Vatican Inquiry into Irish Paedophile Priests to Meet Victim Groups

The Guardian
September 13, 2010

Former archbishop Cormac Murphy O'Connor will head the Vatican inquiry. Photograph: Thomas Coex/AFP/Getty Images

Top-level Vatican investigation into Irish Catholic church's handling of clerical child abuse begins after Pope's visit to Britain

The unprecedented Vatican inquiry into the Catholic establishment's handling of clerical sex abuse in Ireland will include dialogue with groups representing abuse victims, the Guardian has learned.

The papal examination, or "apostolic visitation", of Catholic dioceses and orders of priests and nuns will be headed by the former archbishop Cormac Murphy-O'Connor, and will begin within weeks of Pope Benedict XVI's visit to Britain this month.

Abuse survivors and priests critical of the church hierarchy's handling of paedophile priests say the visit is a clear sign that the Vatican no longer trusts the Irish Catholic establishment to clean up its own act.

Patrick Walsh, who was incarcerated in several Christian Brothers schools, including Dublin's notorious Artane, and is co-founder of Irish Survivors of Child Abuse (Soca), said the Vatican team's presence is a welcome development.

Walsh said: "In March this year, we handed Cardinal Sean Brady [the leader of Ireland's Catholics] a letter to the pope asking for Rome to come in and examine the entire church in Ireland. Now that is exactly what is going to happen we are certain this delegation from the Vatican will meet us and other survivors' groups.

"Irish Soca and other survivors' groups are excited over the apostolic visitation because it's the end of allowing the Irish hierarchy to handle the scandal and crises on their own. They are no longer being allowed to clean up their own mess or, to be more accurate, sweep it under the carpet."

Gary O'Sullivan, editor of the Irish Catholic, said Ireland had not seen such a high-powered delegation, some of whom are in line to become cardinals, since the Norman conquest. "This is a very high-powered group of Vatican officials who are coming here to look over the workings of the church. You can compare it to top people in, say, IBM's global headquarters coming over to a country where one of its branches is based to sort out some problems there."

One of Ireland's most famous priests, the broadcaster and writer Father Brian D'Arcy, also welcomed the Vatican inquiry but said he hoped its purpose was not to impose hardline theology on the Irish church. "If the apostolic visitation deals with the big issues such as celibacy, the structures of the church, the need to get the laity more involved in decision making, then they will be doing their job. It would be worrying if their visit to Ireland was just to reinforce Vatican authority."

Cardinal Brady is among the clerics under pressure ahead of the Vatican delegation's arrival, after revelations earlier this year that he had kept quiet for more than a decade despite knowing about sexual abuse carried out by the late Father Brendan Smyth.

Despite the bitterness and hurt among survivors of clerical child abuse in Ireland, Soca has called for Pope Benedict's visit to be treated with respect. Walsh said: "This is a celebration for English and Scottish Catholics and we would urge everyone to allow them to enjoy the pope's visit, to respect people over in Britain who have nothing to do with what happened to us at the hands of religious orders and the Irish state."

The current anger in Ireland towards the Catholic church is in sharp contrast to the joy and fervour that surrounded its last papal visit in 1979. Almost a quarter of the country's population turned out to see Pope John Paul II at several outdoor "monster masses" in Dublin, Drogheda and the west of Ireland.

Any original material on these pages is copyright 2004. Reproduce freely with attribution.