Enda Kenny proclaims the Irish Act of Supremacy over Rome
He didn’t issue an edict for the dissolution of the monasteries, and he didn’t quite assert ‘The Bishop of Rome hath no jurisdiction in this realm of (Ireland)”. And neither did he proclaim: ‘No foreign prince, person, prelate, state, or potentate, hath, or ought to have, any jurisdiction, power, superiority, pre-eminence, or authority, ecclesiastical or spiritual, within this realm.’
But he might as well have done.
Speaking in the Dáil yesterday (text and video), Enda Kenny said he was outraged by the Cloyne Report , which documents how allegations of child abuse by 19 priests in Cork (yes, 19 – in just one county) were purposely covered up by the Roman Catholic Church. In one instance of obvious deception, a bishop drafted different reports for Rome and diocesan records in order to protect a paedophile priest. And this wasn’t 30, 40 or 50 years ago. It wasn’t during the immediate post-Vatican II era when we are told these things were ‘less understood’. No, we are talking about the systematic cover-up of the rape and torture of children just three years ago.
Has the Roman Catholic Church in Ireland learned nothing?
Enda Kenny evidently thinks not, so he has proclaimed the Irish Act of Supremacy: “This is not Rome,” he said. “Nor is it industrial-school or Magdalene Ireland, where the swish of a soutane smothered conscience and humanity, and the swing of a thurible ruled the Irish-Catholic world. 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.”
Setting aside the inconvenient fact that the Irish Republic is more than content to submit to the immutable precepts of the Treaty of Rome; bow the knee to foreign princes and persons in Brussels; and obey ‘the delinquency and arrogance’ of the EU’s version of a particular kind of secular morality, Enda Kenny appears to have been possessed by the spirit of Dr Ian Paisley. In fact, if you replace ‘Republic’ with ‘Kingdom’ and ‘Ireland’ with ‘Britain’, Dr Paisley could have made much of the speech. Enda Kenny unequivocally condemned the Roman Catholic Church for the ‘horrors it perpetrated, hid and denied… In the name of God. But for the good of the institution’. He denounced the ‘attempt by the Holy See, to frustrate an Inquiry in a sovereign, democratic republic’. And he thundered against clericalism, which ‘has rendered some of Ireland’s brightest, most privileged and powerful men, either unwilling or unable to address the horrors’ of paedophilia. “The Cloyne Report,” he said, “excavates the dysfunction, disconnection, elitism, the narcissism, that dominate the culture of the Vatican to this day.”
That’s good. That’s very good.
The Chairman of the Fine Gael parliamentary party, Charlie Flanagan, has demanded the expulsion of the Papal Nuncio. The Irish Parliament has issued a motion ‘deplor(ing) the Vatican's intervention, which contributed to the undermining of the child protection frameworks and guidelines of the Irish state and the Irish bishops’. And, laying down the law, they now ‘require confirmation from the Vatican that they do accept, endorse and require compliance by all Church authorities here with, the obligations to report all cases of suspected abuse, whether current or historical, to the State's authorities in line with the Children First National Guidance which will have the force of law’.
It is a classic ‘Pope or Parliament’ spat, of the sort we are very used to in England but which is a first for the predominantly Catholic Republic of Ireland. This is a country in which the church owns most schools and quite a few hospitals, and state-run broadcasters still issue a twice-daily call to Roman Catholics to fall on their knees and pray (a call which must be immensely vulnerable to challenge in the European Court of Human Rights). The present tension is between Canon Law, which permits priests accused of child abuse to appeal their cases to the Vatican, and Irish law, which demands that all suspects be immediately reported to the police. A confidential 1997 Vatican letter instructed Irish bishops to handle all allegations of child abuse strictly in accordance with Canon Law. It warned bishops that their child protection policy, particularly its emphasis on the need to report all suspected crimes to police, violated the Church’s law. The Cloyne Report reveals how one diocese in County Cork run by Bishop John Magee, a former private secretary to three popes, suppressed evidence of child rape and molestation as recently as 2009. It concludes that the Vatican was complicit, encouraging Irish bishops to collude and cover up all new crimes.
It appears, in Catholic Ireland, clerical hierarchy still rules. This is the fourth such report in the last six years to detail Rome’s attempts to conceal sexual abuse by Irish priests. The fact that the Vatican appears to be indifferent to their findings and reluctant to reform is causing potentially irreparable damage to relations between the Irish State and the Holy See: “The revelations,” Mr Kenny says, “have brought the government, Irish Catholics and the Vatican to an unprecedented juncture.”
It beggars belief, with the worldwide incidences of child rape, with new cases emerging almost by the week, that the rape and torture of children are, according to the Taoiseach, ‘downplayed or “managed” to uphold instead, the primacy of the institution, its power, standing and “reputation”.’ The inverted commas around that final word evidence Mr Kenny’s view of his church: it is devoid of humility, truth and contrition; its ‘reputation’ is tainted, if not worthless. The Vatican has adopted a ‘calculated withering position’ on clerical abuse, which he said was ‘the polar opposite of the radicalism, the humility and the compassion upon which the Roman Church was founded’. The church's leaders have repeatedly sought to defend their institutions at the expense of children and, in a delicious phrase almost worthy of Shakespeare, he seethes: “Far from listening to evidence of humiliation and betrayal with St Benedict’s ‘ear of the heart’, Vatican’s reaction was to parse and analyse it with the gimlet eye of a canon lawyer.”
The gimlet eye?
That's good! 'Gimlet eye' is good.
And not only that: the Vatican initially said they did not intend to make any specific response to this new report, and Father Federico Lombardi directly contradicted its findings, saying it was ‘somewhat strange to see the Vatican criticised so heavily’. You’ve got to admire his sense of priorities. He went on to talk of the problems of ‘mandatory reporting’ which give rise to ‘serious reservations of both a moral and a canonical nature’. He’s talking about the sanctity of the confessional, of course. Hitherto, Roman Catholics have been secure in the knowledge that they can confess their lies, lusts, greed, fornication, adultery and even murder to their priest, and it would go no further. Paedophilia, however, appears to be of a different order. His Grace can see the problem: either the confessional is confidential, or it is not. And if it is not, the sinner may think twice before unburdening himself (or herself) to the priest-informant.
But Fr Lombardi (not for the first time) fails to grasp the primary concern. In light of his astonishing arrogance, not to say public relations disaster, it comes as no surprise that Enda Kenny had no choice but to assert the primacy of the Irish Republic. The Vatican’s ‘particular kind of “morality”’ can no longer be tolerated. And, unfortunately, but quite understandably, he sets his sights firmly on the man who has probably done more than any of his predecessors to clear out the filth:
Cardinal Josef Ratzinger said: ‘Standards of conduct appropriate to civil society or the workings of a democracy cannot be purely and simply applied to the Church.’Although Cardinal Ratzinger, now Pope Benedict XVI, is quoted out of context, this declaration is seismic. Indeed, the whole speech is one of the most important in Irish history, if not one of the most significant in two millennia of Europe’s contorted church-state relations. This is not 1054, and neither is it quite 1517. But there are distinct undertones of 1534; of powers once exercised by popes being appropriated by kings; of politicians cutting a few more of those keys bequeathed to St Peter. If not quite passionately delivered, it was brilliantly written and ensures that Enda Kenny’s place in history will not be defined by bailouts or confined to economic oblivion. Brilliantly, by denouncing the Church of Rome, this Taoiseach may sufficiently deflect attention from the Treaty of Rome, whence emanates the true ‘dysfunction, disconnection, elitism, and narcissism’. Canon Law is one thing. But Community Law is quite another. On the correlation, His Grace will quote the wise observations of Lord Shore of Stepney, from his book Separate Ways:
As the Holy See prepares its considered response to the Cloyne Report, as Taoiseach, I am making it absolutely clear, that when it comes to the protection of the children of this State, the standards of conduct which the Church deems appropriate to itself, cannot and will not, be applied to the workings of democracy and civil society in this republic.
Not purely, or simply or otherwise.
…no one who has been engaged seriously in the business of examining draft EC laws and treaties can have any doubt about their quite extraordinary – and deliberate - complexity. Every new article or treaty clause is, with reference to articles in earlier treaties - generally to be located in a separate treaty volume. Indeed part of the whole mystique of Community Law is its textual incomprehensibility, its physical dispersal, its ambivalence and its dependence upon ultimate clarification by the European Court of Justice: and the Brussels Commission and their long-serving, often expert officials are, in interpreting and manipulating all this, like a priestly caste - similar to what it must have been in pre-Reformation days, when the Bible was in Latin, not English; the Pope, his cardinals and bishops decided the content of canon law and the message came down to the laymen, only when the Latin text was translated into the vernacular by the dutiful parish priest.In the words of Qoheleth, “The thing that hath been, it is that which shall be; and that which is done is that which shall be done: and there is no new thing under the sun.”
But the problem the Vatican has is that, for as long as it is giving refuge to Cardinal Bernard Law within its sacred precincts, it is simply not credible for the Pope, Fr Lombardi or anyone else to assert that the Vatican is prioritising the needs of the children. If His Holiness were really prepared to do 'everything possible' to heal this appalling wound, he would not only remove Cardinal Bernard Law from his Vatican sinecure, he would also remove his cardinal’s hat and hand him over to Boston's police department, in order that those boys who were tortured and raped on his watch, while he stealthily shuffled his paedophile priests hither and thither and lied to the authorities about their conduct, might experience justice.
Until then, we need a few more like Enda Kenny, who remind us, however imperfectly, in the spirit of Josiah and Luther, that reformation is not a monument to an event in time, but a perpetual movement of living faith.