ADMINISTRATOR of the Diocese of Limerick Fr Tony Mullins has confirmed he has discussed the vacant position of Bishop of Limerick with the papal nuncio - but he remains in the dark as to when the new man will be in place.
Limerick has been without a Catholic bishop since December 2009, when Dr Donal Murray resigned in the wake of criticism of him in the Ryan Report on clerical child abuse in Dublin.
Hopes had been high that a new bishop would be appointed after the visit of an apostolic visitation from Rome last year. The appointment of Archbishop Charles Brown as Ireland’s papal nuncio in earlier this year was also seen as a sign the process might be expedited.
Fr Mullins said he had discussed the vacancy with the nuncio but the appointment remained in the hands of the Vatican.
“We are, I believe, in unprecedented times in relation to the appointment of bishops in this country because we have seven dioceses that are vacant. The change of the nuncio certainly delayed it somewhat because he is a central figure in gathering up the information that is sent to the Congregation of Bishops who make the ultimate decision. The new nuncio, Archbishop Brown, is in the country about six months at this stage and I know that he has engaged in his work of consulting. But he has a lot of work to do with seven dioceses,” said Fr Mullins.
He was commenting upon publication last week of an audit on child protection procedures in Limerick by the National Board for the Safeguarding of Children.
That report made mention of the episcopal vacancy, saying it was “very apparent that the continued absence of a bishop in the diocese is not helpful either to the clergy or to the people of the diocese”.
The report praises the efforts of Dr Murray in strengthening child protection policies in the diocese - including sharing information of child abuse complaints with the gardai and HSE - swiftly after his appointment in 1996.
“I would be very anxious that we would have the appointment of a bishop as soon as possible but that is a situation where the authorities in Rome and in the Holy See will make their choice on,” said Fr Mullins.
“In the meantime, I will try as best I can to continue the good work of Bishop Murray in relation to the safeguarding of children. It has to be a central focus of our work as we continue to do that.”