Apostolic visitation to Ireland

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The Apostolic visitation to Ireland was announced on 20 March 2010 in the pastoral letter written by Pope Benedict XVI to Irish Catholics after the publication of the Ryan and Murphy Reports on Catholic Church sexual abuse of children in Ireland in 2009. In his letter Pope Benedict said that the visitation was to be "Pastoral in nature, the Visitation ‘is intended to assist the local Church on her path of renewal’ (Pastoral Letter of Pope Benedict XVI to the Catholics of Ireland) and is a sign of the Holy Father’s desire, as the Successor of Peter, to offer his pastoral solicitude to the Church in Ireland".


The Murphy report documented widespread child abuse by priests in the Dublin archdiocese between 1975 and 2004. It said the Church in Ireland had "obsessively" concealed the abuse. The report, issued in 2009, said one priest admitted abusing more than 100 children. Another said he had abused children every two weeks for more than 25 years.[1] The inquiry will involve visits to churches, seminaries and convents and the questioning of hundreds of people. The investigators will explore the handling of cases of abuse in the past, look into assistance owed to the victims and review procedures for preventing abuse.

A number of Vatican departments including the Secretariat of State, the Congregation for the Clergy, the Congregation for Catholic Education, the Congregation for Institutes of Consecrated Life and Societies of Apostolic Life as well as the Congregation for the Doctrine of the Faith were involved in the planning of the visitation which will be co-ordinated by the Congregation for Bishops. In a three-way process, the Curia met separately with the visitors and the Irish bishops, while the visitors may well take the opportunity to meet with the bishops to whose diocese they have been assigned.[2]

On 7 October 2010, Cardinal Marc Ouellet and Archbishop Manuel Monteiro de Castro, with representatives of the Holy See, held a preparatory meeting with the Apostolic Visitators named by Pope Benedict. At the meeting were Archbishop Michael Neary of Tuam, along with Cardinal Brady, Archbishops Diarmuid Martin of Dublin and Dermot Clifford of Cashel and Emly for high-level talks with heads of Vatican congregations about the visitation, and met the investigators appointed by Pope Benedict to examine the four Irish archdioceses and "some other as yet unspecified dioceses".


Cormac Murphy-O'Connor, the Cardinal-Archbishop Emeritus of Westminster, was to inspect Cardinal Brady's archdiocese of Armagh, and Sean O'Malley, Cardinal Archbishop of Boston, the Dublin archdiocese. Toronto's Archbishop Thomas Christopher Collins investigated Cashel, while Ottawa's Archbishop Terrence Prendergast looked at the west of Ireland archdiocese of Tuam. An investigation of the state of Irish seminaries was conducted by Archbishop Timothy Dolan of New York. The investigators, known as apostolic visitors, were to report their findings directly to Pope Benedict XVI.[3]

The Visitators were to give particular attention to victims of abuse and their families, but also to meet with and listen to a variety of people, including ecclesiastical authorities, lay faithful and those involved with the crucial work of safeguarding of children”.[4]

Cardinal Brady said he hoped that people would see in time that the apostolic visitation was a genuine attempt to renew the trust of people who had been abused.


Survivors gave a mixed reaction to the announcement of the details of the visitation. Campaigner Marie Collins said she would meet one of the apostolic visitators, Cardinal O’Malley of Boston, if she was asked, but she had not been approached yet. Brady welcomed the news that Ms Collins was willing to engage with the visitation. Colm O'Gorman, said there was no need to investigate what happened in the past because those facts were well established by investigations such as the Murphy report: "I do think there’s a value in engaging with the visitation. This investigation should be asked to account for Rome’s dishonesty and deceit on foot of these investigations and the responses to the publications of these reports."[5]

November 2010 press release[edit]

On 12 November 2010, the Press Office of the Holy See announced[6] that "The Visitation will identify whether the mutual relationship of the various components of the local Church, seminaries and religious communities is now in place, in order to sustain them on the path of profound spiritual renewal already being pursued by the Church in Ireland. It also has the goal of verifying the effectiveness of the present processes used in responding to cases of abuse and of the current forms of assistance provided to the victims. It will not be an investigation into individual cases of abuse nor a trial to judge past events. The Visitators will have to identify the explicit problems which may require some assistance from the Holy See". Importantly the press release noted that "The Visitation will in no way interfere with the ordinary activity of local magistrates, nor with the activity of the Commissions of Investigation established by the Irish Parliament nor with the work of any legislative authority, which has competence in the area of prevention of abuse of minors. The Visitation does not seek to replace the legitimate authority of the local Bishops or Religious Superiors, who maintain responsibility in the handling of cases of abuse". This was seen to be in response to some complaints that canon law was seen to override civil law, which some argued led to greater cover up and further abuse. The release made clear that the visitors would "monitor how well the guidelines of Safeguarding Children, Standards and Guidance Document for the Catholic Church in Ireland, commissioned and produced in February 2009 by the National Board for Safeguarding Children in the Catholic Church, are functioning and how they may be better implemented and improved."[7]

Seminaries and religious houses[edit]

The note confirms that the Apostolic Visitator for the Irish Seminaries is the Most Reverend Timothy M. Dolan, Archbishop of New York. He will be assisted by some clerics, approved by the Congregation for Catholic Education, whose main duty will be to help to conduct the one-to-one interviews with the seminarians. Archbishop Dolan will visit 5 institutions: St. Patrick's College, Maynooth; the Pontifical Irish College, Rome; Saint Malachy's College, Belfast; All Hallows College, Dublin; Milltown Institute of Theology and Philosophy, Dublin which will be visited only in regard to its academic programmes. The Visitator will examine all aspects of priestly formation. He, or his assistants, will conduct private interviews with all staff members, all seminarians and, where applicable, other parties normally involved in the life of the seminary. It is not his task to meet with victims of abuse who, as noted above, may be instead received by the Visitators of the four Metropolitan Archdioceses. Furthermore, each priest who has graduated from the seminary in the previous three years will be given the opportunity for a private interview.[8]

Sr. Sharon Holland, I.H.M., Fr. Robert Maloney, C.M., Sister Máirin McDonagh, R.J.M. and Fr. Gero McLoughlin, S.J. were appointed to serve as Apostolic Visitators of those Institutes of Consecrated Life and Societies of Apostolic Life with houses in Ireland. The first phase of this Visitation will consist in responding to a Questionnaire which seeks information regarding the involvement of Institutes in cases of abuse, the responses offered to victims, and the compliance of the Institute with the protocols contained in Safeguarding Children, Standards and Guidance Document for the Catholic Church in Ireland. The Questionnaire also seeks to ascertain how each community is dealing with the revelations and their consequences. Additionally it asks what is being done, in the light of past experiences, to assist members in their primary mission of radically witnessing to Christ's presence in the world.[9]

2011 documentary film[edit]

On 17 January 2011, an Irish television documentary revealed that in 1997, Cardinal Darío Castrillón Hoyos, then Prefect of the Congregation for the Clergy, directed the Irish bishops not to enforce their new policy calling for mandatory reporting of priests who molested children, as likely to lead to successful appeals by priests disciplined without due canonical process.[10] In 1996 the Irish bishops had devised a new set of policies for handling such allegations, including a mandate to inform law-enforcement officials of all credible reports of abuse. However, in January 1997 Apostolic Nuncio to Ireland Luciano Storero sent a letter[11] to the Irish bishops, conveying the decision of the Congregation for Clergy that the policies should not be carried out.[12] Archbishop Storero indicated that priests might successfully appeal to the Congregation for the Clergy against disciplinary action taken in line with the policies. The papal nuncio said that Congregation would "at the appropriate time" provide more complete directions on handling sex-abuse complaints.

The documentary also offers strong support for an Irish prelate who has been the target of savage criticism, and who attempted to resign in protest at the Vatican's policies, and puts a new perspective on the efforts of the Irish hierarchy in general.


It was believed that Vatican personnel wanted a broader investigation and not just a look at child abuse. The visitation was expected to take a year to complete. It was thought that the bishops would like it finished before 2012 when the International Eucharistic Congress was held in Dublin.[13]

The Congregations for Bishops, for Institutes of Consecrated Life and for Catholic Education concurred with the Secretariat of State that the first phase of the Visitation – the inquiry concerning the four metropolitan archdioceses, religious houses and seminaries – should be completed by Easter 2011.[14]

June 2011 communique[edit]

On 6 June 2011 the Press Office of the Holy See released a communique restating the aims of the visitation examining "whether the mutual relationship of the various components of the local Church, seminaries and religious communities is now in place, in order to sustain them on the path of profound spiritual renewal already being pursued by the Church in Ireland"; "the effectiveness of the present processes used in responding to cases of abuse" and "the current forms of assistance provided to the victims".[15]

It further stated that the reports of the visitors had been presented to the competent departments of the Roman Curia. It noted that, "as far as the Irish dioceses and seminaries are concerned, the Congregation for Bishops and the Congregation for Catholic Education do not envisage further Apostolic Visitations". The Congregation for Institutes of Consecrated Life and Societies of Apostolic Life had analysed the responses to the questionnaires that were sent to all institutes with houses in Ireland. In line with the method previously adopted, visits in loco to some religious communities were to follow. Indications to the bishops and religious houses for the spiritual renewal were to follow shortly. Finally, the communique stated that the final report would be published in early 2012.


On 20 March 2012, the Press Office of the Holy See released a summary of the report, and at the same time a press conference was held in Maynooth, with participation by Nuncio Charles John Brown, Archbishop Diarmuid Martin and Cardinal Brady. The summary of the report[16][17] was criticised as lacking in detail; One in Four repeated its accusation that "the Vatican is still not accepting responsibility for its role in creating the culture of purposeful cover-ups of the sexual abuse of children" and complained about Church resistance to claims for financial compensation advanced by victims.[18]

See also[edit]


  1. ^ Vatican prepares for Irish visitation
  2. ^ Rome begins planning for Irish visitation
  3. ^ Bishops summoned to Rome for abuse crisis talks
  4. ^ Irish archbishops meet Vatican officials ahead of visitation[permanent dead link]
  5. ^ Visitation genuine attempt to renew trust, says Brady
  7. ^ Vatican Information Service
  8. ^ Vatican Information Service
  10. ^ Unspeakable Crimes
  11. ^ Letter text Archived 1 October 2011 at the Wayback Machine.
  12. ^ Vatican office ordered Irish bishops not to report abuse
  13. ^ Bishops seek to limit Vatican visitation Archived 12 October 2010 at the Wayback Machine.
  16. ^ Summary of the Findings of the Apostolic Visitation in Ireland, 20.03.2012[permanent dead link]
  17. ^ Catholic bishops website
  18. ^ One in Four Press Release

External links[edit]