Senior prelates to oversee Irish church reform

An apostolic visitation of the Church in Ireland will begin in the autumn, the Vatican announced yesterday. Two cardinals and three archbishops from the UK, the US and Canada will offer "assistance to the Bishops, clergy, religious and lay faithful as they seek to respond adequately to the situation caused by the tragic cases of abuse perpetrated by priests and religious upon minors", reads the statement, adding that the investigation is "intended to contribute to the desired spiritual and moral renewal" of the Church in Ireland.

The investigation, which was promised by Pope Benedict in his Lent letter to the Irish people, will initially be of four major dioceses as well as seminaries and religious houses. Cardinal Cormac Murphy-O'Connor [pictured], retired Archbishop of Westminster, will be responsible for Armagh; Cardinal Sean O'Malley, Archbishop of Boston, will oversee Dublin; the Archbishop of Toronto, Thomas Christopher Collins, will investigate Cashel-Emly while the Archbishop of Ottawa, Thomas Prendergast, will be assigned Tuam. Archbishop Timothy Dolan of New York will lead an investigation into Irish seminaries, including the Pontifical Irish College in Rome.


As their names suggest, these are all church leaders of Irish extraction; they are also experienced in putting the Church's house in order in their local dioceses. Victims' groups who complain that their record on abuse is mixed are missing the point. It is precisely because, for example, Cardinal Murphy-O'Connor was criticized for his mishandling of a abusive priest in the 1990s that he appointed a member of the House of Lords to suggest future procedures. The Nolan guidelines led to a major shakeup in the way abuse cases were handled in the UK.

This is the expertise the Vatican is looking for. "The Apostolic Visitors will set out to explore more deeply questions concerning the handling of cases of abuse and the assistance owed to the victims; they will monitor the effectiveness of and seek possible improvements to the current procedures for preventing abuse", according to the statement. 

The Congregation for Catholic Education will coordinate the visitation of the Irish seminaries, including the Pontifical Irish College in Rome. The Congregation for Institutes of Consecrated Life and Societies of Apostolic Life will organize the visitation of religious houses, initially in the form of a survey sent to the superiors of all religious houses before the actual visitation.

The visitors for the second phase will be a Redemptorist, Fr Joseph Tobin, and a Jesuit, Fr Gero McLaughlin, for institutes of men; Sr Sharon Holland of the Immaculate Heart of Mary and Sr Mairin McDonagh of the Religious of Jesus and Mary for institutes of women.

Response from Ireland has been positive. The Archbishop of Dublin, Diarmuid Martin, said the enquiry was an “important element in the broad process being set in place by Pope Benedict to assist the Catholic Church in Ireland in its renewal”. He said Cardinal  O'Malley's "experience and personal commitment render him particularly suited" for the investigation, which he described as an "important element" in the purification and renewal of the Dublin church, which "addresses the truth of a dark moment in its history."

Three bishops in Ireland have resigned this year and the Archbishop of Armagh, Cardinal Sean Brady, has come under intense pressure to do so. Two devastating reports last year identified serious failings in the way the Church used to handle abuse cases. 

Procedures in Ireland have been dramatically tightened in the last 10 years along the lines of those introduced in the UK and the US. It's not clear what new recommendations the Visitors will be able to make.

But as a way of drawing the sting over the intense criticism, it is an astute move. And it can only be hoped that it will help to bolster the often lonely position of Archbishop Martin, who has led the attempts to move the Irish hierarchy on from the denial and collusion identified in last year's Ryan and Murphy reports.

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Winifred Holloway
8 years 7 months ago
Lay persons, female as well as male, should be part of the investigative teams.
Mary Sweeney
8 years 7 months ago
I agree with Winifred. It is disgraceful that the doors are still closed when those ''closed doors'' were precisely the problem.
Greg Bullough
8 years 7 months ago
Sending Dolan to deal with this issue is truly sending the wolf to sort out the problems in the hen-house (he's too big and bombastic to be a fox).

His record on surivivors of abuse is that he's a big, affable, buddy when they're ''good victims'' and meekly accept what is given. However let them do something such as demand their due in court and he'll take them to the mat.

Worst of all, should they do something like get uppity and organize into a group such as SNAP, he'll use any excuse to discredit them. He doesn't like being talked back to, or to be told "no," or to have his decisions questioned.

I don't anticipate his relations with groups such as One in Four to be cordial or productive.

Consider that it was not too many months ago that he was defending his predecessor Cardinal Egan's egregiously insensitive deposition remarks which were forced under the public eye by a US Supreme Court decision.

I agree with the earlier commentators that lay representation would be best. However I despair of being able to find lay persons who would both serve the interests of the survivors and not act as shills for the episcopate. As we saw with US National Review Board, the most honest representatives of the People of God at large either had pangs of conscience during their tenure or have expressed disappointment and dismay following their service.
8 years 7 months ago
I agree with the comments of posters 1, 2 and 3. I have little faith in this group as it is composed.

Does ''Conflict of Interest'' mean anything to whomever the decision makers were on this course of action?

It seems to me like it would make much more sense if prelates in the various countries cooperative fully with the civil authorities when they investigated abuse in any of their countries.

There wasn't cooperation from church leadership in the United States when grand jury and other types of investigations were conducted.

There wasn't cooperation from church leadership in the United States when records, etc., were demanded in the ''discovery'' process. For goodness sake, didn't Bishop Lori of Bridgeport, Connecticut fight for eight or more years to keep 12,000 plus pages out of the public domain? I'm surprised he isn't on this committee.

At this very moment in New York statute of limitation reform is being viciously opposed as it has been in Connecticut, Massachusetts, Ohio, Wisconsin, Pennsylvania, Maryland and Colorado. And the Catholic Conferences in those states have been instructed to use their unlimited power and money to help in the fight.

In the Catholic Diocese of Wilmington, the diocese and a few religious orders like the Oblates of St. Francis are stretching out bankruptcy and court cases as much as possible with the extra help of Public Relations firms, big law firms, lobbyists et al.

I haven't seen any financial disclosure statements from any dioceses including the CDOW in the diocesan newspapers. Don't the people of God have a right to know what this is going to cost them?

There is little enough concern for the victims of childhood sexual abuse, that's for sure.

If the church authorities cooperated with the civil authorities in their individual countries this group would be redundant.

I think it would be much better if church leadership in Ireland were totally honest themselves and with the history of their own failures. This has not been the case in Ireland any more than it has been the case in the United States. Otherwise why would bishops with a history of failure in protecting children and a history of enabling and covering up for sexually abusive priests still be in office?

Sister Maureen Paul Turlish
Victims' Advocate
New Castle, Delaware
Barbara DeLorenzi
8 years 7 months ago
For the record, it is Terence Prendergast of Ottawa. He's a Jesuit, by the way.
Carolyn Disco
8 years 7 months ago
Thank you to previous posters, particularly Greg and Maureen.
On reading press releases on the Commission, I saw the same spin that has issued from chanceries everywhere, with pious language, about regaining trust, etc. etc.
Imagine, Dolan spoke recently to Irish priests about the need for holiness. Benedict speaks about sin. How incisive can you get?
More theological reflection as red herring when the real issues are, for example, whether in the absence of mandatory reporting laws in Ireland, the Vatican will approve Irish guidelines that call for such.
All that noise over the Vatican inserting one last-minute line about reporting abuse to authorities in its own protocols makes clear that applies only where the law requires it. Otherwise, out of luck.
The clerical culture lives, with no comprehensive examination of its toxic nature. When he Vatican stops stonewalling the Irish governement over document releases, then talk to me.
A survivor advocate in Ireland, Marie Collins, wrote to the Irish Times some three months ago outlining the problem:
''Rome had reservations about its policy of reporting to the civil authorities. The basis of the reservation was that the making of a report put the reputation and good name of a priest at risk. Msgr Dolan told the (Murphy) Commission that the Congregation for the clergy in Rome had studied the document in detail and emphasized to the Irish bishops that it must conform to the canonical norms in force.
The congregation indicated that “the text contains procedures and dispositions which are contrary to canonical discipline. In particular ‘mandatory reporting’ gives rise to serious reservations of both a moral and canonical nature”. Msgr Dolan said that the congregation regarded the document as ‘merely a study document’.”
We have had two further Catholic Church child protection documents since the Framework Document in 1996, Our Children Our Church (2005-2008) and now Safeguarding Children. The Vatican has not to this day approved any of these documents or the mandatory reporting of every complaint of child abuse to the civil authorities.
Until the Pope gives his recognitio to this process each bishop can ignore the child protection policies and there will be no sanction from Rome.”
''Where's the beef'' - to quote a familiar commercial of years back.
Claire Mathieu
8 years 7 months ago
Pope Benedict in his letter to the Irish:
"The lay faithful, too, should be encouraged to play their proper part in the life of the Church. See that they are formed in such a way that they can offer an articulate and convincing account of the Gospel in the midst of modern society (cf. 1 Pet 3:15) and cooperate more fully in the Church’s life and mission. "

Is it not proper that they participate in the visitation, and wouldn't that be a way for them to cooperate more fully?

That letter was full of promising hints of possibilities, but the reality does not meet them.


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