TODAY MARKS EXACTLY a year since Taoiseach Enda Kenny stood up in a sparsely populated Dáil chamber to deliver one of the most significant speeches in the history of the State.
In a landmark address, Kenny outlined his views on the publication of the Cloyne report which had investigated and exposed how church authorities had dealt with allegations of abuse in the Cork diocese.
The report outlined how 19 priests abused dozens of children between 1996 and 2009 and it accused those in authority at the diocese of gross negligence for not doing enough to address the issue.
Kenny said the “heartbreaking” revelations contained in the report showed “the dysfunction, the disconnection, the elitism that dominates the Vatican today” and was hugely scathing of the church’s treatment of victims of sexual abuse at the hands of members of the clergy.
The speech was one that was recognised worldwide as a significant moment in Irish history. The New York Times columnist Maureen Dowd said it was a “breathtaking” intervention which “thrilled” a “bankrupt and battered Eire”.
In the months that followed, the speech was not well received at the Vatican which disputed much of the unprecedented denunciation of the Catholic Church’s highest authority.
The Vatican said Kenny’s claims during the course of his speech were “unfounded” and based on an incorrect reading of a 1997 Vatican letter expressing “serious reservations” about the Irish bishops’ 1996 framework document requiring bishops to report abusers to gardaí.
Also in the past year there has been considerable controversy caused by the decision to close the Irish embassy in the Vatican, a decision which continues to cause a degree of division between TDs in the coalition government.
As well as this there been some criticism of the government’s introduction of legislation which makes it mandatory to report allegations of serious crimes against children. Some believe this could force priests to break to seal of confession or face prosecution and a minimum of five years imprisonment.
But aside from the very obvious change in Church-State relations in this country as a result of Kenny’s speech Andrew Madden, the author of Altar Boy: A Story of Life after Abuse, believes the government has lived-up to much of the rhetoric Kenny used.
“I think what we’re seeing are not only the words of the speech being lived up to but preparation for government in opposition meant that that they were able to hit the ground running,” he said of Fine Gael and its ministers.
He praised the Minister for Children and Youth Affairs, Frances Fitzgerald, for bringing forward a number of legislative measures in the last year such as the Children First Bill, the steps taken to establish a Child and Family Support Agency and withholding information legislation.
Madden hopes not only that Fitzgerald remains in place for the next few years of this current administration but that the government’s promise on the children’s rights referendum is honoured later this year
He continued: “If it is in the autumn of this year it will be nearly two years since they came to power. There’s work to do on the wording and we’ll be watching very carefully to make sure that the wording hasn’t been watered down from February 2010 wording.”
“All that together I think shows that government is doing a very good job and has lived up to the words of that speech,” he said while noting that children were being affected by some of the government’s other policies in relation to children such as the cuts in education.
And what of the Church-State relationship today in Ireland? Madden added: “The relationship now is more reflective of the reality in which we live. I think that’s appropriate.”