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Vatican calls its envoy home amid Irish outrage over abuse

Report on scandal faulted Rome

CONSULTING ON RESPONSE A Vatican spokesman said the recall of Archbishop Giuseppe Leanza (left) “denoted the seriousness of the situation.” CONSULTING ON RESPONSE
A Vatican spokesman said the recall of Archbishop Giuseppe Leanza (left) “denoted the seriousness of the situation.”
By Rachel Donadio
New York Times / July 26, 2011

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ROME - The Vatican recalled its ambassador to Ireland yesterday, citing reaction to a recent Ireland government report that said the Vatican had discouraged efforts by bishops to report cases of sexual abuse to the police.

A spokesman for the Vatican said the recall of the nuncio, Archbishop Giuseppe Leanza, was a rare move that “denoted the seriousness of the situation’’ as well as the Holy See’s “will to deal with it with objectivity and determination.’’

The spokesman, the Rev. Ciro Benedettini, told reporters that the archbishop would return to Rome to consult with Vatican officials who are preparing the Holy See’s official response to the government on the report, but added that the decision “does not exclude some degree of surprise and disappointment at certain excessive reactions.’’

The government report, conducted by an independent investigative committee and released July 13, found that clergy members in the rural Irish diocese of Cloyne did not act on complaints against 19 priests from 1996 to as recently as 2009.

More damningly, it said that the Vatican had encouraged bishops to ignore child protection guidelines adopted by Irish bishops in 1996 that included “mandatory reporting’’ of abuse to the civil authorities.

The report this month caused a firestorm in Ireland, a country long dominated by the church. For the first time, lawmakers in Ireland aimed their ire at the Vatican directly and not at local church leaders.

Last week, Ireland’s prime minister, Enda Kenny, denounced “the dysfunction, disconnection, elitism, and the narcissism that dominate the culture of the Vatican to this day,’’ in a speech that represented the government’s sharpest direct attack on the Roman Catholic leadership.

The prime minister told Parliament last week that “the rape and torture of children were downplayed or ‘managed’ to uphold, instead, the primacy of the institution, its power, standing, and ‘reputation.’ ’’

Kenny added that the Vatican had not listened “to evidence of humiliation and betrayal’’ with compassion but had instead chosen “to parse and analyze it with the gimlet eye of a canon lawyer.’’ The Irish Parliament also passed a motion denouncing the Vatican’s role in “undermining child-protection frameworks.’’

Eamon Gilmore, the deputy prime minister who called the archbishop to a meeting last week to demand a formal response from the Vatican on the report’s findings, had a muted response to the recall.

Gilmore said the government of Ireland was awaiting the Vatican’s response, “and it is to be expected that the Vatican would wish to consult in depth with the nuncio on its response.’’

Commentators in Ireland said that the recall might have been a Vatican move to preempt growing calls for Leanza’s expulsion.

The Cloyne Report is Ireland’s fourth on the pedophilia scandal since 1994, when the government fell over the state’s failure to confront a known pedophile priest. But it is the first to point a finger directly at Rome.

It cited a confidential letter by a former Vatican ambassador to Ireland who said the child protection policies adopted in 1996 violated canon law and dismissed them as “a study document.’’

The report said that letter “effectively gave individual Irish bishops the freedom to ignore the procedures’’ and “gave comfort and support’’ to priests who “dissented from the stated Irish church policy.’’

The Cloyne Report also found that two accusations against one priest were reported to the police, but that there was no evidence of any subsequent inquiry. It singled out Bishop John Magee, the former bishop of Cloyne, for not acting on accusations of abuse.

Maeve Lewis, the director of One in Four, a group representing victims of sexual abuse by priests, said that “the Vatican fails to realize the extent of the outrage felt here and the widespread feeling of relief that an Irish government is at last willing to stand up to the Vatican.’’

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