This week the Holy See is beginning preparations for the Irish Apostolic Visitation which will begin in the four metropolitan archdiocese of Ireland (Armagh, Dublin, Cashel and Emly, and Tuam).

This unusual move was announced by Pope Benedict XVI in his letter to the Irish faithful in March. The visitation aims to "assist the local church on her path of renewal" following last year's Ryan and Murphy reports and the revelation of the level of clerical abuse in Ireland.

Cardinal Seán Brady, Archbishop Diarmuid Martin, Archbishop Dermot Clifford and Archbishop Michael Neary, from the four metropolitan areas, will be in Rome this week to help plan the visitation.

The operation will be coordinated by the Congregation of Bishops and will involve various Vatican departments including Secretariat of State, the Congregation for the Clergy, the Congregation for Catholic Education, the Congregation for Institutes of Consecrated Life and the Congregation for the Doctrine of the Faith.

The Vatican have said that it would be reductive to see the visitation as concerned only with the issue of child abuse and insists that the visitation is intended to "offer assistance" to the Irish bishops as they as they attempt to undertake the process of "desired spiritual and moral renewal". They feel this necessary following the damage caused by the sex abuse scandals to the victims but also to ordinary Catholics.

This visitation will be monitored closely by commentators to see how far Pope Benedicts is willing to go in the "renewal" of the Church. For the Vatican the visitation represents the first test of the new Prefect of the Congregation of Bishops, Canadian Cardinal Marc Ouellet, a man already being tipped as a possible successor to Benedict.