The sad and sorry story of priestly pedophilia is still making waves — this time in Ireland where the Vatican’s ambassador has been recalled to Rome following harsh words from the current taoiseach (a Gaelic word meaning leader of the Irish government; it is usually pronounced ‘prime minister’).Archbishop Cranmer, the Reformation archbishop who mysteriously manages to blog on contemporary British politics despite having been burned at the stake by order of Queen Mary I in 1556, struggles at times to contain his schadenfreude over Rome’s discomfiture. He nevertheless makes some strong points in a post that deserves to be widely read.
This is a country in which the church owns most schools and quite a few hospitals, and state-run broadcasters still issue a twice-daily call to Roman Catholics to fall on their knees and pray (a call which must be immensely vulnerable to challenge in the European Court of Human Rights). The present tension is between Canon Law, which permits priests accused of child abuse to appeal their cases to the Vatican, and Irish law, which demands that all suspects be immediately reported to the police. A confidential 1997 Vatican letter instructed Irish bishops to handle all allegations of child abuse strictly in accordance with Canon Law. It warned bishops that their child protection policy, particularly its emphasis on the need to report all suspected crimes to police, violated the Church’s law. The Cloyne Report reveals how one diocese in County Cork run by Bishop John Magee, a former private secretary to three popes, suppressed evidence of child rape and molestation as recently as 2009. It concludes that the Vatican was complicit, encouraging Irish bishops to collude and cover up all new crimes.
Read the whole thing. The Christian world has been trying to balance the conflicting claims of church and state for more than 1,000 years, and we still don’t have it right. But the result of the latest abuse scandals in Ireland will surely be an increased subordination of priests to civil as opposed to canon law. It will likely also hasten the decline of Christian faith in Ireland; this is not in my view a good thing, but failures of ecclesiastical leadership on this scale have consequences.