Two days of talks between the Pope and the Irish bishops seem to have confirmed what victims of clerical sex abuse have suspected: In the eyes of Rome, they are second-class Christians.
Victims and survivors have expressed disappointment and anger at the outcome of the talks. Andrew Madden, the first person in Ireland to publicly file a lawsuit against the church, simply said that survivors had been completely ignored.
Yes, the Pope did use strong words when he said that paedophilia is ‘a grave sin that offends God.’ In his homily during mass for the bishops on Monday, Cardinal Bertone said ‘humility’ would be necessary if the church were to be renewed.
But speaking to the Irish Times, Maeve Lewis of One in Four said that such words are not enough. She observed that the Vatican appears to be shifting the blame entirely – and without merit – onto the Irish Catholic Church,
We are also disappointed that the Pope has offered no explanation for the failure of the Vatican and the Papal Nuncio to cooperate with the Murphy Commission. … Instead, the Vatican has accepted no responsibility for its role in facilitating the sexual abuse of children, referring only to the Irish Church, and only vague declarations of intent for the future are included.
The Irish Times’ religious affairs correspondent Patsy McGarry devotes an entire column to this issue of the shifting of blame. He writes,
Rome consistently tripped up the Irish church as it attempted to come to grips with the issue of clerical child sex abuse, and Cardinal Hummes – who is taking part in this week’s discussions with Pope Benedict XVI, his senior curial colleagues and 24 Irish bishops – is uniquely placed to understand just how.
He is prefect of the Congregation for the Clergy which refused to give recognition to child protection guidelines introduced by the Irish bishops in their 1996 Framework Document and again in their updated 2005 Our Children, Our Church document. … This lack of recognition by Rome meant that an accused priest could appeal to the Vatican over his bishop’s head if action was taken against him on foot of an allegation of child sex abuse and that, most likely, the priest would win as there was no backing for such a bishop’s action in Rome.
And if that isn’t enough, the Papal Nuncio still refuses to accept an invitation to address the Oireachtas Foreign Affairs Committee. Given the close association between the Irish state and the Catholic Church, this has been interpreted as a slap in the face by parliamentarians like Alan Shatter, Fine Gael’s spokesperson on children, who said,
“I believe there is a solemn duty on both the papal nuncio and the Vatican authorities to co-operate in this. It is not only scandalous that such co-operation is not forthcoming but that the Vatican’s ambassador to Ireland is unwilling to publicly discuss with elected members of the Irish parliament the stance taken to date or to indicate any willingness to overcome the current impasse.”
In addition to this, the Pope has been promising the Irish faithful a pastoral letter. It was originally thought that this would be ready for Ash Wednesday – an appropriate liturgical time for the institutional church, at both its international and national levels – to repent.
The BBC reports that during the meetings the Irish bishops did repent, engaging in,
‘an unprecedented act of private penance …’ and that the 24 Irish bishops who met the Pope ‘both individually and collectively confessed to him their shortcomings and omissions in the paedophile clergy scandal which has shocked the entire Catholic world.’
But this was done behind closed doors, and the Pope’s letter has been delayed. On his blog, BBC religion correspondent William Crawley claims that reports of the draft of the letter indicate that it will be yet another disappointment for those hoping that the Catholic Church’s repentance will take the form of a root-and-branch reformation of its structures.
The New Testament is permeated with references to the priesthood of all believers. It envisions a body of Christ in which there are no second-class Christians, in which all are equal, all serving one another. The early signs are that the Irish bishops’ meeting with the Pope hasn’t taken the Irish Catholic Church much closer to that ideal.