The Vatican has recalled its apostolic nuncio in Ireland, Archbishop Giuseppe Leanza, for consultations following release of the Cloyne Report in July on priests' abuse of minors in the Diocese of Cloyne. According to a Vatican spokesman the recall was a sign of the Holy See's seriousness in addressing the issue.
In fact, the only real solution to the endemic problem appears to be for the Holy See to intervene directly, to sack those bishops who have been derelict in their duties, and appoint new bishops of impeccable track records with a mandate to clean up the mess. The time for half-measures has long passed.
The Catholic Church's child sex abuse crisis in Ireland has mirrored that nation's basket-case economic plight with the scandalous situation providing a field day for critics and enemies inside and outside the Church.
Where in past years the Church could justifiably count on the devotion, respect and affection of the overwhelming majority, today it faces constant critical scrutiny from an increasingly anti-clerical media and political establishment, even as Mass attendances and priestly vocations decline.
The 400 page Cloyne Report, issued by the Irish Government, is the product of a judicial inquiry into the Cloyne Diocese's mishandling of incidents of clerical sexual abuse since 1996. It severely criticises the diocese for not reporting all cases to the authorities, including nine from 1996 and 2005 which "very clearly" should have been reported. Overall, the report examined allegations against 12 priests over a 13 year period up to 2009. There were about 160 priests in the Cloyne Diocese at the time.
There is especially strong criticism of the former Bishop (Bishop John Magee) for refusing to act on the sexual abuse allegations, even when the Catholic Church in Ireland had issued strict new guidelines following two previous damaging child abuse reports.
In addition, the Vatican is charged in the report with being "entirely unhelpful" to any bishop who wanted to implement procedures for dealing with child sex abuse allegations. It further describes the Vatican's response as "unsupportive especially in relation to the civil authorities."
For Bishop Magee, who resigned in 2010 after a tribunal found he had blatantly failed to implement church regulations on the abuse of children, it was a spectacular fall from grace.
Previously, he had been Secretary to three Popes, Paul VI, John Paul I and John Paul II, the only cleric in history to achieve such an honour.
He was widely expected to return to Ireland in triumph as Archbishop of Armagh, his home diocese, and to be the future Primate of All Ireland.
But John Paul II sent him to the small Cloyne Diocese in County Cork in 1987. Apparently the position of Bishop of Cloyne had been intended for someone else, but John Paul insisted that Magee go.
Following release of the Cloyne Report, Archbishop Diarmuid Martin of Dublin, during a homily on 17 July, expressed anger at the Diocese of Cloyne's "non-response" to abuse victims and at the fact that children had been put at risk long after the guidelines were in place.
He also voiced anger that there were in Cloyne, and perhaps elsewhere, "individuals who placed their own views above the safeguarding of children" and also placed themselves outside the protection guidelines to which the diocese and the Irish bishops had committed themselves following earlier reports into clerical child abuse in Ireland.
Irish Prime Minister Enda Kenny, during a speech on 20 July before parliament, launched an extraordinarily scathing attack on the Pope and the Vatican. He said the report exposed "an attempt by the Holy See to frustrate an inquiry in a sovereign, democratic republic as little as three years ago." He claimed that Church leaders were steeped in a climate of "narcissism" and sought to defend their institutions rather than protect children.
Vatican spokesman Fr Federico Lombardi later responded to Kenny's attack with its claim that a 1997 Vatican letter to the Irish bishops had sabotaged child protection policy by instructing them to handle abuse cases strictly according to canon law. The letter, said Fr Lombardi, only warned against measures which would be questionable or invalid according to Church law, and which would therefore not be effective sanctions.
Meanwhile, following release of the Cloyne Report, there have been calls for Ireland's International Eucharistic Congress, scheduled for 10-17 June 2012, to be postponed. Senator Cait Keane, a member of Ireland's ruling Fine Gael Party, proposed this, telling the Irish parliament on 27 July that "everyone will be better served, given the sensitivities around the findings of this report," if the congress were "held at a later date."
The radical Association of Catholic Priests, like similar groups in other parts of the world, has used the abuse crisis to justify its demand for a "restructuring of the governing system of the Church" and a "redesigning of ministry in the Church." This group has also backed the idea of postponement. However, the Irish Church authorities indicated that the Eucharistic Congress would still go ahead as planned.
Perhaps they consider that it might provide a much-needed moment of grace for the gravely wounded Church in Ireland.