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Garry O'Sullivan: Irish bishops being carpeted at meeting with top Vatican brass

JUST across the road from the Vatican press office, Ireland's four Archbishops will today enter the Congregation of Bishops to discuss the terms of the proposed Apostolic Visitation of their Archdioceses, announced by the Pope earlier this year.

But they will not talk to journalists -- mostly because they do not know what will be decided by the Vatican officials they are to meet.

It is believed from sources here that in the discussions the Irish delegation will seek to limit the terms of reference of the Apostolic Visitation to two issues: The investigation of the handling of child abuse by clergy and the examination of the formation regime in seminaries.


The bishops do not want a broader investigation of their overall management, something they resisted strongly in their meetings with the Pope last February when the prospect of a visitation was raised.

It is believed that Vatican personnel want a broader investigation and not just to look at child abuse.

This makes sense. If a doctor finds cancer in a patient's leg, he then examines all the body in case it has spread.

Likewise, if there was an abuse of authority and power in one area in which the bishops were in charge, then it suggests that an examination of all other areas be made to see whether the failure only concerned the handling of child abuse cases -- or if that issue was symptomatic of a broad abuse of authority and power by bishops.

Remember, Bishop Jim Moriarty resigned voluntarily because he felt he did not stand up to the corrupt culture which was in the Irish Church at the time.

The meeting between Cardinal Sean Brady of Armagh, Dublin's Archbishop Diarmuid Martin, Archbishop Michael Neary of Tuam and Archbishop Dermot Clifford of Cashel and Emly with the Visitors and Vatican personnel today may well be tense, as it is understood that the archbishops are anxious that they had not been informed of the detail of the proposed terms of reference to date and are expected only have a limited time today to discuss it.

In a roundtable meeting, they are expected to discuss who the Visitors should meet, whether it should be confined to safeguarding of children, how long the visitation should take, what form the report should take, to whom the report will be sent and whether the process should be widened to other dioceses.

Yesterday, the Apostolic Visitors met with key personnel in the Congregation for Bishops under its new Prefect Canadian Cardinal Marc Ouellet, who is the latest name in Vatican circles to emerge as a potential successor to the Pope.

Given that the Irish archbishops have only had one day in Rome to deal with the terms of reference issues suggests that while they are being consulted to ensure that there is a unified approach to the whole procedure, the terms of reference may have been decided and that the Vatican has a clear idea of where it wants this process to go.


Vatican observers here have said that this Visitation is seen as a last opportunity for the Irish Church to get its house in order. Therefore the Visitation will need a wide remit to look at the exercise of power in general in the Irish Church.

We have heard the term 'last chance saloon' in relation to another painful process in Ireland, this Visitation is according to some Vatican insiders the last chance saloon for the Irish bishops to renew the Church in Ireland.

Garry O'Sullivan is Editor of The Irish Catholic