Ireland's government demanded answers from the Vatican's ambassador Thursday after a fact-finding report concluded that Rome secretly discouraged Irish bishops from reporting pedophile priests to police.
Foreign Minister Eamon Gilmore summoned Pope Benedict XVI's representative in Ireland a day after a judge-led investigation found that the Vatican in 1997 encouraged bishops to reject the Irish church's tough new child-protection rules.
Gilmore and Prime Minister Enda Kenny accused the Vatican of violating Ireland's sovereignty by instructing bishops in the letter that they should place the church's laws above the nation's. The letter warned bishops here that their 1996 policy _ requiring all suspected pedophiles in the priesthood to be reported to police _ would undermine the church's canon law.
"There's one law in this country. Everybody is going to have to learn to comply with it. The Vatican will have to comply with the laws of this country," Gilmore said after his face-to-face grilling of the ambassador, a rare experience for the pope's diplomats anywhere, let alone long-deferential Ireland.
Gilmore said he wouldn't let the Vatican repeat previous denials of responsibility. That happened following Ireland's 2009 publications of reports into three decades of Dublin Archdiocese cover-ups and six decades of abuse in church-run residential schools. Irish taxpayers have already funded more than euro1 billion ($1.4 billion) in payouts to 13,000 people over the latter scandal.
"We're not going to let it rest. ... We want a response from the Vatican to this report," Gilmore said.
Ever since Ireland's first Catholic child-abuse scandal triggered a government's collapse in 1994, the Vatican has stressed it was a solely local, Irish problem that Rome-based officials regretted but had no role in promoting. Pope Benedict repeated this line in his 2010 pastoral letter to the Irish people.
The pope's ambassador to Ireland, Archbishop Giuseppe Leanza, refused to take reporters' questions outside the foreign ministers' office.
Head bowed, he read a short statement saying he wanted to stress "the total commitment of the Holy See for its part in taking all the necessary measures to ensure the protection of children."
Leanza said he had just received a copy of the latest Irish government-ordered report into Catholic cover-ups. The government published the report online the day before. Leanza said he would "bring it to the immediate attention of the Holy See."
In Rome, Vatican officials declined to comment.
Kenny, who didn't attend the meeting with the Vatican diplomat, said his government soon would make it a crime to withhold evidence of child abuse from the police. He specified this would include any information a priest received during the sacrament of confession.
"The law of the land should not be stopped by a crozier or a collar," Kenny said.
The church insists that a priest must keep confidential any crimes revealed to him during a confession.
Ireland's latest investigation details the 1996-2009 concealment of abuse complaints in a County Cork diocese. It is seen in Ireland as particularly significant because it documents the diocese's dismissal of the church's first official get-tough policy that supposedly went into force in 1996.
The investigators attributed the failure, in part, to the Vatican's criticism of the Irish initiative in its response a year later.
Kenny called the Vatican's written intervention _ first revealed in full by The Associated Press six months ago _ "absolutely disgraceful."
Irish leaders had sought formal Vatican approval. Instead the Vatican's then-ambassador, the late Archbishop Luciano Storero, warned Irish bishops that a powerful church body, the Congregation for the Clergy, had ruled that such mandatory reporting of abuse claims to civil authorities conflicted with canon law.
Storero wrote that the Irish policy had the status of "merely a study document," while the new Irish policy of making the reporting of suspected crimes mandatory "gives rise to serious reservations of both a moral and canonical nature."
He wrote that canon law, which required abuse allegations and punishments to be handled within the church, "must be meticulously followed." Any bishops who tried to impose punishments outside the confines of canon law would face the "highly embarrassing" position of having their actions overturned on appeal in Rome.
Leanza, who was appointed to Dublin in 2008, has come under fire in Ireland for repeatedly rebuffing requests from Ireland's series of state-ordered investigations into Catholic Church concealment of child-abuse crimes. Last year he refused to testify before a parliamentary committee trying to explore the Vatican's role.
Ireland's church took its 1996 initiative under public pressure as the first Irish cover-ups came to light. A former altar boy, Andrew Madden, was first to go public with his lawsuit against the Dublin Archdiocese, which had tried to settle the claim in quiet.
Madden offered one possible solution Thursday to the church's difficulty in choosing between Ireland's laws and its own, which still do not make explicit the need to report suspected child-abuse crimes to police.
"If the bishops want to live by canon law," he said, "they should take themselves off to the Vatican and live there."
Irish church's 1996 get-tough policy, http://bit.ly/qu5TIF
Report on 1996-2009 Cork abuse cover-ups, http://bit.ly/pyi8oF
Irish church's child protection office, http://www.safeguarding.ie/