Bob Keeler, a former religion reporter for Newsday, is a member of the editorial board.
At times in recent weeks, the Vatican has looked a bit like a hapless victim, taking pie after rhetorical pie in the face. But at least on one day, a key Vatican official came across as a thundering prophet, proclaiming a truth we can't hear often enough: Nuclear weapons are a scourge, and they have to go.
The pie-face moments, as so often in recent years, involved the church's handling of the clergy sexual abuse scandal. Last month, there was a new report on allegations of sexual abuse in the Diocese of Cloyne, in Ireland's County Cork. The report said that diocesan officials had failed to report many abuse allegations to police, even recently. And it sharply criticized the Vatican.
Soon afterward, the Vatican had to endure a blunt, no-minced-words statement by the Irish prime minister, Enda Kenny. In a speech in the Irish parliament, he said that the report "exposes an attempt by the Holy See to frustrate an inquiry in a sovereign, democratic republic as little as three years ago. And in doing so, the Cloyne Report excavates the dysfunction, disconnection, elitism and the narcissism that dominate the culture of the Vatican to this day."
Those are fighting words. Not at all the sort of deferential language that government leaders in any country -- let alone a predominantly Catholic one like Ireland -- typically employ about the Holy See. But Kenny reaped widespread approval.
Sadly, the Vatican's ongoing ham-handedness on the abuse crisis can overshadow what it has to say on other issues. The mainstream media had little to say about a speech a couple of weeks earlier by the Vatican's representative to the United Nations, Archbishop Francis Chullikatt.
"Viewed from a legal, political, security and most of all moral perspective, there is no justification today for the continued maintenance of nuclear weapons," Chullikatt said. "For this reason, preparatory work should begin as soon as possible on a convention or framework agreement leading to the phased elimination of nuclear weapons."
For those who follow the Vatican's war-and-peace attitudes, the speech was not new. "It's a significant statement," said David Cortright, director of policy studies at the University of Notre Dame's Kroc Institute for International Peace Studies. "It's a restatement, but a very elaborate and formal statement of all the Vatican's positions on disarmament. It's a very radical statement for disarmament."
Almost as important as what the archbishop said was the venue where he said it: Kansas City, Mo. That's where Catholic peace activists have been protesting construction of a new facility to manufacture some parts of nuclear weapons.
"It cannot be considered morally sufficient to draw down the stocks of superfluous nuclear weapons while modernizing nuclear arsenals and investing vast sums to ensure their future production and maintenance," Chullikatt said.
Though he didn't aim his speech at any specific aspect of U.S. nuclear policy, his point was hard to miss, because that's exactly what our nation is doing: modernizing and investing in nukes.
Last year, to get Republican votes for Senate ratification of a new Strategic Arms Reduction Treaty with Russia, President Barack Obama committed $85 billion over 10 years to modernizing the nation's nuclear weapons complex. The treaty was necessary, but the multibillion-dollar nuclear extortion was a shame.
So Chullikatt's powerful speech was a morale boost for that faithful group of Catholics that much prefers the Vatican thundering prophetically on war and peace, not blundering pathetically on sexual abuse.