Statement of the Standing Committee of the Irish Bishops’ Conference in response to the announcement today of the Apostolic Visitation in Ireland

31 May 2010

31 May 2010

Statement of the Standing Committee of the Irish Bishops’ Conference in response to the announcement today of the Apostolic Visitation in Ireland

We welcome the news today (see below) that the Apostolic Visitation in Ireland, announced by Pope Benedict XVI in his Letter to the Catholics of Ireland, will begin in  the autumn of this year.  An expression of the personal closeness of Pope Benedict XVI to the Catholics of Ireland, this Visitation represents one more important step on the path to healing, reparation and renewal in the Church in Ireland.  We pledge our full co-operation with all those involved and whose names were announced today.

The Apostolic Visitation will be an opportunity to further develop the work that is being undertaken in the Church in Ireland to address the needs of survivors of abuse, to build upon the strong procedures and guidelines for the safeguarding of children and to work for a renewal of faith.

The Apostolic Visitation is  also  an opportunity to reflect, evaluate and review certain aspects of life in the Church in Ireland at this time, mindful of Pope Benedict’s words in his Letter to the Catholics of Ireland, “In solidarity with all of you, I am praying earnestly that, by God’s grace, the wounds afflicting so many individuals and families may be healed and that the Church in Ireland may experience a season of rebirth and spiritual renewal.”

We look forward to receiving further details of the precise terms of reference of the Apostolic Visitation in due course.


Notes for Editors

  • Please see below “Press release on the Apostolic Visitation in Ireland” published today by the Vatican.
  • An Apostolic Visitation is a formal but personal process, initiated by the Holy See, to look into the welfare of a particular aspect of the Church.
  • The motu proprio “Sacramentorum Sanctitatis Tutela” (referred to in the statement below) was issued by Pope John Paul II in 2001. This document confirmed that the ancient church and moral law always held that the sexual abuse of a minor by a cleric was a “graviora delicta”, that is, “a most serious crime” in the eyes of the Church. The seriousness of the crime and the increasing number of reports of such crimes to the Holy See around that time, occasioned the up-dating of the internal canonical disciplinary procedures for such a serious crime to ensure consistency and uniformity in the management and prosecution of the crime of the sexual abuse of a minor by a cleric.

This document Sacramentorum Sanctitatis Tutela requires that all such crimes be referred to the Congregation for the Doctrine of the Faith by the Ordinary (Bishop or Religious Superior) for guidance about how best to conduct the internal canonical disciplinary procedures. In some cases, the Congregation may decide to deal with the case itself. The document does not prevent Bishops from following the local civil laws in reporting of allegations of sexual abuse of minors by cleric to the civil authorities nor co-operating with local statutory authorities in the investigation or prosecution of such crimes. Indeed, internal canonical disciplinary procedures are “suspended” so as not to undermine in any way police investigations and / or criminal trials in the civil courts.

  • The following press release was published today by the Vatican concerning 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.


Further information:
Martin Long, Director of Communications 086 172 7678
Brenda Drumm, Communications Officer 087 310 4444