Wednesday, July 27, 2011

Why Ireland is no longer the Vatican's loyal follower

Genevieve Carberry
Jyly 27,2011

Ireland has long been the model of a loyal Catholic state, an ask-no-questions adherent to the Vatican's word. But following more than 15 years of church child-abuse scandals and cover-ups, that seems to be changing. Today the relationship between the two is at an historic low, with the Holy See recalling its ambassador after Irish Prime Minister Enda Kenny launched an unprecedented public attack on the institution's handling of child-abuse allegations.
In a rare and serious diplomatic move, the ambassador Papal Nuncio returned to Rome on Monday following what a Vatican spokesman described as the "excessive reaction" in Ireland to the government's latest report on clerical abuse. The spokesman was referring to a scathing speech Kenny gave on July 20, in which he berated the Vatican for its part in covering up child-abuse allegations against its clergy. The prime minister's speech accused the Vatican of "downplaying" the "rape and torture of children" to uphold its reputation, and spoke of the "dysfunction, disconnection and elitism, the narcissism that dominates the culture of the Vatican to this day."

The inquiry, which covered 1996 to 2009, found that although the Vatican had in place a policy, developed by Irish bishops in 1996, of reporting suspected cases of clerical child abuse to police, it undermined that policy by telling bishops in 1997 that it violates church law. While awaiting a response from the Vatican (another reason the ambassador was recalled, says the spokesman), Ireland has proposed new legislation to make it a crime not to report child sex abuse, even if the act is revealed in the secrecy of the confessional — a controversial break from church law. In his speech, Kenny drew a line in the sand in regards to Ireland's traditional status as a loyal Catholic state: "This is the Republic of Ireland 2011. A republic of laws, of rights and responsibilities; of proper civic order; where the delinquency and arrogance of a particular version, of a particular kind of "morality," will no longer be tolerated or ignored."
Kenny has been widely hailed for his speech; he told reporters on Sunday that he had received thousands of messages of support and was "astounded" by the number of clergy who told him it was "about time." Campaigner and former abuse victim Andrew Madden welcomes the change from the attitudes of previous governments, which he says were "way out of step not just with victims but with wider public opinion."
Indeed, Kenny's attack carries more weight for ordinary Irish Catholics because he leads the traditionally staunchly Catholic party Fine Gael. "It was not an anti-Catholic speech, but was pro-children and pro-Ireland," Madden says. "The fact that his speech will probably not lose Kenny a single vote — but will most likely gain him some — is a sign of a shift from excessive deference in political circles and wider culture," Says Michael Kelly, deputy editor of the Irish Catholic newspaper. Thanks to more than a decade of horrific abuse scandals, the Vatican's power over ordinary Irish Catholics has grown weaker and weaker. "There has been an absolute loss of moral authority for the Church, and Catholics will increasingly privatize their faith — keeping their distance from and not looking to the hierarchy as previous generations did," Kelly says.

Read more: TIME

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