Vatican Inquiry Finds Progress in Irish Abuse Scandal

By Rachel Donadio (New York Times)
March 20, 2012

VATICAN CITY — The Roman Catholic Church in Ireland has made "excellent" progress in addressing a sexual abuse scandal and reporting new abuse cases directly to the Vatican, but would-be priests need better screening and training, according to a summary of a nearly yearlong investigation issued by the Vatican on Tuesday.

The summary also noted that there was evidence of "dissent" from church teaching among priests, religious and lay people, a "serious situation" it said should not be tolerated.

The investigation — an Apostolic Visitation, in Vatican parlance — was announced by Pope Benedict XVI in March 2010. Four high-ranking prelates chosen by the pope conducted the inquiry last year, including Cardinal Timothy M. Dolan, the archbishop of New York, and Cardinal Sean P. O'Malley of Boston.

It was part of the Vatican's response to scathing reports by the Irish government that found cases of sexual abuse by priests and evidence of a wide cover-up.

At a news conference in Dublin on Tuesday, the top Catholic official in Ireland, Cardinal Sean Brady, welcomed the findings and repeated the church's plea for forgiveness from victims, saying, "Innocent young people were abused by clerics and religious to whose care they had been entrusted, while those who should have exercised vigilance often failed to do so effectively."

One in Four, a charity representing child abuse victims, said that it appreciated the summary but that the Vatican still did not accept responsibility for its role in creating the culture that facilitated cover-ups. Maeve Lewis, the organization's executive director, also said there had been a "hardening of attitudes" when it came to compensating victims.

"We have had grotesque situations where senior churchmen meet survivors, assure them of their remorse for what happened while at the same time instructing their legal teams to defend civil compensations suits," she told Ireland's RTE News.

The sexual abuse scandal has led to a crisis in the Irish church and broader society in Ireland, as well as to tensions with Rome.

A major report on the Irish scandal released last July led to a near breakdown in diplomatic relations between the Vatican and Ireland. The so-called Cloyne Report found that clergy members in the rural diocese of Cloyne had not acted on complaints against 19 priests from 1996 to as recently as 2009, and said that the Vatican had encouraged bishops to ignore the reporting guidelines.

In response, the Vatican withdrew its ambassador to Ireland. It has since sent a new one, Archbishop Charles Brown, a New York native who was a top official at the doctrinal branch responsible for adjudicating abuse cases.

In the report issued on Tuesday, the Vatican said it had found that Irish dioceses had made progress and were now reporting all new cases of sexual abuse to that branch, the Congregation for the Doctrine of the Faith.

But it said that seminaries should have stricter admissions guidelines and should train seminarians better "on matters of child protection, with increased pastoral attention to victims of sexual abuse and their families." It urged more steps to ensure the enforcement of Ireland's child protection guidelines.

Frances Fitzgerald, Ireland's minister for children, said Tuesday that her department was finalizing a bill that would turn national guidelines on child protection into law, which would require priests to report all cases of suspected abuse to civil authorities.