BRAINTREE -- As Cardinal Seán P. O’Malley prepares to assist Irish bishops in mending their dioceses after recent revelations of alleged sexual misconduct by priests over the last few decades, some area Catholics say he will bring his administrative experience repairing three dioceses torn by similar revelations and a bond of kinship with the Irish people.
“The Church must be unfailingly vigilant in protecting children and young people. Our ongoing efforts in the Archdiocese of Boston to ensure their safety will be helpful for the visitation,” Cardinal O’Malley said in a May 31 statement. “It will also be important to respond to the concerns of the Catholic community and the survivors in the manner that will promote the process of healing.”
On May 31, the Archdiocese of Boston announced in a statement that Cardinal O’Malley has been named by Pope Benedict XVI to a team of nine bishops to conduct an apostolic visitation of the Church in Ireland. The visitation is aimed at helping the Church there address the sexual abuse scandal, improve assistance to victims and perfect measures to prevent child sexual abuse in the future.
The visitation will begin in Ireland’s four archdioceses. Cardinal O’Malley will specifically visit the Archdiocese of Dublin. Cardinal Cormac Murphy-O’Connor, the retired Archbishop of Westminster, will conduct a visitation of Armagh, in Northern Ireland, Archbishop Thomas Collins of Toronto will visit the Archdiocese of Cashel and Archbishop Terrence Prendergast, of Ottawa, will visit the Archdiocese of Tuam.
Archbishop Timothy M. Dolan, of New York, former rector of the U.S. Seminary in Rome, will lead the visitation of the Irish seminaries including the Pontifical Irish College in Rome.
U.S. Redemptorist Father Joseph W. Tobin and British Jesuit Father Gero McLoughlin will visit men’s religious orders and U.S. Sister Sharon Holland, of the Servants of the Immaculate Heart of Mary, and Irish Sister Mairin McDonagh, of the Religious of Jesus and Mary, will conduct the visitation of the women’s communities.
Results of the visitation will be reported to the Vatican.
Vatican spokesman Father Federico Lombardi said the visitors are not taking over the responsibilities of Irish Church officials. Rather, the Vatican is “adding a presence that, by coming in from the outside, could be in a better position to objectively gather information and make useful evaluations.”
Pope Benedict called for the visitation in his pastoral letter to the Irish people in March, saying it was “intended to assist the local Church on her path of renewal.”
The letter followed the Nov. 2009 release of the Murphy Report, a result of public investigations into the handling of 325 cases of clergy sexual abuse of minors by the Archdiocese of Dublin between 1975 and 2004. The investigations were conducted by the Irish judicial system.
While in Dublin, Cardinal O’Malley is expected to meet with members of the clergy, abuse survivors, advocacy groups, social service organizations, and the government, according to Father John Connolly, pastor of St. Brendan Parish in Dorchester and former special assistant to the archbishop in matters of sexual abuse.
“It’s a pretty comprehensive mandate he’ll have once he does begin work, but it’s too soon to say how long his work will take to complete.”
Father Connolly said the cardinal’s “long record of pastoral care and healing” and ethnic connections to Ireland are positive assets for him as he begins the work, which he says could start in the fall.
“The pope’s choosing of Cardinal Seán to be one of the visitators and go to the Archdiocese of Dublin recognizes his good work and the importance he places on this issue,” Father Connolly said.
According to Father Connolly, Cardinal O’Malley’s appointment to Dublin is significant because the Archdiocese of Dublin is the largest in the country and the population is similar to that in Boston.
Father Connolly praised Archbishop Diarmuid Martin’s “pro-active, forward-looking” response to the crisis, which has called for increased accountability and transparency from the Irish bishops.
Father Connolly also said Cardinal O’Malley has ties to Ireland, as the O’Malley clan hails from County Mayo and he has visited there.
“He knows firsthand the importance of the faith to the everyday man and woman of Ireland,” Father Connolly said. “He knows what he experienced in Fall River, Palm Beach and Boston, and the impact those revelations had on our people.”
Prior to coming to Boston, Cardinal O’Malley was a bishop in Fall River and Palm Beach, Fla. He came to Fall River after reports surfaced of the mishandling of allegations of serial abuser Father James Porter and to Palm Beach after two previous bishops there admitted to abusing minors.
Seamus Mulligan, who is on the board of directors for the Irish Cultural Center of New England in Canton and a member of St. Mary Parish in Randolph, also praised Cardinal O’Malley’s record.
“He did bring quite a lot of experience to the resolution of problems which prevailed in Fall River,” Mulligan said. “He inherited a much greater problem when he came to Boston.”
Terry McKiernan, president of BishopAccountability.org, a Waltham-based watchdog organization that documents sexual abuse cases, expressed a mixed reaction to the appointment.
Saying that he thinks the visitation will be “an internal investigation for internal purposes,” he hopes the investigation will result in more specific public knowledge into who knew what and when they knew.
“Although the Murphy Report went into the situation in detail, there’s a lot that it doesn’t reveal, including many of the priests involved,” McKiernan said. “A lot more needs to be known about how it happened.”
The Murphy report concluded that during those years, rather than being concerned about the victims, Catholic leaders were more interested in “the maintenance of secrecy, the avoidance of scandal, the protection of the reputation of the Church and the preservation of its assets.”
It accuses the Irish church and police of colluding to cover up the allegations.
According to McKiernan, this upcoming visitation will offer a chance to shed insight onto the situation.
“In a way, we have a real opportunity here to see how something as important as this got treated so neglectfully,” he said.
McKiernan hopes that increased transparency will result from the visitation.
Catholic News Service materials contributed to this story.