Abuse inquiry is not the first for Vatican
POPE Benedict's promise to hold an apostolic visitation of certain dioceses in Ireland is not the first time the Vatican has sent in prelates to investigate the workings of the church.
Last year five bishops appointed by the Vatican carried out an intensive investigation into the Mexico-based Legionaries of Christ following allegations of sexual abuse against the order's founder.
And in the US an intensive investigation was ordered into hundreds of religious communities representing more than 67,000 sisters.
How apostolic visitations operate will give some insight into what the dioceses, seminaries and religious congregations to be chosen in Ireland can expect when the Vatican officials come calling.
Founded in 1941, the Legionaries of Christ is a religious congregation with more than 800 priests and 2,500 major and minor seminarians and with houses in 22 countries, including Ireland.
Earlier this month, the general secretary of the order asked for forgiveness from those who were harmed by the "immoral actions" of its founder, Fr Marcial Maciel who died in 2008.
Fr Maciel was alleged to have sexually abused young seminarians but instead of conducting a canonical trial against the frail priest, the Vatican ordered him to withdraw to a life of prayer and penance.
Pope Benedict later ordered an apostolic visitation of the Legionaries and appointed five senior bishops to carry out intensive investigations into the workings of the order.
The announcement of the visit was made by Cardinal Tarcisio Bertone, the Secretary of State for Pope Benedict, who said it would "gain firsthand knowledge of the congregation's life and work".
During an eight-month period the five prelates visited more than 120 Legionary communities in the US, Canada, South America and Europe -- including Ireland -- interviewing priests and religious.
The prelates who carried out the investigation are now finalising their written reports for submission to the Holy See.
Meanwhile, a study into US religious communities of women is not expected to conclude until mid-2011. The apostolic visitation was initiated over a year ago by Cardinal Franc Rode of the Vatican and was opened to "look into the quality of life" of 341 US congregations of women religious.
Mother Mary Clare Millea, superior general of the Apostles of the Sacred Heart of Jesus, is overseeing the study.
Only those nuns who live in cloisters are exempt.