In this week’s blog, Fr. Paddy talks about the upcoming Apostolic Visitation following Pope Benedict’s pastoral letter to the Irish members of the Catholic Church.

Fr. Paddy Byrne has a weekly column in the Nationalist papers.
This column appeared in the edition published 3 November 2010.

SOON, an Apostolic visitation is about to take place at the behest of Pope Benedict, following his recent pastoral letter to the Irish members of the Catholic Church.

This visitation will be facilitated by high-ranking clergy and religious superiors.

It is a direct consequence of the Ryan and Murphy reports, which have told the terrible truth that has been brought to light by heroic survivors of unimaginable abuse.

The Irish Catholic Church has gone through a dreadful time. Its implosion has occurred largely from a lack of leadership and perhaps a failure to connect with the reality of life.

It’s almost a year since the publication of the Murphy report and I find myself deeply disconnected from the hierarchical church (Roman style) that is conducting this visitation.

Yes, accountability and supervision are very necessary for all institutions; however, before the men in Rome come to evaluate the Irish church’s response to terrible scandal, perhaps now is an opportune time to spring clean their own house.

Dr Padraig Conway, in a recent article in the Irish Times, remarked: “The Vatican has hung the Irish bishops out to dry, while failing to acknowledge its own responsibility.”

In truth, I’m not sure what to think about this visitation.

I hope that, in the process of listening and offering guidance, this group will engage with real people. It’s a superficial exercise; just to visit a safe seminary and sit in meeting rooms listening to bishops speak.

Surely, this visitation must engage with the thoughts and issues that are alive in the minds of good people, who continue to engage with their local faith communities.

I hope that a fundamental priority will be listening to victims’ stories; their truth can be a real conversion experience in the pathway of reconciliation and justice.

I hope that this team will observe the great hunger for the spirituality that is felt in the hearts of the Irish people.

In the spirit of Christian justice, I hope that these visitors will offer leadership and insight into the important business of evangelisation.

Evangelisation is the task of giving witness to the good news.

In a time when many are overburdened by negativity, the Gospel message of Jesus Christ continues to be deeply relevant to all who are imprisoned by fear and uncertainty. Relevant: for all who are weighed down by addiction, depression and vulnerability.

Relevant: to the economic mess this country is currently dealing with. Justice values encourage leadership to safeguard the most disadvantaged and vulnerable in our society. I suggest that this is the urgent task for all Church leaders, especially this visitation team.

Perhaps their time might be best served in visiting the growing numbers on the dole queues around the country.

Similarly, I believe that this group should visit the vibrant Catholic schools, places where great things are happening every day, where service and generosity facilitate the enthusiasm and hopeful ambition alive in the hearts of our young people.

I wonder will this visitation team observe the greying, elderly and often tired clergy and ask the question why there are so very few vocations to the priesthood and religious life.

Hopefully, the resilience, courage and rich faith of the Irish people despite all our troubles might be the catalyst for these visitors to return to Rome with a determination for real reform and some necessary spring cleaning.