The visit is part of an investigation aimed at restoring and renewing the quality of Catholic life in Ireland.
An Apostolic Visitation, which was first signaled by Pope Benedict in a pastoral letter to the Catholics of Ireland in March,
will now take place during the Autumn of 2010.
The panel of nine “Apostolic Visitors” includes four archbishops of Irish descent, namely Cardinal Cormac Murphy-O’Connor, retired Archbishop of Westminster; Cardinal Seán Patrick O’Malley, Archbishop of Boston; Archbishop Timothy Michael Dolan, Archbishop of New York; Archbishop Thomas Christopher Collins, Archbishop of Toronto; and Archbishop Terrence Thoimas Prendergast SJ, Archbishop of Ottawa.
The Visitation will begin in the four Metropolitan Archdioceses of Ireland (Armagh, Dublin, Cashel and Emly, and Tuam) and will then be extended to some other dioceses.
In its desire to promote the process of renewal of houses of formation for the future priests of the Church in Ireland, the Vatican’s Congregation for Catholic Education will coordinate the visitation of all Irish seminaries, including the Pontifical Irish College in Rome.
The Vatican-appointed examiner for the Irish seminaries is New York’s Archbishop Timothy Dolan, former rector of the Pontifical North American College in Rome. Dolan has often bragged that when rector at NAC he rescued the place from the last vestiges of 1970s liberal theology.
Last week, in a lecture at St. Patrick’s College in Maynooth, Ireland, Archbishop Dolan gave a hint of his approach during the autumn visitation/examinations. On the matter of Church teaching he strongly proclaimed in his own very special rhetorical style: “To those who claim the problem is that, as a matter of fact, Church teaching is too holy, too aloof, too distant, too out of touch, I say the problem is hardly Church teaching but lack of fidelity to it.”
Pope Benedict is particularly fond of Archbishop Dolan’s “Let’s get back to the basics” approach, because he is convinced that Dolan (future cardinal archbishop of New York) embodies exactly the type of dynamic orthodoxy that will help revive the Church in the United States.
Others would argue that Dolan, like Benedict, is caught in a 1950s time warp and their episcopal limousines only go in reverse.
What do the Apostolic Visitors hope to accomplish?
We can now piece together some highlights from various announcements and news reports:
(1) Pope Benedict XVI wants his men to clamp down on liberal secular opinion in Ireland and launch an intensive drive to re-impose traditional respect for the Irish clergy. (Frankly I never thought one could impose respect for another. People – and clergy are people – either earn respect by their words and deeds or they don’t. )
(2) The nine-member team led by two cardinals will be instructed by the Vatican to restore a traditional sense of reverence among ordinary Catholics for their priests. (See my note above.)
(3) Irish priests will be told not to question in public the official teaching of the church about birth control and recognizing divorced Catholics, living with new partners, and welcoming them to Eucharist.
(4) Irish theologians will be ordered to teach “traditional doctrine.” No doubt Apostolic Visitor Dolan will help to vigorously implement this policy.
(5) Irish lay people will be strongly encouraged to attend Sunday Eucharist faithfully and go to private confession regularly.
(6) A major thrust of the Vatican investigation will be to counteract “materialistic and secularist attitudes,” which Pope Benedict believes have led many Irish Catholics to ignore church discipline and become lax in following devotional practices such as going on pilgrimages and doing penance.
So there we have it. And it all makes good Vatican sense.
When all is said and (somewhat) done, pedophilia in Ireland is really the fault of Irish Catholics who have become too materialistic, too secular, too lax, and too disobedient to Holy Mother the Church.
When the going gets tough, the Church gets tough…