The Apostolic Visitation to Ireland has begun, according to a statement issued by Vatican Radio.
Pope Benedict announced the Visitation in March this year in a pastoral letter to Catholics in Ireland, in which he expressed sorrow and regret at the abuse perpetrated by priests in that country.
He said it would be “pastoral in nature” and that it was “intended to assist the local Church on her path of renewal and… a sign of the Holy Father’s desire, as the Successor of Peter, to offer his pastoral solicitude to the Church in Ireland”.
The Visitation will identify whether reforms of the local Church, seminaries and religious communities have been put in place, especially the effectiveness of current processes in responding to abuse.
It will not be an investigation into individual cases of abuse nor a trial to judge past events, but the Visitators will have to identify the explicit problems that may require some assistance from the Holy See.
The four Visitators are Cardinal Cormac Murphy-O’Connor for Armagh; Cardinal Seán O’Malley for Dublin, Archbishop Thomas Collins for Cashel and Emly and Archbishop Terrence Prendergast SJ for Tuam.
The Visitators may bring with them some people, approved by the Congregation for Bishops, who can serve as assistants.
The four men will make themselves available to those who have been affected by abuse, both the victims and their families.
They will monitor how well the guidelines of Safeguarding Children, Standards and Guidance Document for the Catholic Church in Ireland, commissioned and produced in February 2009 by the National Board for Safeguarding Children in the Catholic Church, are functioning and how they may be better implemented and improved.
“Given the delicate nature of the subject matter”, the Visitators will not grant interviews until the end of the first phase of the process next Easter, according to the Vatican.