecedented July 20 denunciation of the Vatican’s handling of abuse — a speech that was cheered by abuse-weary Irish Catholics but stunned the Vatican and prompted it to recall its ambassador.

Kenny’s speech was inspired by the publication of a government-mandated independent report into the County Cork diocese of Cloyne, which found that the Vatican had undermined attempts by Irish bishops to protect children from predator priests.

The Cloyne document was the fourth such report to come out in recent years on the colossal scale of priestly sex abuse and cover-up in Ireland. But it was the first to squarely find the Vatican culpable in promoting the culture of secrecy and cover-up that kept abusers in ministry and able to prey on more children.

The Cloyne report based much of its accusations against the Holy See on a 1997 letter from the Vatican’s ambassador to Ireland to the country’s bishops expressing “serious reservations” about their policy requiring bishops to report abusers to police.

A committee of Irish bishops had adopted the policy in 1996 under mounting public pressure as the first cover-ups came to light, a year after a former altar boy became the first abuse victim in Ireland to go public with a lawsuit against the church.

The Cloyne report charged that the Vatican’s 1997 letter “effectively gave individual Irish bishops the freedom to ignore the procedures which they had agreed and gave comfort and support to those who … dissented from the stated official church policy.”

The Vatican concurred that, taken out of context, the 1997 letter could give rise to “understandable criticism.” But it said the letter had been misinterpreted, that the Cloyne report’s conclusions were “inaccurate” and that Kenny’s denunciation was “unfounded.”

In his speech, Kenny accused the Holy See of frustrating the Cloyne inquiry. “In doing so, the Cloyne Report excavates the dysfunction, the disconnection, the elitism that dominate the culture of the Vatican to this day,” he said.

In its response, the Vatican charged back that “it in no way hampered or interfered with the inquiry” and never sought to undermine or interfere with Irish civil law.

After reading the report, Irish Foreign Minister Eamon Gilmore shot back Saturday:

“I remain of the view that the 1997 letter from the then-nuncio provided a pretext for some to avoid full cooperation with Irish civil authorities.”

The Vatican noted that at the time, in the mid-1990s, there was no law in Ireland requiring professionals to report suspected abuse to police and that the issue was a matter of intense debate politically. In fact, Ireland has never had a law explicitly making the failure to report suspected child abuse a crime, but is planning to draft one now in the wake of the Cloyne report.

“Given that the Irish government of the day decided not to legislate on the matter, it is difficult to see how (the Vatican’s) letter to the Irish bishops, which was issued subsequently, could possibly be construed as having somehow subverted Irish law or undermined the Irish state in its efforts to deal with the problem in question,” the Vatican said.

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