VATICAN CITY – A spate of US diplomatic cables released by WikiLeaks portray the Vatican as horrified over clerical sex abuse in Ireland but also deeply concerned that the procedures used by Irish investigators of the scandal were “an affront to Vatican sovereignty”.

The cables, released Dec 10-12, touched on a wide range of issues, and included the Vatican’s recent moves to welcome disaffected Anglicans into the Catholic Church.

One cable offered a highly critical assessment of the Vatican’s communications apparatus and said Pope Benedict XVI was surrounded by advisors who make sure dissenting voices are not heard.

Another reviewed the Vatican’s efforts to position itself as an intermediary with Iran in case an international crisis erupts and stated that in 2007 the Vatican had helped secure the release of British sailors detained in Iranian waters.

The cables offered a rare glimpse of Vatican diplomacy in action but through the lens of the US policy experts who authored the reports. Most of the cables regarding the Vatican were written by officials of the US Embassy to the Holy See, sometimes after personal meetings with Vatican diplomats.

The Vatican issued a disclaimer on Dec 11, saying, “Naturally these reports reflect the perceptions and opinions of the people who wrote them and cannot be considered as expressions of the Holy See itself, nor as exact quotations of the words of its officials.”

It added, “Their reliability must, then, be evaluated carefully and with great prudence, bearing this circumstance in mind.”

The Vatican said publication of such secret and confidential material was a matter of “extreme seriousness”.

The sex abuse scandal in Ireland was treated in a memo dated Feb 26, 2010.

“Vatican and Irish officials’ first concern was for the victims,” the cable said. But that concern was sometimes overshadowed by the public perception in Ireland that the Vatican was worried about “pettily procedural” matters, it said.

Specifically, the Vatican was upset that the independent Murphy Commission that investigated the scandal had sidestepped diplomatic channels and tried to directly convene the Vatican nuncio, or ambassador, to answer questions and obtain other information from the Congregation for the Doctrine of the Faith.

A cable on Vatican communications, dated Feb 20, 2009, reflected what many observers were saying at the time. “The Holy See’s communications operation is suffering from ‘muddled messaging’ partly as a result of cardinals’ technophobia and ignorance about 21st-century communications. Only one key papal adviser has a Blackberry and few have e-mail accounts. It has led to PR blunders on issues as sensitive as the Holocaust,” said the cable.

It said Jesuit Father Federico Lombardi, the Vatican spokesman, was overworked and had little influence on major decisions because he was not part of the pope’s inner circle. It described Cardinal Tarcisio Bertone, the Vatican secretary of state, as a “yes man” unlikely to bring the pope bad news”.

A cable of Nov 30, 2009 explored the ramifications of the Vatican decision to set up a structure that would welcome groups of Anglicans into the Catholic Church and allow them to retain some elements of Anglican identity. The cable quoted Britain’s ambassador to the Vatican, Mr Francis Campbell, as saying Pope Benedict’s move had brought Anglican-Catholic relations to their worst crisis in 150 years. - CNS

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