Wikileaks: ‘Secret’ cables reveal communication on Vatican

The Wikileaks/U.S. diplomatic dispatch controversy has made it to the Vatican. 

Earlier this month, the self-described champion of a free press released 15 cables, classified “confidential” or “secret,” that were prepared by the U.S. Embassy to the Holy See on a host of topics: papal travels, the Vatican’s stance on green issues, geopolitical controversies and relations with the Anglican Communion, to name a few. 

Honestly, there’s not that much that could be considered all that embarrassing, at least compared to some of the cables released about other countries. One or two midlevel Vatican officials whose names were supposed to be “held strictly” secret have been outed. My guess is that they’re thinking twice about how candid they can be in future background talks with U.S. embassy staff. 

Most of the rest is a pretty unsurprising and not-so-insightful analysis by American officials of Vatican thinking. If you’re interested, they can be found at (assuming Wikileaks hasn’t had to change Web addresses again). 

The one cable that seems to have generated the most interest in the English-speaking press regards the clerical sex abuse crisis in Ireland. (The cable has been named 10VATICAN33.). 

I love the use of scare quotes in this first sentence of an Associated Press story about it: 

“Newly released U.S. diplomatic cables indicate that the Vatican felt ‘offended’ that Ireland failed to respect Holy See ‘sovereignty’ by asking high-ranking churchmen to answer questions from an Irish commission probing decades of sex abuse of minors by clergy.” 

Well, sort of. The main point of the cable is that the Vatican had learned from the clerical sex abuse crisis in the United States. Not only was its first concern demonstrably the victims of abuse, “the normally cautious Vatican moved with uncharacteristic speed to address the internal [Irish] Church crisis,” the cable said, noting strong public statements and the summoning of Irish Church leaders to Rome. 

But the Vatican was also angry that the Irish government went outside accepted diplomatic protocol in its investigation — directly querying a Vatican office, and trying to summon the pope’s ambassador in Ireland, without going through the embassies — and that Irish politicians seemed to be “making political hay” by calling publicly on the government to demand that the Vatican reply to its requests, which had been improperly made. 

Ultimately, the Irish embassy in Rome offered to mediate the information request, but by then the Irish government was no longer interested. 

Considerable damage had already been done, however, to the Vatican’s already battered image in the eye of the Irish public. Irish politicians had succeeded in making the Vatican look obstructionist; but the leaked cable paints a different story.