Vatican sends Irish to investigate Irish

By Ray O'Hanlon

They are representing the Vatican but the team of leading church figures being sent to Ireland by Pope Benedict to investigate the country's child abuse scandals sound very much as if they could be already there.

Among the senior prelates in the investigating team are Cardinal Sean O'Malley of Boston and Archbishop Timothy Dolan from New York.

The investigation, to begin in the fall and formally entitled an "apostolic Visitation," will probe abuse cases in various dioceses seminaries and religious orders.

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The archdiocese of Dublin, subject of the scathing Murphy report, is listed for investigation as are Armagh, Cashel, and Tuam.

Armagh, the spiritual and temporal center of the Catholic Church in Ireland, is to be investigated by Cardinal Cormac Murphy-O'Connor, the former archbishop of Westminster. In Armagh, Cardinal Sean Brady has lately been resisting calls for his resignation.

Cardinal O'Malley, will be focusing on Dublin, while Archbishop Dolan will lead the inquiry as it applies to seminaries.

Archbishop Thomas Christopher Collins of Toronto will focus on Cashel and Emly, while Terrence Thomas Prendergast, the archbishop for Ottawa, will focus on Tuam.

Two nuns and two priests, including an American, Sister Sharon Holland - according to the New York Times, the first woman to direct a Vatican office before she retired in 2008 - will concentrate on religious order and seminaries.

The Vatican said the inquiry would "explore more deeply questions concerning the handling of cases of abuse and the assistance owed to the victims." The investigators would "monitor the effectiveness of and seek possible improvements to the current procedures for preventing abuse."

The purpose of the visitation, the Vatican said, was "to contribute to the desired spiritual and moral renewal" by the church in Ireland.

Commenting on the appointments, former U.S. ambassador to the Vatican Ray Flynn (who is also an Irish Echo columnist) said that Cardinal O'Malley was "the ideal person" to help restore credibility to the Catholic Church in Ireland.

"Both O'Malley and Dolan have enormous credibility in America and the admiration of the people of Ireland," Flynn said.

And he added: Dolan and O'Malley bring trust and credibility to Catholics in Ireland. The people have not lost their faith in Christ's teachings.

"These two sons of Erin must restore hope to the land of St. Patrick. I've heard Cardinal O'Malley and Archbishop Dolan speak many times, and with pride, about their Irish roots. Their challenge will be difficult, but then again, that has been the history of Ireland."

Meanwhile, Pope Benedict XVI has accepted the resignation of an Irish-born archbishop in Africa priest who quit his role over his inability to maintain his oath of celibacy.

Richard Burke from Tipperary, who served as archbishop of Benin City in Nigeria, made the decision after a complaint made last year by a woman who alleged she was sexually abused by Burke.

In a statement, the St. Patrick's Missionary Society, which Burke was a member of, said he informed the society that the reason for his resignation was his failure to observe his oath of celibacy. It stated that Burke had "apologized to all he had hurt by his actions" and had taken "full personal responsibility for what he has done wrong."

Burke's accuser, Dolores Atwood, alleged that she had been sexually abused by Burke when she was 14-years-old and he was a priest ministering in Warri Diocese, Nigeria.

Atwood also alleged she had an ongoing relationship with Burke. The society has launched a full investigation and provided counseling to Atwood.

According to the society, Archbishop Burke denied the allegation of child sexual abuse but admitted that he had had a sexual relationship with Atwood. He voluntarily withdrew from ministry while the investigation was carried out. The society says the investigation found no evidence to corroborate the allegation of sexual abuse made by Atwood.

--- Additional reporting by Scott Jamison.