Vatican announces apostolic visitation of Irish church

Irish bishops at a press conference at the Vatican in February. (CNS/Paul Haring)

VATICAN CITY — The Vatican today announced the names of the nine bishops, priests and religious who will conduct an apostolic visitation of dioceses in Ireland, the Irish seminaries and religious orders.

Pope Benedict XVI announced the visitation in March in his letter to Irish Catholics on the clerical sex abuse scandal.

Beginning in the fall, Retired British Cardinal Cormac Murphy-O’Connor of Westminster will conduct the visitation of the Archdiocese of Armagh. Cardinal Sean P. O’Malley of Boston will visit the Archdiocese of Dublin. Archbishop Thomas C. Collins of Toronto will conduct the visitation of the Archdiocese of Cashel and Emly. and Archbishop Terrence T. Prendergast of Ottawa will visit the Archdiocese of Tuam.

The four visitors will report to the Congregation for Bishops. The Vatican did not say what other Irish dioceses would be visited or when.

Archbishop Timothy M. Dolan of New York, former rector of the North American College in Rome, will lead the visitation of the Irish seminaries, including the Pontifical Irish College in Rome, the Vatican said. Archbishop Dolan will report to the Congregation for Catholic Education, which oversees seminaries.

Two priests and two religious women will lead the visitation of Irish religious orders. U.S. Redemptorist Father Joseph W. Tobin, former superior of the Redemptorist order, and Jesuit Father Gero McLoughlin, promoter of Ignatian spirituality for the Jesuit’s British Province, will visit men’s religious orders. U.S. Sister Sharon Holland, as member of the Servants of the Immaculate Heart of Mary and former Vatican official, and Irish Sister Mairin McDonagh, a member of the Religious of Jesus and Mary, will conduct the visitation of the women’s communities.

The four religious will report to the Congregation for Institutes of Consecrated Life and Societies of Apostolic Life.

Jesuit Father Federico Lombardi said no deadline has been set for the visitors to complete their work, because many details still need to be worked out and because of the busy schedules of the visitors themselves.

Here is the Vatican’s press release on the apostolic visitation in Ireland:

Following the Holy Father’s Letter to the Catholics of Ireland, the Apostolic Visitation of certain Irish dioceses, seminaries and religious congregations will begin in autumn of this year.

Through this Visitation, the Holy See intends to 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. It is also intended to contribute to the desired spiritual and moral renewal that is already being vigorously pursued by the Church in Ireland.

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, taking as their points of reference the Pontifical Motu Proprio “Sacramentorum Sanctitatis Tutela” and the norms contained in Safeguarding Children: Standards and Guidance Document for the Catholic Church in Ireland, commissioned and produced by the National Board for Safeguarding Children in the Catholic Church.

The Visitation will begin in the four Metropolitan Archdioceses of Ireland (Armagh, Dublin, Cashel and Emly, and Tuam) and will then be extended to some other dioceses.

The Visitors named by the Holy Father for the dioceses are: His Eminence Cardinal Cormac Murphy-O’Connor, Emeritus Archbishop of Westminster, for the Archdiocese of Armagh; His Eminence Cardinal Sean Patrick O’Malley, Archbishop of Boston, for the Archdiocese of Dublin; the Most Reverend Thomas Christopher Collins, Archbishop of Toronto, for the Archdiocese of Cashel and Emly; the Most Reverend Terrence Thomas Prendergast, Archbishop of Ottawa, for the Archdiocese of Tuam.

In its desire to accompany the process of renewal of houses of formation for the future priests of the Church in Ireland, the Congregation for Catholic Education will coordinate the visitation of the Irish seminaries, including the Pontifical Irish College in Rome. While special attention will be given to the matters that occasioned the Apostolic Visitation, in the case of the seminaries it will cover all aspects of priestly formation. The Most Reverend Timothy Dolan, Archbishop of New York, has been named Apostolic Visitor.

For its part, the Congregation for Institutes of Consecrated Life and Societies of Apostolic Life will organize the visitation of religious houses in two phases. Firstly it will conduct an enquiry by means of a questionnaire to be sent to all the Superiors of religious institutes present in Ireland, with a view to providing an accurate picture of the current situation and formulating plans for the observance and improvement of the norms contained in the “guidelines”. In the second phase, the Apostolic Visitors will be: the Reverend Joseph Tobin, CSsR and the Reverend Gero McLaughlin SJ for institutes of men; Sister Sharon Holland IHM and Sister Mairin McDonagh RJM for institutes of women. They will carry out a careful study, evaluating the results obtained from the questionnaire and the possible steps to be taken in the future in order to usher in a season of spiritual rebirth for religious life on the Island.

His Holiness invites all the members of the Irish Catholic community to support this fraternal initiative with their prayers. He invokes God’s blessings upon the Visitors, and upon all the Bishops, clergy, religious and lay faithful of Ireland, that the Visitation may be for them an occasion of renewed fervour in the Christian life, and that it may deepen their faith and strengthen their hope in Christ our Saviour.