Monday, 28 November 2011

On 27 April 2005, during the first general audience following his election, His Holiness Pope Benedict XVI placed himself firmly at the service of peace among peoples and in his first “Message for the Celebration of World Day of Peace” (New Year’s Day, 1 January 2006), he expanded on this: “I wish to reiterate the steadfast resolve of the Holy See to continue serving the cause of peace.

“The very name Benedict, which I chose on the day of my election to the Chair of Peter, is a sign of my personal commitment to peace. In taking this name, I wanted to evoke both the Patron Saint of Europe, who inspired a civilization of peace on the whole continent, and Pope Benedict XV, who condemned the First World War as a ‘useless slaughter’ and worked for a universal acknowledgment of the lofty demands of peace.”

Having so recently celebrated Christmas, it is apposite to reflect that at the outset of his Pontificate, as a catastrophic war threatened to engulf Europe, in his first encyclical Pope Benedict XV wrote: “God grant by His mercy and blessing, that the glad tidings the Angels brought at the birth of the divine Redeemer of mankind may soon echo forth as we His Vicar enter upon His Work: ‘on earth peace to men of good will.’”1

Addressing the current threats to justice and peace, Benedict XVI first singled out the scourge of terrorism, which he equated with the coevals of nihilism and fundamentalism. Of these he said: “…the nihilist denies the very existence of truth, while the fundamentalist claims to be able to impose it by force.”

But it wasn’t only terrorists with whom the Holy Father was concerned, for governments and big business also undermine peace: “One can only note with dismay the evidence of a continuing growth in military expenditure and the flourishing arms trade, while the political and juridical process established by the international community for promoting disarmament is bogged down in general indifference.”

Civil society so threatened in all corners of the globe, the role of the Church was clear: “In view of the risks which humanity is facing in our time, all Catholics in every part of the world have a duty to proclaim and embody ever more fully the ‘Gospel of Peace’…”

All these words of the Holy Father resonate with those spoken by Pius XII shortly after his election as another World War loomed imminently on Europe’s horizon: “It is by force of reason, and not by force of arms, that justice makes progress. Empires which are not founded on justice are not blessed by God. Statesmanship emancipated from morality betrays those very ones who would have it so. The danger is imminent, but there is yet time. Nothing is lost by peace; everything may be lost by war.”

Nothing is lost by peace; everything may be lost by war! These most eloquent words, spoken by Pius XII, were in fact coined by his sostituto, Mgr Battista Montini, the future Pope Paul VI. Do they not encapsulate the very essence of the message of Catholic Christianity as put forward by our present Pontiff so often in the short time since his election?

But His Holiness has also pointed out that others, too, apart from the Catholic Church and Faithful, have responsibilities for advancing this message; and some at least have not been found wanting.

In his Message, Pope Benedict noted: “I wish to express gratitude to the international organizations and to all those who are daily engaged in the application of international humanitarian law… By their commitment to safeguarding the good of peace, the various agencies of the international community will regain the authority needed to make their initiatives credible and effective.”

Moreover, His Holiness was not unmindful of what is nowadays referred to as ‘the peace dividend’. He explained that the New Millennium commitment to end poverty was inextricably linked to disarmament, saying: “The first to benefit from a decisive choice for disarmament will be the poor countries, which rightly demand, after having heard so many promises, the concrete implementation of their right to development.

“That right was solemnly reaffirmed in the recent General Assembly of the United Nations Organization, which this year celebrated the sixtieth anniversary of its foundation.

“The Catholic Church, while confirming her confidence in this international body, calls for the institutional and operative renewal which would enable it to respond to the changed needs of the present time, characterized by the vast phenomenon of globalisation. The United Nations Organization must become a more efficient instrument for promoting the values of justice, solidarity and peace in the world.”

New Nuncio to Ireland

The new Apostolic Nuncio to Ireland is Mgr Charles John (Charlie) Brown, heretofore an official of the Congregation for the Doctrine of the Faith. Mgr Brown was called to Rome in 1994 to work in the CDF and served under His Holiness until the death of Pope John Paul II in 2005.

Roma locuta est. And how!

The new Nuncio has not, as is the usual case, been selected from within the Holy See’s diplomatic corps by the Secretary of State, advised by his two most senior collaborators, the Secretary of State Substitute for General Affair (Sostituto) and the Secretary for Relations with States.

Pope Benedict has sent a clear and unambiguous message to the Church, the Government and, and by no means least, the people of Ireland: “Ireland may seem to turn her back on Rome, but Rome will never turn her back on Ireland. And I send this man whom I personally have chosen as my token of my word.”

As he has done so often in the past, when looking to make a key appointment, His Holiness has looked to his closest collaborators, usually in the Congregation for the Doctrine of the Faith (the CDF) and on the International Theological Commission (the ITC), but twice he has advanced the curial careers of the sostituti who have worked with him.

Most importantly, of course, he chose Tarcisio Cardinal Bertone, formerly Secretary of the CDF, to succeed His Eminence Angelo Sodano as Cardinal Secretary of State. Cardinal Bertone is not a product of the Pontifical Ecclesiastical Academy, the academia, and so had no background in papal diplomacy. And that is also the case with Mgr Brown.

Although the announcement of his appointment was made on Saturday, November 26, the Pope’s decision to pick Mgr Brown for the post would have been made some weeks ago. The Vatican doesn’t just come up with a name and then announce it. The nominee has to be cleared by the host Government. Despite recent problems between the Irish Government and the Holy See, the nomination would not have been expected to cause any problems.

In the weeks since he consented to his appointment, Mgr Brown will have been undergoing a crash course in Vatican diplomacy and, in particular, on the Vatican’s relations with Ireland, both recent and since independence. That course will continue, and intensify, in the weeks leading up to his episcopal ordination (for which no date has as yet been set, but usually it takes about six weeks; on this occasion, since Mgr Brown has worked so closely with the Pope at the CDF, one would expect His Holiness to offer Mgr Brown the option of being episcopally ordained in St Peter’s with the Holy Father officiating).

Of course, the director of this crash course is a man of no inconsiderable significance for the future relations between Rome and Dublin. And that man is a priest of the Diocese of Motherwell, Mgr Leo Cushley, Head of the English Language Section of the Secretariat of State.

Thursday, 13 October 2011

Comments on The (Glasgow) Herald Letters on Same-sex marriage

On Wednesday, Oct 12, there were three Letters to the Editor published in The Herald. I replied to one from Tim Hopkins, Equality Network, 30 Bernard Street, Edinburgh. Naturally, as per usual The Herald declined to publish my response. (That they recently published my Letter to the Editor re Bishop Hugh Gilbert was very much an exception to their usual rule and was doubtless a result of the Letters boys having little choice as it related to a matter on which one of their senior journalists had interviewed me some weeks earlier. See below.)

This was by no means Hopknss first Letter to the Editor on the topic. For illustrative purposes, the purpose of which illustration being to demonstrate the intellectual paucity and dishonesty of his contributions, I will give in full his Letter of Sept 20. He wrote (my comments in square brackets, in red):


“The report of Brian Souter’s comments about marriage states that five MSPs have signed a Parliamentary motion saying that churches should not be forced to approve same-sex marriages (“Society will implode if marriage fails, warns Stagecoach tycoon”, The Herald, September 19).

“Four MSPs signed that motion, including its author, John Mason, but no-one is proposing churches be forced to do anything. [In 2004 no-one was proposing same-sex marriage, but they are back now not ‘proposing’ but demanding exactly that.] It should also have been reported that 50 MSPs signed Patrick Harvie’s counter motion supporting same-sex marriage. [Why should it also have been reported that 50 MSPs had signed the pro-homosexualist motion? That was not the story. Are the homosexualist lobby now demanding that all reporting/comment on this matter should be balanced, objective? No, this is evidence of the homofascism now so evident in the USA and Canada having swiftly crossed the pond.]

“Mr Souter says stable marriage-based families are the bedrock of society. There are excellent families where the parents are not married, or only one parent is present. [But they are NOT the bedrock of society.] And there are excellent families headed by same-sex couples. [But they are NOT the bedrock of society, even if they can be shown to be in any way ‘excellent’. They are also, excellent or nay, an infinitesimally small and hence statistically irrelevant segment of society.] If Mr Souter believes marriage is good for mixed-sex couples, their children, and society, surely it would also be good for same-sex couples, their children and society?[ Non sequitur.]

“Why should the children of same-sex couples be discriminated against [they aren’t] by denying their parents the choice of the same married status as other parents? [The same-sex couple themselves made a choice, a choice by which they excluded themselves from the institution of marriage. Marriage preceded the state and so the state cannot legitimately legislate to redefine it.]


I will not quote Hopkins’s Letter of Wednesday, it would take too long to type out. My unpublished reply read:

“Scotland’s Catholic bishops are being castigated for doing what the Scottish Government claim they want us all to do: engage in a dialogue about same-sex marriage. Apparently, you are only allowed to talk if you say what the homosexualist, it would be more accurate to say homofascist, lobby want you to say.

“Mind you, unlike some of them our bishops aren’t so wrapped up in this question that they are neglecting other matters. Domestic violence, poverty and war: the Catholic Church here in Scotland, led from the front by our bishops, are actively involved. Mind you, you won’t read about it in your newspapers because not everything our bishops say and do is ‘automatically newsworthy’ (Tim Hopkins, Letters, Oct 12). For example, did you know that the Catholic Church was the first, and remains the biggest, provider of HIV/Aids care in Africa? Thought not.

“Hopkins states that according to the Scottish Social Attitudes Survey 61% of Scots ‘support same-sex marriage’ with only 19% opposed to it.

“I am no expert on statistics and sampling methodology and those sampled may or may not represent a statistically fair cross-section of the Scottish people, but all that can be said is that of those sampled, 1500 or so, 21%, 300 or so, were prepared to tick the box on the questionnaire which indicated that they were strongly in agreement with the statement ‘Gay or lesbian couples should have the right to marry one another if they want to.’

“79%, or 1,300 or so, weren’t.

“There is, of course, a world of difference between ticking a box on a form that someone leaves for you after having had a nice wee chat — and you want to please them, I presume but wouldn’t know as I’ve never been sampled and neither has anybody I know — and ticking a box on a ballot paper in a booth in your local primary school. That involves a real choice, with real consequences.

Since Tim Hopkins is so confident that the support for his position is so overwhelming, and in any election support of 61% of the population would be overwhelming, I presume that he will be entirely happy to see me soon have the opportunity of casting a ballot on the matter? Referenda should only be held for matters of the greatest import and what can be more important than the very foundation upon which our society, our civilisation is based: the family? And that is the family as we know it.

Hopkins also states that his carefully constructed 69% included a majority of Catholics. This is ambiguous but I presume he meant that of those interviewed who self-identified themselves as Catholics most indicated what he has interpreted as support for same-sex marriage.

This would be interesting IF it were true. However, I have searched through the material published on the Scottish Government website and can find absolutely no justification whatsoever for this assertion. Christians are not further subdivided.

Strangely, Hopkins insists that the introduction of civil partnerships in 2004 hasn’t, contrary to the then stated fears of the Catholic hierarchy, undermined marriage. If it hasn’t, then how come he is now back doing his Oliver Twist and demanding more?

Some years ago I pointed out in these columns that Parliament had in its wisdom voted to make homosexual acts between consenting couples in private legal but that it hadn’t made them compulsory. Today I add ‘as yet’. Yours etc


That Letter on Bishop Hugh Gilbert (see above) was published on Aug 16 and read:


“Rebecca Gray (Ex-monk is first of the new bishops, p11, Aug 15) refers to Bishop Hugh Gilbert as a ‘former monk once chosen by Pope Benedict XVI to be the next leader of the Roman Catholic Church in England and Wales’.

She later refers to a piece by Gerry Braden earlier in the year which highlighted the fact that all but two of Scotland’s Catholic bishops will have to be replaced within the not too distant future. Since I was quoted by Gerry in his piece, and since the hierarchy and their official spokesmen are busy elsewhere (hence the article), perhaps you will allow me to comment on the above?

Firstly, Bishop Hugh is not an ‘ex-monk’. He continues to be a professed Benedictine, as evidenced by the fact that he will continue to be known by his name in religion, Hugh, and not by his baptismal name, Edward. He has, of course, for the foreseeable future been freed from his obligation to ‘stability’, to remain resident within the abbatial cloister. Hopefully, in the fullness of time, should the good Lord grant him sufficiently in excess of the proverbial three score years and ten, he will return thereto.

Secondly, Bishop Hugh was never ‘chosen by’ Pope Benedict to be ‘the next leader’ of the Catholic Church in England and Wales. Between Cardinal Murphy-O’Connor submitting his resignation as Archbishop of Westminster on his 75th birthday (Aug 4, 2007) and the appointment of Archbishop Vincent Nicholls as his successor (Apr 3, 2009) many kites were flown. In The Times, Bishop Philip Tartaglia of Paisleywas put forward as a serious proposition by Ruth Gledhill (November 22, 2008). Abbot (now Bishop) Hugh was posited by Simon Caldwell in the Daily Mail (Jan 1, 2009).

Laugh? I nearly took out a couple of subscriptions.


I had the good fortune to meet Archbishop Nicholls, whom I correctly predicted for the position of Archbishop of Westminster as soon as it became vacant (and thereafter stuck with), at Bamburgh during my recent annual holiday on the north Northumberland coast. If you want another prediction, I look forward to meeting him in Rome when (and not if) he is made a cardinal, probably in November of 2012. Yours etc”


Monday, 10 October 2011

Cardinal Andre Armand Vingt-Trois of Paris





These photos were taken by me in St Peter's Basilica on the Monday morning of the consistory weekend in November 2007.

Sunday, 25 September 2011

Freeing of the Lockerbie Bomber

When on the night of December 21, 1988, a part of the debris from the explosion aboard Clipper Maid of the Seas, Pan Am Flight 103, landed on their home at 16 Sherwood Crescent, Lockerbie, Kathleen Flannigan (nee Doolan, aged 41 years), her husband, Thomas (44) and their daughter Joanne (10) were killed instantly. Sadly, no remains of Kathleen or Thomas were subsequently recovered. Their younger son Steven (14) was at a neighbour’s house where that neighbour was kindly checking out the new bicycle Joanne was to get as a Christmas present. From the neighbour’s garage, Steven saw the fireball that engulfed his home. After what seems to have been a serious fall out with his parents, Steven’s older brother, David (19) had left home a few weeks earlier to stay with a friend in Blackpool. However, some sort of reconciliation had been achieved and his mother had told her friend that David was coming home on Boxing Day. Both boys both later died in unfortunate, indeed, tragic circumstances.

This family were the sister, brother-in-law, niece and nephews of a good friend of mine, Peter Doolan, during my schooldays at Our Lady’s High School, Motherwell. They were also the daughter, son-in-law, granddaughter and grandsons of a teaching colleague at St Aidan’s High School, Wishaw. Unfortunately, I did not get to know Lawrence Doolan as well as I would have liked because he was on sick leave when I joined the staff in January, 1980, and only returned briefly before retiring when the school broke up for the summer holidays.

I would hope that it would be accepted that I am hence anxious that justice be done for and on behalf of all the victims of that dastardly act, but what has long concerned me is not the guilt or otherwise of Abdelbaset Ali Mohmed al-Megrahi. No, what I would like to know is this: Why did Her Majesty’s Government − the real one, the one with its head office in Downing Street – not intervene to prevent the Scottish administration freeing Megrahi from prison on compassionate grounds?

Why did Her Majesty’s Labour Government not insist that barring a decision by the Scottish justiciary to free him, he must remain in prison? And, and just as important, why did none of the Opposition, particular the Tories, demand that they do?

In all that has ever been discussed in the print media, on TV and the Radio as well as at both Westminster and Holyrood, both before and after Megrahi was allowed to return home, it has been taken as a given that any decision to release him from Greenock Prison could only be taken by the Scottish administration. And that is perfectly correct. But only in so far as it goes.

Under the devolution disposition, in relation to legislation ALL matters concerning national security, foreign policy and foreign relations are reserved to Westminster. Similarly, in relation to executive action ALL matters concerning national security, foreign policy and foreign relations are reserved to Whitehall.

Megrahi’s arrest, detention, trial, imprisonment and then, finally, the decision to set him free on licence intimately involved all elements of that oft times unholy trinity: national security, foreign policy and foreign relations.

At all material times Megrahi was a Foreign Service officer of the Libyan State Security apparatus, acting on instructions of his government. As far as I know, he remains one; although, obviously, now on sick leave. His actions, whatever they may have been, were for and on behalf of that government. Even his surrender to the Scottish authorities was done under instruction of that government.

Innocuously enough styled Head of Airport Security, since Megrahi’s normal activities would have impinged on our national security then surely even prior to the heinous crime which brought him to world attention he, his activities and his professional associates would have been of interest to the Secret Intelligence Service, MI6, and, in all probability, to the Security Service, MI5?

It seems self-evident that in anticipation of the possibility of Megrahi’s release it would have been obvious to those in Downing Street, Whitehall and Edinburgh that any decision to release him would hazard serious implications for our national security and our foreign relations. And, indeed, as to the latter our relations with the USA were severely damaged.

Predictably so since the deal to have Megrahi and Lamin Khalifah Fhimah put on trial was negotiated by the Foreign Office who gave assurances to our most cherished foreign partner that there would be no question of parole if convictions were secured. Life would mean life.

Presumably for both the Blair and Brown administrations there was some foreign policy imperative which made breaking that promise, and the deterioration in relations with the United States that would, and duly did, ensue acceptable to Downing Street and Whitehall.

But why should I think that Downing Street and Whitehall could have prevented Megrahi’s release?

Consider this, those apprehended in Scotland in relation to the bombing at Glasgow airport were interrogated and put on trial outwith the jurisdiction of the Scottish courts. This was also true of the accused arrested in Scotland. He was removed from the jurisdiction for reasons of national security. Elish Angiolini, the Lord Advocate, graciously acceded to the request from Downing Street and Whitehall.

Had she been daft enough not to so accede it would have been pointed out to her from south of the border that the courts, even the Scottish courts, would not have supported her as the constitutional arrangements put in place for devolution to go ahead made it clear that national security, as also foreign relations, trumped delegated powers in all areas.

And that includes the control of prisons and prisoners. Her Majesty’s Government, the real one, both avoided and evaded their responsibilities for national security and foreign relations by not instructing the Scottish administration not to free Megrahi and, had they demurred, then taking them to the Court of Session. I am no lawyer, but I cannot envision that a recourse to the Supreme Court in London would have been necessary.

It was Denis Healy who said that the difference between tax avoidance and tax evasion was the thickness of a prison cell wall. Those who evaded their responsibilities by allowing Megrahi’s release should remember that omission is as much of a sin as commission.

The Cloyne Report

An Éamon de Valera, or a Sean Lemass, or, even, a humble Jack Lynch, he ain’t.

Enda Kenny was born in 1951, third of the five children of Ethne and Henry Kenny, an All-Ireland Gaelic footballer (1936, Mayo), Fine Gael TD, and Parliamentary Private Secretary who died shortly after being diagnosed with cancer in 1975. Henry’s election was entirely due to his prominence in GAA circles, neither he nor any of his antecedents were politicians.

After reading the Holy See’s response to the Cloyne Report and associated matters, it could be argued that neither is his son.

When Henry died, the party wanted one of his sons to stand in the by-election and the ticket went to Enda, then just turned 24 years and a nascent primary school teacher. He became the youngest TD in the 20th Dail and is today, apart from being the Prime Minister (Taoiseach), the Father of the House, the longest serving member elected to the 31st Dail.

Kenny the younger’s accession to high office is testament to endurance and not to intellectual ability, political acumen, oratorical skill, or charisma. He was in the wrong queue when such gifts were on offer. That notwithstanding, he has secured for himself a place all of his own in Ireland’s long, glorious and oft’ times harrowing history as a Catholic country. And for a most unsavoury reason which curiously for modern-day Irish politics didn’t even involve bribery and corruption, let alone tax evasion never mind jobs for the boys.

Unless the boy involved is his speech-writer.

On Wednesday, July 20, just before 2 pm he rose in the Dail to launch a vicious, nasty and wholly unjustified, and unjustifiable, attack upon the Church IN as well as OF Rome, and of Rome’s representatives to the Republic of Ireland, successive Apostolic Nuncios.

Scathing from the outset, Kenny opined: “(F)or the first time in this country a report into child sexual-abuse exposes an attempt by the Holy See, to frustrate an Inquiry in a sovereign, democratic republic as little as three years ago, not three decades ago. And in doing so, the Cloyne Report excavates the dysfunction, disconnection, elitism that dominate the culture of the Vatican to this day. The rape and torture of children were downplayed or ‘managed’ to uphold instead, the primacy of the institution, its power, standing and ‘reputation’.”

It couldn’t get any worse? It did!

For he then went on to witheringly observe: “Far from listening to evidence of humiliation and betrayal with St Benedict’s ‘ear of the heart’ the Vatican’s reaction was to parse and analyse it with the gimlet eye of a canon lawyer.”

A nasty picture did he indeed paint of the Vatican and all its works. Or, rather, did the aforementioned speech-writer. The only problem is that it bears no resemblance to the truth. Unless, of course, you consider that Bishop John Magee and Msgr Denis O’Callaghan ARE the Vatican.

And when the Leader of the Opposition, Fainna Fáil’s Michael Martin, rose to second the Taoiseach’s motion — an unusual occurrence designed to emphasise the unity of the House — distortion, exaggeration and half-truth were again preferred to fact. This was also the case with subsequent contributors to the debate. In Ireland as else- and everywhere, sticking to the facts seldom leads to the laudatory headlines from which votes are cast.

Mr Martin stated as “undeniable facts” that “the Church’s leadership in the diocese and in Rome showed a callous disregard for (the) safety and the rights of the most vulnerable members of its flock.” Last year he had warned the Papal Nuncio that “the Irish State expected the Vatican’s full co-operation in the investigation into abuse in the Cloyne diocese and in all other investigations. Its defensiveness and focus on the institutional interests of the church rather than those of the children abused by its clergy and shielded by its leaders will continue to cause great damage.”

Next up was Dara Calleary, TD for Mayo: “… the strongest message should be directed at those who covered it up in Cloyne, the Vatican and elsewhere … (who) in full knowledge of the horrendous impact of abuse arising from previous commissions of inquiries, cases and disclosures and in full knowledge of the fact that it was either happening within their own organisation or in their area, proceeded with contempt for survivors and victims, contempt for their own Church and the members and colleagues who serve it, and contempt, IN THE CASE OF THE VATICAN, FOR THE LAWS OF AN INDEPENDENT NATION STATE with, ultimately, a shared contempt for the truth” (emphasis added).

The leader of parliamentary Sinn Féin, TD Caoimhghín Ó Caoláin, then rose in indignation to confess: “While Sinn Féin supports the motion, we would have preferred to see the stronger language contained in a previous draft employed. The motion expresses how the House deplores the Vatican’s intervention which contributed to the undermining of the child protection frameworks and guidelines of the State and Irish bishops. Previously, the motion expressed condemnation. We in Sinn Féin still express condemnation of this scandalous intervention.”

So what was this allegedly “scandalous intervention” to which Enda Kenny had adverted earlier, the Holy See’s alleged attempt “to frustrate an Inquiry in a sovereign, democratic republic as little as three years ago, not three decades ago”.

In the following day’s Irish Times it was claimed that the Taoiseach had no specific incident in mind as the basis for this reference to “three years ago”. This is being economical with the truth, to say the least. To create oratorical effect Kenny’s speech-writer had placed “three” in counterpoint to “three decades” when in fact the matters adverted to had occurred thirteen or fourteen years ago.

The Cloyne report highlights a letter sent in 1997 to the members of the Irish Catholic Bishops’ Conference by the then Apostolic Nuncio to Ireland, the late Archbishop Luciano Storero. His Excellency wrote at the request, and under direction from, the Congregation for the Clergy, then headed by Cardinal Dario Castrillon Hoyos.

The letter concerned a document which after publication was originally referred to as “The Green Book”. Its correct title was in fact “Child Sexual Abuse: Framework for a Church Response” and had been drafted by the Irish Catholic Bishops’ Advisory Committee on Child Sexual Abuse by Priests and Religious.

This Committee was established in 1994 under the Chairmanship of the Most Rev. Laurence
Forristal, then Bishop of Ossory, now retired, and was tasked to identify guidelines for dealing with instances of allegations of, or suspicions of, child sexual abuse by a priest or other religious. The members of the Committee were drawn from the hierarchy, the secular clergy, religious orders and various relevant professions — Psychiatry, Paediatrics, Law, Canon Law; the world of Communications was also represented.

On December 23, 1995, the Committee faxed a copy to the Congregation for the Clergy, with which it had been in contact throughout. It seems likely that copies would have also been made available to other relevant dicasteries for their consideration. One would imagine that this would have involved: the Secretariat of State; the Congregations for Faith, Bishops, Institutes of Consecrated Life and Societies of Apostolic Life; the Sacred Penitentiary, the Apostolic Signatura and the Sacred Roman Rota, the three Tribunals of the Roman Curia; and, the Pontifical Council for the Interpretation of Legislative Texts. The list is neither inclusive nor exclusive, merely a personal expectation of who might have been involved.

The document and the Vatican’s response to it have suffered because of the simple fact that no-one has paid any attention to the document’s correct title, its origin and, and most importantly, why it was sent to the Vatican. Or perhaps they have merely, wilfully or otherwise, misinformed themselves about it.

Whilst the Episcopal Conference were entitled to ask that all members adopt the recommendations contained in the report, to become an official document of the Conference, CANONICALLY BINDING on all members and those under their jurisdiction, it had to be ratified by Rome, in accordance with universal Church law and procedure and as provided for in the Conference’s constitution. Drafted by a mix of laity, religious (male and female), clergy and prelate, it had to be adopted, adapted if necessary, into the corpus of the Canon Law and for that scrutiny by the relevant dicasteries in Rome and the adoption of any suggestions they might make would not be enough. “Recognitio” would have had to be sought, and granted, from the Congregation for Bishops: this was never done by the Irish Bishops’ Conference.

In any case, as a result of that scrutiny, Archbishop Storero wrote to the Irish Bishops and informed them that in the considered opinion of the Congregation for the Clergy, no doubt advised by other dicasteries, the document contained “procedures and dispositions which appear contrary to canonical discipline and which, if applied, could INVALIDATE THE ACTS OF THE SAME BISHOPS WHO ARE ATTEMPTING TO PUT A STOP TO THESE PROBLEMS” (emphasis added).

In other words, the Congregation for the Clergy were concerned that if the Irish Bishops implemented the proposals, and they WERE NOT PROHIBITING THEIR IMPLEMENTATION, they might in fact not help to deal with the problem because errant priests could appeal firstly, at diocesan level and then, secondly, to Rome. So, instead of decisive action we would have uncertainty and delay.

In one of the Dublin cases, when the matter was referred on appeal to Rome, by Papal authority the prelate auditors, the judges, of the Tribunal of the Sacred Roman Rota were asked to handle the case. They wisely ruled that it would be far better to retain the errant priest as a priest under the canonical authority of the ordinary (the bishop) of the Archdiocese of Dublin with the proviso that that authority direct him to a cloistered and monitored life in a monastery under discipline.

This way, there would not be, or, at the very least, there shouldn’t have been, the opportunity of further contact with children and the consequent opportunity to offend. In time, it is believed a period of no less than ten years was envisaged, the offender priest might have become, or might have been induced by treatment to become, safe to return to the wider community, with restrictions and under continuing supervision, either still as a priest or otherwise.

This brilliant decision was attacked in Ireland, and furth of Ireland, by what can only now be described as “the usual suspects”. Un-cloistered and unmonitored by Church or State, this danger to children remained at large, free to offend again, and again. And that is exactly what he did.

The nuncio concluded his letter to the Irish Bishops by spelling out the problem: “in the sad cases of accusations of sexual abuse by clerics, the procedures established by the Code of Canon Law must be meticulously followed under pain of invalidity of the acts involved if the priest so punished were to make hierarchical recourse against his Bishop.”

This is of absolutely no relevance to the civil criminal law! Such an appeal might, and hopefully could only, be launched from within a prison cell.

All the Nuncio is spelling out is that if you get the technicalities of enforced laicization (defrocking) wrong then the offender priest can drag it out. Yes, doing damage to the “image” of the Church, but far more importantly increasing the suffering of the victim and prolonging the anguish of his family and his friends; as also the anguish of the family and friends of the offender priest. And the parishioners involved.

And it must be remembered that often the latter might not be all that the priest and victim have in common, for they may very well share family and friends.