VATICAN CITY — 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 government 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 Ireland’s government-led probe has long been known. But the WikiLeaks cables, published by the Guardian newspaper of London 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 in a statement that the Vatican and America co-operate in promoting universal values.
According to the deputy to the Irish ambassador to the Holy See, the Irish government gave in to Vatican pressure and allowed the church officials to avoid answering questions from the inquiry panel, according to one of the cables from a U.S. diplomat.
Ambassador Noel Fahey apparently told U.S. diplomat Julieta Valls Noyes that the sex abuse scandal was a tricky one to manage.
“The Vatican believes the Irish government failed to respect and protect Vatican sovereignty during the investigations,” read the cable from Noyes, deputy chief of mission.
Elsewhere in the cable the diplomat, citing a Holy See official, wrote that the inquiry commission’s requests “offended many in the Vatican” because they were viewed as “an affront to Vatican sovereignty.”
The diplomat also said 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.”
The Irish government wanted to be seen as co-operating with the investigation because its own education department was implicated in decades of abuse, but politicians were reluctant to insist Vatican officials answer the investigators’ questions, the cables indicate.
One cable discloses the behind-the-scenes diplomatic manoeuvres by which Irish politicians tried to persuade the Vatican to co-operate with the probe.
“In the end the Irish government decided not to press the Vatican reply,” the U.S. diplomat wrote, citing Fahey’s deputy, Helena Keleher.
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 reports “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.