An Irish-government report released in July into sex abuse in the Catholic diocese of Cloyne in southeastern Ireland -- which accused the Vatican of encouraging bishops to ignore guidelines requiring them to report abuse cases to civil authorities -- "indicated that there was a continuing failing right up until recently," Enterprise Minister Richard Bruton told Radio and Television of Ireland Sunday night.
"The Cloyne report clearly indicates that views emanating from the Vatican may have been a factor in what happened, and I think that also is a clear finding, and the Vatican has to respond to that," he said, adding the Vatican's response so far indicated it was still in denial.
The Vatican had no immediate comment, but said Saturday it never discouraged Irish bishops from reporting priests' sex abuse of minors to police and said claims it had undermined efforts to investigate abuse were "unfounded."
The Vatican also suggested the Irish government should share the blame for the sexual-abuse cases because Irish law did not require mandatory reporting of suspected abuse by clergy members to police.
The Irish Parliament is now debating such a law, which would make failure to report abuse allegations to civil authorities punishable with jail time.
The weekend war of words escalated a tense diplomatic standoff that has existed since the Cloyne report pointed a finger at Rome for allegedly encouraging bishops to ignore guidelines requiring them to report abuse cases to civil authorities.
The church allegedly said reporting such abuse might violate church law.
Days after the Cloyne report was released, Prime Minister Enda Kenny assailed the Vatican as placing its interests ahead of protecting children.
"For the first time in Ireland, a report into child sexual abuse exposes an attempt by the Holy See to frustrate an inquiry in a sovereign, democratic republic as little as three years ago, not three decades ago," Kenny said in a speech to the Irish Parliament's lower house.
"And in doing so, the Cloyne report excavates the dysfunction, elitism ... the narcissism that dominates the culture of the Vatican to this day," said Kenny, a practicing Catholic.
His speech led the Vatican to recall its ambassador.
The Vatican said Saturday the report's and Kenny's allegations hinged on a "misinterpretation" of a confidential 1997 Vatican letter to Ireland's bishops that said the Vatican ambassador had "serious reservations" about Irish church child-protection policies, and that they violated canon law.
The letter "effectively gave individual Irish bishops the freedom to ignore the procedures" and "gave comfort and support" to priests who "dissented from the stated Irish church policy," the Cloyne report said.
The Vatican said Saturday that it considered the Irish child-protection policies an "advisory document," rather than a policy. It also said Irish bishops had "never been impeded under canon law from reporting cases of abuse to the civil authorities."
Foreign Minister and Deputy Prime Minister Eamon Gilmore called the Vatican response an overly "legalistic and technical" justification of its actions in dealing with priests who allegedly raped and molested children.
The 1997 letter "provided a pretext for some to avoid full cooperation with the Irish civil authorities," he said in a statement.