Newly released U.S. diplomatic cables indicate that the Vatican felt "offended" that Ireland failed to respect Holy See "sovereignty" by asking high-ranking churchmen to answer questions from an Irish commission probing decades of sex abuse of minors by clergy.
That the Holy See used its diplomatic-immunity status as a tiny city-state to try to thwart the Irish fact-finding probe has long been known. But the WikiLeaks cables, published by Britain’s The Guardian newspaper on Saturday, contain delicate, behind-the-scenes diplomatic assessments of the highly charged situation.
The Vatican press office declined to comment on the content of the cables Saturday, but decried the leaks as a matter of "extreme seriousness."
The U.S. ambassador to the Holy See also condemned the leaks and said the Vatican and America cooperate in promoting universal values.
One leaked document published Saturday, authored in February 2010 by Rome-based diplomat Julieta Valls Noyes, cited her conversations with Irish Ambassador Noel Fahey and his deputy, Helena Keleher, about the diplomatic bind Ireland found itself in.
Ireland wanted to be seen as fully supportive of the independent probe into child-abuse cover-ups in the Dublin Archdiocese, but its Rome officials also didn’t want to intervene in the probe’s efforts to get information from the Vatican, Noyes’ report said.
Noyes reported that Irish diplomats in Rome decided not to press Vatican officials to respond to questions from the panel, which was led by an Irish judge and operated independently of Ireland’s government. It sent letters to the Vatican’s Congregation for the Doctrine of the Faith and the Vatican’s ambassador to Ireland seeking information on Vatican officials’ knowledge of cover-ups, but got no replies.
Noyes, citing a conversation with a Holy See official, wrote that the investigators’ letters "offended many in the Vatican" because they were viewed as "an affront to Vatican sovereignty."
The diplomat wrote that "adding insult to injury, Vatican officials also believed some Irish opposition politicians were making political hay with the situation by publicly calling on the government to demand that the Vatican reply."
"In the end the Irish government decided not to press the Vatican to reply," the U.S. diplomat wrote, citing Keleher.
Ireland’s Department of Foreign Affairs, the Dublin Archdiocese and the Vatican’s ambassador in Rome, Giuseppe Leanza, also declined to comment.
But one of Ireland’s most prominent campaigners against the Catholic Church’s cover-up of child abuse, Andrew Madden, said the leaked document offered more evidence that the Vatican was concerned only about protecting itself, not about admitting the truth.
"The only issue for the Vatican has been the supposed ‘failure’ of the Irish government to protect the Vatican from intrusive questions. Self-interest ruled the day when their priests were raping children," said Madden, a former altar boy who was molested by a Dublin priest. In 1995 Madden became the first person in Ireland to go public with a lawsuit against the church, opening the floodgates for hundreds of lawsuits.
The Dublin Archdiocese report, published in November 2009, found that senior church officials had kept detailed files on child-abuse reports involving 170 suspected pedophile priests since 1940 – but all the abuse was covered up until 1995, and many files were kept secret until 2004 when Dublin received a new reform-minded archbishop, Diarmuid Martin.
Saturday’s official Vatican press statement said the WikiLeaks cables "reflect the perceptions and opinions of the people who wrote them and cannot be considered as expressions of the Holy See itself." It added that the report’s "reliability must, then, be evaluated carefully and with great prudence."
The cables also contain information regarding the Vatican’s relations with the Anglican Communion, which includes the Church of England and its affiliates in more than 160 countries.
One cable reports that Britain’s ambassador to the Vatican warned that the pope’s invitation to disaffected Anglicans to join the Catholic church had chilled relations between the two churches and risked inciting a violent backlash against British Catholics.
A November 2009 file from U.S. Embassy at the Vatican quotes British envoy Francis Campbell as saying that "Anglican-Vatican relations were facing their worst crisis in 150 years as a result of the pope’s decision."
The Vatican moved last year to make it easier for traditional Anglicans upset over the appointment of female priests and gay bishops to join the Catholic Church, whose teaching holds that homosexual activity is sinful.
The pope invited Anglicans to join new "personal ordinariates," which allow them to continue to use some of their traditional liturgy and be served by married priests.
A cable quotes Campbell as saying the move put the Anglican spiritual leader, Archbishop of Canterbury Rowan Williams, "in an impossible situation." And he worried that the crisis could aggravate "latent anti-Catholicism" in majority-Protestant England.
"The outcome could be discrimination or in isolated cases, even violence, against this minority," the cable said.