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Vatican visitors propose Church reforms to deal with abuse fallout

An Apostolic Visitation sent by Pope Benedict XVI suggests reforming admissions to seminaries, and organisation of dioceses.

Archbishop of Dublin Diarmuid Martin, Cardinal Sean Brady and papal nuncio to Ireland Archbishop Charles Brown during a press conference in Maynooth this morning.
Archbishop of Dublin Diarmuid Martin, Cardinal Sean Brady and papal nuncio to Ireland Archbishop Charles Brown during a press conference in Maynooth this morning.
Image: Niall Carson/PA Wire

A DELEGATION of high-ranking Catholic officials sent to Ireland by Pope Benedict to deal with the aftermath of successive abuse scandals has proposed a series of reforms to tackle the Church’s difficulty.

The findings of the Apostolic Visitation, led by the Archbishop of New York, Cardinal Timothy Dolan, propose imposing new restrictions on admission to seminaries, and including new child protection classes in the academic programme for trainee priests.

The Visitation has also proposed reforming the structure of Ireland’s 26 Church dioceses “and their ability to respond adequately to the challenges of the New Evangelisation”.

A summary of their findings, issued this morning by Vatican Radio, also outlines the need for a new focus on the role of lay people in the affairs of the Church, and the need to harness “new Ecclesial movements” (such as the World Youth Day event) to better reach the young generation.

The ‘Visitators’, as they are termed by the Holy See, also observed what they termed a “certain tendency” – which they said was widespread but not dominant – for priests to hold opinions which conflicted with those of the Magisterium, the Catholic Church’s teaching authority.

They stressed that dissent from the formal teachings of the Church were “not the authentic path towards renewal”.

Other proposals included the need for the Irish Catholic community “to make its voice heard in the media” and to establish a “proper relationship” with people who were active in the media, “for the sake of making known the truth of the Gospel and the Church’s life”.

‘Progressive steps’

The visit, which kicked off in November 2010, saw inspections of all four of the country’s archdioceses as well as seminaries in Maynooth, Milltown, Belfast and the Pontifical Irish College in Rome, and a number of other religious institutes.

This had allowed the visitors to see “just how much the shortcomings of the past gave rise to an inadequate understanding of and reaction to the terrible phenomenon of the abuse of minors, not least on the part of various Bishops and Religious Superiors.”

With a great sense of pain and shame, it must be acknowledged that within the Christian community innocent young people were abused by clerics and Religious to whose care they had been entrusted, while those who should have exercised vigilance often failed to do so effectively.

Visitors echoed the Pope’s words that “wounds have been inflicted on Christ’s body” by the actions of some abusive clerics, with abusers required to seek forgiveness from both God and from their victims.

They concluded, however, that the Church’s more recent guidelines for safeguarding children in the Church were now being followed, with “progressive steps” taken towards creating greater awareness of the problem of abuse, and to ensure that the “tragedy” of the abuse of minors would not be repeated.

“”The Visitators were struck by the efforts made throughout the country by Bishops, priests, Religious and lay persons to implement the Guidelines and to create safe environments,” their report said.

‘Unjustly tainted’

The report had elsewhere noted the frustrations of well-intended members of religious orders, who had felt “unjustly tainted” by events which had “also opened many wounds within the Irish Catholic community”.

By the same token, however, the visitors said the Church’s difficulties had “brought to light the continuing vitality of the Irish people’s faith”, noting how many bishops, priests and religious lived out their vocations to continue serving the Christian community. This was one of the “signs of hope” they had noted, they said.

The Holy See acknowledged the attention and care shown to victims of abuse, in legal and financial terms as well as in the offering of spiritual and psychological assistance.

Meetings between survivors of abuse and the Visitators had helped the Church to better understand the various aspects of their problems, and the Church inspectorate added that the wellbeing of victims was “of paramount concern for the Church”.

There was, however, a need to reorganise Ireland’s ecclesiastical tribunals – an internal canon justice system – so that outstanding cases could be dealt with more quickly.

Read: Irish Catholic bishops “make heartfelt pleas for forgiveness” >

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Gavan Reilly

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