VATICAN CITY — A spate of U.S. diplomatic cables released by WikiLeaks portray the Vatican as horrified over clerical sex abuse in Ireland.
The cables, released Dec. 10-12, touched on a wide range of issues, from the Vatican’s efforts to deal with leftist governments in Latin America to its 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 was surrounded by advisers who make sure dissenting voices are not heard.
The cables offered a rare glimpse at Vatican diplomacy in action, but through the lens of the U.S. policy experts who authored the reports.
Most of the cables regarding the Vatican were written by officials of the U.S. Embassy to the Holy See, sometimes after personal meetings with Vatican diplomats.
The Vatican issued a disclaimer Dec. 11, saying the reliability of the cables must be evaluated carefully and with great prudence.
“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 said in a statement.
The Vatican said publication of such secret and confidential material was a matter of “extreme seriousness.”
The U.S. Embassy to the Vatican repeated its condemnation of the release of classified State Department information and refused to comment on the content or authenticity of the information.
The sex abuse scandal in Ireland was treated in a memo dated Feb. 26, 2010, written by Julieta Valls Noyes, the deputy chief of mission at the embassy.
She wrote that the Vatican had responded relatively quickly to the revelations of sexual abuse in the Archdiocese of Dublin, in part because it had “learned key lessons” from the U.S. sex abuse scandal in 2002.
“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.
It added that contacts at the Vatican and in Ireland expected the sex abuse crisis to continue for several years, as new allegations from other Irish archdioceses come to light.
Another cable written by Valls Noyes was dated April 22, 2009, and titled: “Vatican hopes for better U.S.-Cuba ties, in part to rein in Chavez and his acolytes.”
It summarized a conversation with a Vatican Secretariat of State official, Msgr. Angelo Accattino, who was said to have spoken with concern about Venezuelan President Hugo Chavez and the deterioration of Church-state relations there.
It said Accattino raised the possibility of a U.S.-Cuba prisoner swap. It said the Vatican in general believes that improving U.S.-Cuba ties would greatly reduce the appeal of Chavez in the region.
According to the cable, Accattino said the real risk is that Venezuela is turning into Cuba, while Cuba may be ready to open up.
It also quoted Accattino as saying that the worsening situation in Venezuela had led Latin American Church leaders to rethink their approach, pulling back from activism and advocacy in the short term in order to protect their pastoral ministry.
The cable on Vatican communications, dated Feb. 20, 2009, reflected what many observers inside and outside the Vatican were saying at the time.
The Vatican had just announced the lifting of the excommunication of four traditionalist bishops, including one who, it turned out, had minimized the Holocaust.
“The Holy See’s communications operation is suffering from ‘muddled messaging’ partly as a result of cardinals’ technophobia and ignorance about 21st-century communications,” said the cable, also written by Valls Noyes.
“Only one key papal adviser has a Blackberry and few have email accounts. It has led to PR blunders on issues as sensitive as the Holocaust.”
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.
It noted that the cardinal did not speak English and added “not a few voices are calling for Cardinal Bertone’s removal from his current position.”
According to Italian reporters, Bertone responded to the WikiLeaks report by saying he was “very proud to be described as a ‘yes man,’ since this colourful description accurately reflects my support for the pastoral work of the pope.”