Details were published on Tuesday by the Catholic Church in Ireland, which is struggling amid a decline in public support, financial pressures and tensions with the Dublin government over how it has mishandled sex abuse inquiries.
“With a great sense of pain and shame, it must be acknowledged that within the Christian community 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,” said the Church in a seven-page summation of the report, written by Vatican officials.
The report was commissioned by Pope Benedict XVI in the wake of the publication of another, commissioned by the Irish government, which detailed widespread sexual abuse of children by clerics and cover-ups across several decades.
The Vatican report acknowledges shortcomings by Irish bishops and religious superiors in dealing with sex abuse cases. However, it says that, in the 1990s, progressive steps were taken to raise awareness of the problem. The report concludes that current protection guidelines are being followed.
The report recommends that priests’ training be overhauled. It says that training courses should include “in-depth formation on matters of child protection, with increased pastoral attention to victims of sexual abuse and their families”. It also calls for changes to how seminaries are run and for new admission criteria to be brought in for men wishing to join the priesthood.
Campaigners against abuse welcomed the publication. Some groups, including One in Four, criticised the Vatican’s failure to acknowledge its own role in sustaining a culture that enabled the cover-ups.
Hundreds of cases of abuse have been catalogued over several decades by commissions of inquiry set up by the Irish government. The most recent, published in July 2011, found the response of the Church authorities to allegations in the diocese of Cloyne, in County Cork, was “inadequate and inappropriate”. It criticised the Vatican, which it said was “entirely unhelpful” to any bishop who wanted to implement procedures for dealing with allegations.
Enda Kenny, Ireland’s prime minister, responded to the Cloyne report by making an unprecedented attack on the Vatican by an Irish leader. His speech to parliament in Dublin made headlines around the world.
“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 . . . this calculated, withering position being the polar opposite of the radicalism, humility and compassion upon which the Roman Church was founded,” said Mr Kenny.
Dublin has since closed its embassy to the Vatican, on the grounds of saving costs.
The Church in Ireland faces falling attendance and a financial crisis exacerbated by compensation claims over abuse. In Dublin, fewer than one in five Catholics attends weekly mass. And, while national attendance is estimated to be higher, probably around 45 per cent, it is a far cry from the attendance rate 30 years ago of 88 per cent.
The Vatican’s report was drawn up following an “apostolic visitation” to Ireland carried out by four senior Church officials in early 2011. They met Church leaders, priests, trainee priests and victims of abuse. The report recommends that authorities in the Irish Church should continue to devote time to listening to victims and providing support for them and their families.