Five senior bishops will conduct a special inquiry into allegations of clerical child sex abuse in the Catholic Church in Ireland.
The Apostolic Visitation will take place in the autumn and begin in the four metropolitan archdioceses — Armagh, Dublin, Cashel and Emly, and Tuam.
Details of the inquiry — first announced in the Pope's letter last March — were confirmed by the Vatican yesterday.
The statement said the Apostolic Visitors would “set out to explore more deeply questions concerning the handling of cases of abuse and the assistance owed to the victims”.
An Apostolic Visitation is a formal but personal process, initiated by the Holy See, to look into the welfare of a particular aspect of the Church.
The five bishops who will make up the inquiry panel include Cardinal Murphy-O'Connor, the former head of the Catholic Church in England and Wales, and Cardinal O'Malley from Boston, USA.
The others are Archbishop Timothy Dolan, New York; Archbishop Thomas Collins, Toronto; and Archbishop Terence Prendergast SJ, Ottawa. Michael Kelly, deputy editor of the Irish Catholic, said the five officials were all aware of the situation in Ireland.
“I think people will be anxious but it's clear they are not sending over elderly gentlemen that one could easily pull the wool over their eyes,” he said.
“These are very worldly men and most of them are bloggers — they write regulary in newspaper columns. These are savy men and not stereotypical Vatican Cardinals.”
Dublin Archbishop Diarmuid Martin, a campaigner for survivors and for reform in the Church, said the Visitation was important in assisting the renewal of the Church in Ireland.
Cardinal Murphy-O'Connor said he hoped the Visitation will provide Pope Benedict with a thorough analysis of protections in Ireland.
“Putting the safeguarding of children and all vulnerable people at the heart of every aspect of the Church's life is essential,” he said.
Cardinal O'Malley, whose archdiocese is recovering from clerical sex abuse scandals, said the Church must be unfailingly vigilant in protecting children and young people.
“Our ongoing efforts in the Archdiocese of Boston to ensure their safety will be helpful for the Visitation,” he said.
However, Barbara Dorris from the SNAP victims’ group said she doubted whether the panel could dramatically improve how the Church deals with abuse and cover-up cases.
“No institution can police itself, especially not an ancient, rigid, secretive, all-male monarchy with a horrific history of protecting predators and endangering kids,” she said.
“We must look outside a largely complicit Church hierarchy for real solutions to this devastating, on-going crisis.”