On Wednesday, July 13, the Irish government finally released the “Cloyne Report” from the commission investigating claims of child sexual abuse and the subsequent cover-up in one of Ireland’s largest dioceses. The former Archbishop of Cloyne, John McGee (a career Vatican bureaucrat and former personal secretary to Popes Paul VI, John Paul I, and John Paul II,) was eventually forced to resign his see in March 2010, after two years of voluble resistance. The 400-page report details what many of the faithful in the Cork diocese already knew — that McGee and others in the diocesan curia had persistently and willfully failed to implement child protection policies mandated by the Vatican while protecting priests accused of molesting children. Worse, this was done with the apparent connivance of the Vatican itself, which in a statement of bewildering double-think claimed that the stringent guidelines issued by the Irish church and followed carefully in many dioceses were merely “a study guide.” On top of it all, it is clear that McGee lied to state authorities when he claimed that the diocese had reported all cases of sex abuse as required by law and the Church’s own mandates.
The fallout from the revelations has been dire. McGee himself is in hiding and his vicar general, Msgr. Denis O’Callaghan, now in retirement, has expressed remorse for his gross mishandling of the situation. There have been calls in the Irish parliament for the expulsion of the papal nuncio, whose contributions during the crisis have been negligible if not actually obfuscating, and it is likely that the proposed papal visit to Ireland next year will be canceled. In a further move against clerical abuse of privilege, legislation is pending that will make it a crime for priests to withhold any information about sex abuse, even if revealed in confession. This is a Rubicon almost unthinkable in a Catholic country, much less a civilized one in which at the very least professional confidentiality is more than a label. The proposal is, on the other hand, eloquent testimony to the depth of the loss of faith in the institutional church on this island if not to the success of elementary catechesis.
Ireland will remain a Catholic nation insofar as the vast majority of its citizens will still indicate on official forms that they are members of the Roman Catholic Church. People will still go to church. Thousands of pilgrims will flock to Croagh Patrick on Reek Sunday in July, thousands more to St. Patrick’s Purgatory on Station Island during the year, and of course the shrine at Knock will remain popular among native Irish and tourists. But like France, Canada, Mexico, and Cuba, Ireland will very likely remain Catholic with a difference for a long time to come.