Former Irish President Mary McAleese has said that the Vatican once contacted her in a bid to get help from the Irish State to bury Church records.
Mrs McAleese had a private meeting with Vatican secretary of state Angelo Sodano and his secretary Msgr Joseph Murphy, while she was in Italy in 2003.
Cardinal Sodano wanted her to agree that Ireland would not access Church records.
She told the Irish Times that the incident was ‘one of the most devastating moments in my presidency’.
Mrs McAleese said: “He indicated that he would like, and the Vatican would like, an agreement with Ireland, a concordat with Ireland. I asked him why and it was very clear it was because he wanted to protect Vatican and diocesan archives. I have to say that I immediately said the conversation had to stop.
“I told him I thought it extraordinarily inappropriate and very, very dangerous to the church, if it was pursued.”
The Cardinal’s request had immediately raised alarm bells for the President as there were two separate inquiries into child abuse within the Church under way in Ireland at the time.
The Ryan commission was set up in 2000 to investigate the treatment of children in institutions run by 18 religious congregations such as orphanages, industrial schools and reformatories.
Then, in 2003, the Ferns inquiry was set up to the investigate clerical child sex abuse in Ferns diocese.
Mrs McAleese was very unhappy about what was being asked and told Msgr Murphy, who was originally from Cork, that the Church would not be wise to pursue the matter.
She said: “What he [Cardinal Sodano] was asking for was an agreement between the Holy See and the Irish government under which church documentation would be protected by the church and the State would, clearly, have no access to it. That was what he seemed to be saying.
“I said to Joe Murphy, ‘Would you explain to the cardinal that the church in Ireland is on the back foot. If this matter is pursued any further in this conversation or pursued outside of it, in my view the church would be flat on its back.’ So the matter was dropped there and I never heard any mention of it again.”
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