Letter to Cardinal Sean O’Malley

An Open Submission to Cardinal Sean O’ Malley, Apostolic Visitor.
“Independent Commission to examine how Vatican dealt with Irish Child sex abuse by priests”
If that headline were to appear in an Irish newspaper it would be a source of enormous surprise. And not just of surprise but of relief, joy and hope.
Having given long and careful consideration, there are a number of areas of concern, which I believe I must respectfully draw to your attention:
1: When news was released from the Vatican that there was to be an Apostolic Visitation to Ireland there was for many a very real feeling that such a visitation was starting in the wrong place.
It was a feeling that any visitation or inquiry of how Church Officials dealt with Child Sex Abuse cases, needed to start, not in Ireland, but in The Vatican.
This feeling has been reinforced over time with the revelation of tensions between Dublin and the Rota over the laicisation of paedophile Tony Walsh.
It seems to me that the fact that such an inquiry did not happen first has, seriously compromised and damaged the credibility of the Apostolic Visitation Team, however well meaning and sincere its intentions have been.
Further it has been commonly suggested that by sending the Apostolic Visitation Team here, the Vatican was seeking to divert attention away from itself.
I believe it is now essential, that an inquiry of how Vatican officials dealt with Child Sex Abuse cases in the Dublin Archdiocese, and indeed in all Irish Dioceses, should be arranged as soon as possible.
Because of the high incidence of cases, this would probably have to be done on the basis of an agreed number of sample cases, as was done by the Murphy Commission. 
For such an assessment of the Vatican to be seen as credible, and so that it would not be seen as the Vatican conducting an inquiry into itself, it would need to be carried out by an independent body, a body different to the present Apostolic Visitation Team.
It would require an independent body similar to the National Board for Safeguarding Children in the Catholic Church, but with a different brief, to carry out this task.
Or a group similar to the Murphy Commission but once again with a different brief, could also be a possibility and would have the added advantage of being seen as having even greater independence.
Such an inquiry would reveal and bring into the open the true facts of the roles of the whole Church, local and Vatican, in causing the deep and painful wounds so badly in need of healing.
It should also lead to the drawing up of responses and proposals to ensure they will not happen again – anywhere in the Church.
At “The Liturgy of Lament and Repentance for the Sexual Abuse of Children by Priests and Religious” in the Pro-Cathedral in Dublin Archbishop Diarmuid Martin said, “ There is still a long path to journey in honesty before we can truly merit forgiveness.”
Were the Vatican to agree to such an assessment, while painful for many of the church officials involved, would it not be seen as courageous and a significant step forward in honesty, humility and openness, on the journey to reconciliation, peace and true forgiveness?
2: During the course of its work, The Murphy Commission had co-operation from the Dublin Archdiocese, which provided the Commission with whatever information it requested, amounting to some 70,000 documents.
Sadly, this did not happen when The Commission also requested information from the Church authorities in the Vatican and from the Papal Nuncio’s Office in Dublin.
Indeed it could be said that the response of the Vatican’s and also of the Papal Nuncio was in stark contrast to that of the Dublin Archdiocese.
The Vatican was asked for “ information on the promulgation of the document Crimen Sollicitationis as well as information on reports of clerical child sexual abuse, which had been conveyed to the Congregation by the Archdiocese of Dublin in the period covered by the Commission” (2.23)
The Commission did not even receive an acknowledgment of its request.
Instead, the Vatican used its Diplomatic Status, the end result being that no information was submitted.
Furthermore, the Commission wrote twice to the Papal Nuncio, the Vatican’s representative in Dublin, “requesting that he forward to the Commission all documents in his possession relevant to the Commission’s terms of reference “which documents have not already been produced or will not be produced by Archbishop Martin”. The letter further requested the Papal Nuncio, if he had no such documentation, to confirm this.”(2.24)
Once again, there was no reply
In addition, “The Commission again wrote to the Papal Nuncio in 2009 enclosing extracts from the draft report which referred to him and his office as it was required to do.”(2.24)
Once again The Commission received no reply.
The fact that the Vatican and he Papal Nuncio did not provide the Murphy Commission with the information it requested resulted in a very real conviction among ordinary good Catholics, that the Vatican had something to hide and that it was not being open and honest.
This conviction has not gone away and is surely a very real hindrance to the progress of healing for many, especially the Survivors of Abuse.
Again, at the Liturgy of Lament and Repentance Archbishop Diarmuid Martin said, “The first step towards any form of healing is to allow the truth to come out”.
Archbishop Martin also said, “  … the Archdiocese of Dublin can never rest until the day in which the last victim has found his or her peace…”
3: As noted above, the Vatican used its Diplomatic Status in not responding to the request for information by the Commission.
Is not this resorting to the use of Diplomatic Status a form of use of temporal power?
Is the use of temporal power in line with the Gospel values of humble service?
I would suggest not.
Along with many others, when I heard that the Vatican and the Papal Nuncio had not even acknowledged receipt of the letters from the Commission, I personally felt let down, ashamed and angry.
It is surely unacceptable in such a sensitive area that ordinary basic courtesy and politeness are suspended and Diplomatic Status invoked.
With this in mind, I appeal, from the bottom of my heart, to The Congregation for the Doctrine of the Faith in The Vatican and The Papal Nuncio, even at this late stage, to find some way around the apparent restrictions of Diplomacy, in order to provide the long overdue information requested by The Murphy Commission.
4: Does the Clerical Church (to differentiate from the Church as the People of God) perhaps without realising it, overuse or stretch its use, at times, of the concept of confidentiality, which can result in things that need to come out into the Light of God’s Healing being kept secret. 
Such use of confidentiality perhaps inadvertently favours more the protection of Church officials than the Survivors of abuse that it is supposed to be protecting and helping.
This in turn feeds into the whole area of cover-up.
Is not an open debate and assessment needed, of the Church’s use of confidentiality and other related concepts such as secrecy and scandal?
To whom can we turn to bring this about?
5:  Looking at the recent statements issued by you, Cardinal O’Malley and by The Vatican regarding the Visitation to the Four Metropolitan Archdioceses, I was very surprised that there was no mention of any form of inquiry or review of how Irish Church Officials handled cases of clerical child sex abuse.
However it seems an earlier statement said it would be included.
Such a review would be for many an essential requirement of any Visitation. I assume that while not mentioned specifically in the recent statement, it would in fact be included.
I was very disappointed to learn that when the work of the Apostolic Visitation Team is completed, it will not make its report available to the People of God.
Instead, it will submit its Report to Vatican officials who will offer “suggestions for the spiritual renewal of the Archdiocese, Seminaries and Religious Houses” and “issue a comprehensive summary of the results of the Visitation.”
I fail to understand why the Visitation Team’s Report is not to be made public – subject to sensitivity regarding submissions made on a confidential basis – along with the Vatican’s suggestions for spiritual renewal and their comprehensive summary.
Once again, this would be a wonderful sign of openness, trust and honesty
A bringing out into the light all that has been so painful, destructive and dark.
In conclusion I would like to say that it has not been easy for me to say these things.
I have been a priest for almost twenty-eight years, and not so long ago I would have been afraid to speak in this way about the Church to which I belong, and indeed I still struggle with that fear.
By submitting these thoughts, I am aware that in doing so, I am questioning a very powerful Institution, an Institution that can crush and silence.
However it is because I feel so deeply and strongly about these matters that I have now tried to express them openly.
I humbly submit them for consideration.
Peter Mc Carron
Priest of Dublin Archdiocese.

Similar Posts


  1. As a lay person I find it heartening to see the views and comments expressed here by Peter McCarron. In reading this, I am reminded of the simplicity in the early Church and of the ‘mantle’ of complexity that co-exists in its modern structure.
    We need to strip back the layers, return to the simple truth and be open in our faith. We, the Church, should not be afraid of being venerable. We should not be afraid of standing up and being seen as being Catholic – despite the wrongs that have happened in our midst. We should not be afraid of being open, of being honest and of confronting the demons in our midst. Only then may we stand straight and face the future, and know the future.
    I add my voice to that of Peter McCarron and others who believe that the times of secrecy, of avoidance and of doubt are times past. We need to reconnect the disparate parts of the Church and become whole again. We can only achieve that in the absence of barriers and on the rock of truth.

  2. Agnes O'Connell says:

    Wasn’t it the Irish bishops who ignored the Canon Law (which came from Rome, btw)? No, I think the mess is largely of our very own making: we supplied the bishops (who ignored Canon Law), we supplied the priests (who abused), and we formed the laity that permitted it to happen. No, the mess is our own, and we must take responsibility for it so that it will not happen again. I’m not saying there were no problems or issues in Rome, but just that we created the mess ourselves. These were Irish priests who abused Irish youth. Pointing the finger to Rome is letting a lot of people off the hook here in Ireland.

  3. It’s good to see priest’s speaking out on this important matter.May the Lord our God,take care of them,I will remember them in my prayer’s.

  4. John Mulligan says:

    Fr. Peter is curate in our parish and I must say I am proud of him and of his beautifully expressed letter above. I agree wholeheartedly with his sentiments and I too, as one of the Church of God, would call on the Cardinal to approach this visitation in a spirit of openness, honesty and healing. He must set aside the cloaks of secrecy and cover-up that have done so much damage over the past several years and let the truth be known. The institution of the church is perceived to be setting aside the very teachings of its founder in an effort to maintain its position and power.
    While I agree with some of what Agnes says above I believe that decisive action by the Vatican was called for and the lack of that decision made matters worse for the poor children who were abused and permitted even more children to have their childhoods destroyed. Therefore the Vatican was part of the equation and should be not only accountable but be open and honest at this time.

  5. Pat Reilly says:

    Just want to congratulate you on having the courage to submit what
    I and so many others,both lay and clerical,are thinking.Listening to good,genuine ,sincere people,many are so turned off by the
    same old verbiage being trotted out on a regular basis as an excuse
    for genuine renewal,openness and honesty.We live in great times,exciting times,where the Spirit is at work as is evident from
    your words of wisdom.What comes to mind is the title of the book I’m reading..where the Hell is God..where the hell is God in all of
    our renewal?Have no fear,Peter.

  6. “By submitting these thoughts, I am aware that in doing so, I am questioning a very powerful Institution, an Institution that can crush and silence.
    However it is because I feel so deeply and strongly about these matters that I have now tried to express them openly.”
    And isn’t it so very wrong that you can be crushed and silenced for speaking truth.
    That they would try to silence and crush you would suggest to me that you are a true follower of Christ. Truth set free.
    Well done you !!!
    God bless you too and keep speaking truth – for all our sakes.

  7. Congratulations to Peter McCarron for his respectful criticism and suggestions to Cardinal O’Malley re an evaluation of how the Vatican handled the Priest/pedophile crisis in the Irish Church and throughout the Catholic World.
    As expressed clearly in the Documents of Vatican Council II we are the People of God and must be included in the total reformation of our beloved Church.
    I encourage all priests world wide who have similar feelings85MK to speak up in the manner exemplified by Peter McCarron

Join the Discussion

Keep the following in mind when writing a comment

  • Your comment must include your full name, and email. (email will not be published). You may be contacted by email, and it is possible you might be requested to supply your postal address to verify your identity.
  • Be respectful. Do not attack the writer. Take on the idea, not the messenger. Comments containing vulgarities, personalised insults, slanders or accusations shall be deleted.
  • Keep to the point. Deliberate digressions don't aid the discussion.
  • Including multiple links or coding in your comment will increase the chances of it being automati cally marked as spam.
  • Posts that are merely links to other sites or lengthy quotes may not be published.
  • Brevity. Like homilies keep you comments as short as possible; continued repetitions of a point over various threads will not be published.
  • The decision to publish or not publish a comment is made by the site editor. It will not be possible to reply individually to those whose comments are not published.