Vatican rejects Irish parliament child abuse rebuke

ROME Sat Sep 3, 2011 1:50pm EDT

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ROME (Reuters) - The Vatican Saturday rejected accusations from the Irish parliament that it had sought to cover up child sex abuse by its priests and undermine child protection laws.

In its first formal response to the rebuke made by the Irish parliament in July, the Holy See said it was "sorry and ashamed" for the abuse of children by priests but that accusations of Vatican interference in Irish law were "unfounded."

"In this regard, the Holy See wishes to make it quite clear that it in no way hampered or sought to interfere in any inquiry into cases of child sex abuse in the Diocese of Cloyne," the Vatican said in a statement.

"Furthermore, at no stage did the Holy See seek to interfere with Irish civil law or impede the civil authority in the exercise of its duties," it said.

The Vatican response follows a motion passed by the Irish parliament in July, accusing the Holy See of "undermining child protection frameworks" after a damning report into sexual abuse by priests in the diocese of Cloyne in county Cork.

The Church's dominant position in traditionally Catholic Ireland has been shattered by reports of widespread sexual abuse of children by priests over decades, often ignored or dismissed by senior figures in authority.

The Cloyne report painted a grim picture of systematic attempts by senior clergy to hush abuse allegations as recently as 2009, accusing the Vatican of abetting the cover-up.

It pointed in particular to a 1997 letter to Irish bishops from the Vatican's envoy in Ireland which described a so-called framework document containing Irish church guidelines on dealing with abuse allegations as "merely a study document."

"TECHNICAL AND LEGALISTIC"

Ireland's deputy Prime Minister Eamon Gilmore said on Saturday that he acknowledged the church took the "appalling evidence" of child abuse in Cloyne seriously but said its response was very "technical and legalistic."

"In relation to the Framework Document, I remain of the view that the 1997 letter from the then Nuncio provided a pretext for some to avoid full cooperation with the Irish civil authorities," he said in a statement.

In a 25-page response outlining the background to the case, the Vatican said the Cloyne report had uncovered "grave failures" in ecclesiastical governance and in the handling of sexual abuse cases.

It said the 1997 letter from the papal envoy "could be open to misinterpretation, giving rise to understandable criticism" but said it was not a dismissal of efforts by the bishops to address the problem of child abuse.

In a long examination of the status of the sex abuse guidelines it concluded that the Framework Document was not intended to be a binding code but was rather an advisory paper for bishops on improving child protection measures.

It also took particular issue with Kenny's quotation in a speech to parliament on July 20 of a phrase from the then-Cardinal Joseph Ratzinger, now Pope Benedict.

Kenny quoted a doctrinal text signed by Ratzinger that said: "Standards of conduct appropriate to civil society or the workings of a democracy cannot be purely and simply applied to the Church."

The Vatican said the phrase had been taken out of context and did not refer to how the Church should behave in civil society or with issues of child protection but to a theologian's service to the Church community.

(Additional reporting by Padraic Halpin in Dublin)

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