The Irish Apostolic Visitation: To what end?

Print More

What’s the mission of the Apostolic Visitors who, the Vatican announced last week, will be parachuting into the Emerald Isle next fall? According to the official press release, they are supposed to deal with the abuse crisis:

The Apostolic Visitors will set out to explore more deeply questions
concerning the handling of cases of abuse and the assistance owed to the
they will monitor the effectiveness of and seek possible improvements to
current procedures for preventing abuse, taking as their points of
reference the
Pontifical Motu ProprioSacramentorum Sanctitatis Tutela
and the norms contained in Safeguarding Children: Standards and
Document for the Catholic Church in Ireland
, commissioned and
produced by
the National Board for Safeguarding Children in the Catholic Church.

But according to a report in yesterday’s Irish Independent, the real mission is to reestablish the auld time Irish Catholicism: doctrinal strictness, regular sacramental observance, and ancient devotional practices. Not to mention “to restore a traditional sense of reverence among ordinary Catholics for
their priests” and “counteract
materialistic and secularist attitudes.”

That does seem to be the approach being promoted by the Visitor responsible for seminaries, Archbishop Timothy Dolan of New York, who recently  told a
gathering of
Irish priests “to return to basics” and to ground their ministry in “prayer,
humility and a rediscovery of identity.” Not surprisingly, his talk pleased the Irish Primate, Cardinal Sean Brady, the staunchest defender of the past.
On the other hand, it seems profoundly out of step with the ideas of Dublin Archbishop Diarmuid Martin, who has become the champion of progressive reform in the Irish church. A few days ago, he gave a talk at the Newman Club at Oxford University in which he called for greater lay participation and, indeed, leadership in the church, to challenge “any remnants of a culture of clericalism.” The church, he emphasized, could not and should not expect to play its old role in Irish society.

Stressing renewal of the sacramental and spiritual dimensions of the
Church does not mean that the Church intends to retreat into the
sacristy. The Irish Church may once have dominated social reflection. Those days are gone and the Church must recognise that the weight of its
voice in a much more secular society has changed. To return to my
friend’s analogy, the Church must change its clothes, not just as
cosmetic change or to look more fashionable, but to have clothes which
make us more agile for the task that is ours.

The Visitor for the Archdiocese of Dublin is Boston’s irenic Cardinal Sean O’Malley, but whether he’s there to strengthen or stay Martin’s hand is hard to say. O’Malley, as Lisa Wangsness suggests in today’s Boston Globe, is Rome’s go-to guy when it comes to dealing with abuse-plagued dioceses. But, as Michael Rezendes also makes clear in the Globe  today, Martin’s the odd bishop out in Ireland.

The Vatican can’t have it both ways. So which is Ireland to have once the mess is cleaned up, a reinvigorated clericalism or a lay-led revival? You’d have to give me very good odds to bet on the latter.