Cardinal discusses upcoming Irish visitation

BRAINTREE -- In a phone interview with The Pilot June 2, Cardinal Seán P. O’Malley discussed his expectations and role in the visitation of the Church in Ireland two days after Pope Benedict XVI appointed him to be the visitor of the Archdiocese of Dublin.

Q: Your Eminence, can you describe your role and the importance of this visitation for the Church in Ireland?

A: I begin by saying that the Holy Father in his letter to the Irish Church announced that he was going to initiate visitations in Ireland and so obviously this is an initiative of the Holy Father and as such it is very important.

I am very honored to have been asked to assist in this process. I see my role as the representative of the Holy See to those in Dublin and to try and ascertain exactly what the situation of the Archdiocese of Dublin is in regard to the sexual abuse of minors by clergy.

The visitation will involve interviews with many different members of the Archdiocese of Dublin as well as the survivors of sexual abuse. At the end of the visitation we will prepare a sealed report that drafts recommendations for the Holy See. The report belongs to the Holy See; it is not a public report. They will then decide what is the best use of the information we are able to present.

Q: How long do you expect this visitation to last?

A: The visitations I have done before were of a much smaller scope. I have always been assigned as visitor for seminaries and those visitations would last a few days. I presume that with the Archdiocese of Dublin, with so many people to interview, it will take some time. I envision making a couple of trips to Ireland. We will spend as much time as we need. It is only once we get started that we will have a better idea of how many interviews will be involved and how long the entire visitation will take.

Q: Do you think this visitation will impact your ability to lead the Church in Boston during this time?

A: Obviously with telecommunications what they are today, with cell phones and e-mail, even when I am traveling I am able to be very well informed about what is happening in Boston. Besides the fact, I have a very good vicar general and auxiliary bishops and staff who are in place to always keep me informed. So I don’t see this as having any detrimental impact on the Archdiocese of Boston.

Q: Some are calling the Holy Father’s move an “internal housekeeping job.” According to you, how serious is this visitation in the mind of the Holy Father?

A: I think it is very serious on the part of the Holy Father. First of all, for him to have announced it (the visitation) to the world in his letter to the Irish Church and for he himself to appoint the visitors shows his involvement and commitment to this process.

So I would say that the Holy Father sees this as an important part of the way forward for the Church in Ireland; to have a clear understanding of what the history is, what has happened, so that the problem can be addressed going forward in the very best way.

Q: The Vatican has said that you can help Catholics in Dublin address “the truth of a dark moment in its history” as it “undertakes a period of conversion, purification and renewal” because of your experience taking over the Archdiocese of Boston in 2003 after its sexual abuse crisis...

A: Truth be told, it is almost 20 years that I have been dealing with cases of clergy sexual abuse. And during that time I have met with hundreds of victims and people who are dealing with the problem of sexual abuse. I think the experience I have had can be of some use in this visitation and hopefully we will be able to be of some help to the Irish Church.

In Boston, we have a great sense of communion with the Church in Ireland; we owe a great debt to the Irish Church for our own faith and so obviously we are anxious to do whatever we can to help the people of Ireland and to make this visitation as valuable as possible to the Holy Father.

Q: The Murphy Report, a study of the Dublin Archdiocese’s response to abuse allegations which was released last November, denounces a culture of clerical protection that took precedence over the protection of children. The same charge was made in Boston and in other places in the United States. Why do you think that happened?

A: Well, I think that there are a number of factors. One of them is that at that point in time I don’t think society had a clear awareness of the great damage that was done to the children themselves. When these cases arose they seemed to focus more on the perpetrators. That was a mistake.

In hindsight we realized that these children were very seriously hurt and that the Church should have done everything to assure their protection. It was also, I think, an inordinate fear of scandal that impeded the Church’s transparency in these issues. We have learned a lot since then; we realized that this is a human problem and it needs to be dealt with in an open and frank way.

Q: What should the Church in Ireland do to restore the trust of the people there?

A: It will take a lot of hard work and a lot of perseverance. Certainly, transparency in all of their dealings is necessary. I think when people see that the Church is truly concerned about the welfare of children and is doing everything possible to protect them, removing perpetrators from access to children and dealing with this in an open way and cooperating with civil authorities, I think that will help to regain people’s confidence and trust in the Church.

Q: A number of Church officials in Boston have been helping you to deal with these issues here. Are you planning to have them help you in Dublin in some capacity?

A: In September we will be having a meeting in Rome where we will learn more about the Holy See’s expectations but I am hoping that we will be able to use our Boston resources to carry on the most effective visitation possible.

Q: Would you like to add anything else?

A: We ask the people of Archdiocese of Boston to pray for the success of this visitation and to pray for healing in the Church in Ireland. I think in great part this is a spiritual problem and will be addressed by our own spirit of prayer and penance.