What next for the church in Dublin?

Many have re­marked on Arch­bishop Martin’s per­ceived tired­ness. But will Rome al­low him to go?

The Irish Times - - Front Page - PATSY McGARRY

Spec­u­la­tion that the Arch­bishop of Dublin, Diar­muid Martin is about to step down has in­ten­si­fied fol­low­ing a re­cent in­ter­view, which ob­servers felt re­flected his grow­ing tired­ness in the role.

Asked about his fu­ture on RTÉ’s This Week pro­gramme last week­end, he said, “It would be good, not just that I re­tire, but that there would be a dif­fer­ent lead­er­ship in the church, a younger one, be­cause we are facing very dif­fer­ent chal­lenges”.

But he said it was up to Pope Fran­cis to de­cide when change would hap­pen.

Many have re­marked on Arch­bishop Martin’s vis­i­ble tired­ness these days. “He has aged five years in the last two,” said an­other source. It is hardly sur­pris­ing. His 15 years as arch­bishop have been among the most stormy in Dublin’s history, due mainly to the trau­matic is­sue of cler­i­cal child sex abuse. And this year is op­por­tune for change as both aux­il­iary bish­ops of Dublin Ray Field and Ea­monn Walsh will be 75 in 2019 and facing re­tire­ment.

The ques­tion is whether Rome will al­low Arch­bishop Martin go.

With 1.16 mil­lion Catholics, 197 parishes, and 238 churches, the Catholic Arch­dio­cese of Dublin is by far the big­gest Catholic dio­cese on the is­land of Ire­land. It is why its arch­bishop tends to be the most pow­er­ful prelate in the church. And why Diar­muid Martin’s de­par­ture and re­place­ment could be so im­por­tant for the Catholic Church in Ire­land.

He will be 74 in April and, re­gard­less, must sub­mit his let­ter of res­ig­na­tion to Pope Fran­cis by April 2020 when he is 75, as re­quired by canon law. How­ever, as a well-in­formed source put it, “It’s as clear as day he wants out.”

Back in 2001, then arch­bishop Des­mond Con­nell wanted to stand down as he ap­proached 75 in March that year. Rome made him a car­di­nal in Fe­bru­ary 2001. He hung on, re­luc­tantly, for an­other three years as Rome searched des­per­ately for a suc­ces­sor. That was Arch­bishop Martin, who Pope John Paul had to ask twice to ac­cept the post be­fore he fi­nally agreed. Be­ing arch­bishop of Dublin is not a cov­eted po­si­tion. As of now there are no in­di­ca­tions Arch­bishop Diar­muid Martin will get a red hat. But Ire­land’s only car­di­nal, Car­di­nal Seán Brady, will be 80 next Au­gust and will then lose his (and Ire­land’s) right to vote in a pa­pal elec­tion. Rome might be tempted to wave a red hat in Arch­bishop Martin’s di­rec­tion, and not least as there is no ob­vi­ous suc­ces­sor-in-wait­ing.

As of now, how­ever, 2019 presents an op­por­tu­nity in Dublin for the ap­point­ment of an en­tire cadre of new lead­er­ship and the en­ergy that would bring at a time when a fresh start there and in the Ir­ish Catholic Church gen­er­ally is so much needed.

But what should that lead­er­ship bring with it? Econ­o­mist and prac­tis­ing Catholic Fi­nola Kennedy has some ideas but was at pains to em­pha­sise that noth­ing of what she said “im­plies that Diar­muid Martin did not have any or all of the qual­i­ties I sug­gest”. A qual­ity she would value most in a new arch­bishop would be “courage . . . not only the recog­ni­tion of wrong but the af­fir­ma­tion of right”.

Pos­i­tive con­tri­bu­tion

There was also a “need to af­firm the enor­mous pos­i­tive con­tri­bu­tion which has been made by nuns, priests and broth­ers,” she said. A new arch­bishop “must find ways to en­gage with the laity of all ages. How would the home­less fare with­out the work of, for ex­am­ple, Alice Leahy, or the Morn­ing Star and Regina Coeli hos­tels or Simon?” He will need to del­e­gate and in­spire priests and laity to live their lives as Chris­tians to the full. He will also need to look at “of­fer­ing chil­dren the gospel story out­side school hours” and be “pre­pared to grasp the changed so­cial re­al­i­ties of fam­ily life”. She noted how in Dublin in 2017 “slightly over 50 per cent of mar­riages in­volved Ro­man Catholic cer­e­monies com­pared with over 90 per cent in 1960.” She also hoped “the new arch­bishop has a good sense of hu­mour.”

One well-placed source is wor­ried and un­equiv­o­cal. “Arch­bishop Diar­muid Martin is the best thing to hap­pen to the Catholic Church in Ire­land since the Re­for­ma­tion. He is head and shoul­ders above any peer in Ire­land or else­where and his suc­ces­sor will make or break the church.” This source con­tin­ued: “get Dublin wrong and Diar­muid Martin’s formidable legacy will be set at nought. And rapidly.”

Among pos­si­ble suc­ces­sors con­sid­ered likely by this source would be Bishop of Kil­dare and Leigh­lin De­nis Nulty, Bishop Paul Tighe at the Vat­i­can, Bishop of Lim­er­ick Brendan Leahy, Arch­bishop of Cashel Kieran O’Rielly, rec­tor of the Ir­ish Col­lege in Rome Msgr Ciarán O’Car­roll, or his pre­de­ces­sor and now Bishop of Kil­lala John Flem­ing. Each had “the strong pas­toral skills needed to hold to­gether a broad church of pro­gres­sives and con­ser­va­tives, dis­senters and cheer­lead­ers,” the source said.


On the other hand, Bishop of El­phin Kevin Do­ran and Bishop of Water­ford and Lis­more Fon­sie Cul­li­nane had “the ul­tra-con­ser­vatism needed to re­duce the church to Pope Bene­dict’s small church of the obe­di­ent and cause im­plo­sion.” The source added: “None of the rest [of the Ir­ish bish­ops] have the force of courage or char­ac­ter to lead the Dublin arch­dio­cese. That in­cludes Arch­bishop of Ar­magh Ea­mon Martin, Bishop of Down & Con­nor Noel Tre­anor and Bishop of Raphoe Alan McGuck­ian.” They were de­scribed by the source as “all dis­ap­point­ing com­pany men.”

This per­son added, “Don’t over­look De­nis Nulty. Young! Hugely in­sight­ful and pas­torally innovative, laity-sensitive, vic­tims-sensitive. Coura­geous and not likely to suc­cumb to the bul­lies. Very like­able and hum­ble.” His was the “best ap­point­ment in a long time as was Leahy’s [Bishop of Lim­er­ick Brendan Leahy].”

Fr Joe McDon­ald, ad­min­is­tra­tor at St Matthew’s in Bal­lyfer­mot, said “I am go­ing to miss Diar­muid Martin. I think he has a lot of fine qual­i­ties.” He felt the arch­bishop had been “es­pe­cially good in safe­guard­ing” and was “a good me­dia per­former.” But, Fr McDon­ald added: “I dread the ap­point­ment of his suc­ces­sor. I would love to be­lieve they will do some­thing new and ex­cit­ing. Sadly I think they will play safe. He will be in-house. He will be safe. He will be neat, tidy, pre­dictable and con­ser­va­tive. He will be aca­demic. He will be the­o­log­i­cally sound and po­lit­i­cally cor­rect.”

His “dream for the next arch­bishop of Dublin is he would be both prophet and shep­herd. The last thing the peo­ple in Bal­lyfer­mot need is a guy with a big thick Ro­man col­lar, in­cense in one hand and canon law in the other.” What was needed was a “dar­ing prophetic and a self-sac­ri­fic­ing warm, car­ing shep­herd.”

Frances O’Brien (36) a teacher of English and re­li­gion at the Tere­sian school in Dublin’s Don­ny­brook, be­lieves young peo­ple like her and her sec­ondary school pupils wanted a new arch­bishop to be “a so­cial jus­tice leader. Some­one who will take up is­sues like cli­mate change and home­less­ness, now that the arch­bishop [Martin] has made the church a safe place for chil­dren.”

They wanted “a fear­less leader will­ing to speak out and who is good at com­mu­ni­ca­tion and who will take on our gov­ern­ments on what is not hap­pen­ing es­pe­cially when ev­ery­thing is about spin.”

For her and many younger Catholics the church was now in a post-abuse sit­u­a­tion. “The re­al­ity is that most of the abuse hap­pened be­fore I was born,” she said. She would also like to see women play a far greater role in church life, in­clud­ing in liturgy, and would wel­come the re­turn to women dea­cons.

A man who is very ac­tive in church af­fairs in Dublin be­lieves “the great legacy of Arch­bishop Martin is child safe­guard­ing”, but the next arch­bishop must be “more pas­toral and more in­volved with young peo­ple who are hang­ing on by their fin­ger­tips.” He also felt a synod of the church in Dublin was “much needed.”

Likely suc­ces­sors he felt “should be around 60” and might in­clude Pro Cathe­dral ad­min­is­tra­tor Fr Kieran McDer­mott or the rec­tor of the Ir­ish Col­lege in Rome Msgr Ciarán O’Car­roll.

He felt Bishop of El­phin Kevin Do­ran ought to be a con­tender as “he’s not afraid to stand up to the politi­cians, as we see on abor­tion. Maybe his wilder­ness years are over.” But he too felt what was needed was “a De­nis Nulty-type per­son who reaches out to peo­ple and not just in the church.”

Abuse sur­vivor Marie Collins is anx­ious about Arch­bishop Martin stand­ing down. “He was ev­ery­thing you would want,” when it came to child safeguad­ing, she said. In her wide ex­pe­ri­ence of dealing with se­nior church fig­ures on the is­sue, up to and in­clud­ing Pope Fran­cis, she said, “Arch­bishop Martin is one of the best. I’ve never made any se­cret of that. He is the most ex­pe­ri­enced in the western church and has han­dled the is­sue ex­tremely well.” What he had achieved in the area “is a tem­plate for the church,” she said.


His suc­ces­sor should be “a mod­ern pas­toral arch­bishop, who would be good with the laity and for­ward-look­ing.” Arch­bishop Martin would be “a loss” and she hoped that after him the church in Dublin “doesn’t fall back into the old ways”.

Jonathan O’Ke­effe (37) has been ac­tive in parish work in his na­tive Co Kil­dare and lat­terly in the John­stown- Killiney parish in Dublin where he has been the youngest mem­ber of the parish pas­toral coun­cil. He be­lieves the next arch­bishop and aux­il­iary bish­ops in Dublin should be “pas­tors.”

Dealing with the abuse is­sue “took its toll” on the cur­rent lead­er­ship. “Very difficult de­ci­sions had to be made, pro­to­cols had to be put in place,” he said.

He felt there had to be a greater role for laity in church af­fairs, in­clud­ing in liturgy, than was al­lowed to date. “We’re look­ing at a sit­u­a­tion where there won’t be a full Mass,” due to a lack of priests, he said, and “there will have to be more lay-led prayer ser­vices”. Also, he said, “We have to get the young in­volved and run­ning things. They will need to al­low laity have more free rein in gen­eral and priests will have to let go of the con­trol fac­tor,” he said.

An­other priest in Dublin said it was essen­tial that the pos­i­tive de­vel­op­ments around child safe­guard­ing were sus­tained by a new arch­bishop. There was also a need for a church synod in Ire­land such as that called by the arch­bishop of Ar­magh (later arch­bishop of Dublin) Paul Cullen at Thurles in 1850 and which laid the ground­work for the Catholic Church that has dom­i­nated in Ire­land since.

Among those he felt would make a good arch­bishop of Dublin would be Bishop Brendan Leahy, Fr Richard Sheehy, mod­er­a­tor in the Glas­nevin group of parishes, or Fr An­drew O’Sul­li­van, mod­er­a­tor of the Sandy­ford group of parishes. This priest said, “What Dublin needs above all at this stage is a real pas­tor with a com­mon touch and more em­pa­thy with the priests who feel very roughed up by Diar­muid Martin.”


He added that while he was an ad­mirer of Arch­bishop Martin’s he was “in a very small mi­nor­ity” among his col­leagues. He de­scribed Arch­bishop Martin as “gifted when dealing with your col­leagues [in the me­dia] and gen­uinely very good at it but much less so with his own.”

In this priest’s view the next arch­bishop should be “a Dublin priest, not some­one parachuted in.” But it should not be Bishop Kevin Do­ran (a Dublin priest) or Bishop of Water­ford and Lis­more Phon­sie Cul­li­nan as “the last thing we need in Dublin is a cul­tural war­rior.” In gen­eral, the priest be­lieved, “the intellectual gene pool” from which to choose a new arch­bishop was “way down”.

Fr Brendan Hoban, co-founder of the As­so­ci­a­tion of Catholic Priests, said he was “hope­ful but not con­fi­dent that we’ll get the arch­bishop of Dublin (or the other bish­ops) we need, pri­mar­ily be­cause of the se­cre­tive but clearly lim­ited con­sul­ta­tion process that usu­ally ends up with those mak­ing the de­ci­sions repli­cat­ing them­selves in the ap­point­ments they make.”

Tra­di­tion­ally, with the ap­point­ment of bish­ops, the qual­i­ties needed “courage, imag­i­na­tion and cre­ativ­ity – are the ones that have been care­fully avoided. ‘A safe pair of hands’, as hereto­fore new bish­ops were of­ten pos­i­tively des­ig­nated, is ex­actly the kind of bishop we don’t need. That ship has passed by.”

What’s needed now, he said, “are not a ret­inue of de­fen­sive cor­ner-backs, but cre­ative mid­field­ers who rel­ish the chal­lenge of open­ing up pos­si­bil­i­ties for rad­i­cal moves in the fu­ture.”

He con­tin­ued, “We’re in Ti­tanic coun­try so there’s no point repli­cat­ing past strate­gies that have clearly failed. Rad­i­cal change is the only se­ri­ous op­tion now and with Pope Fran­cis point­ing the way we need bish­ops who are pre­pared to fol­low his lead in tak­ing a fresh and rad­i­cal change of di­rec­tion.”

What was needed was “some­one brave enough to con­front those who want to take us back to the 19th cen­tury. Some­one se­cure enough in their own skin to be able to live with com­plex­ity and am­biva­lence. Some­one who is not afraid to speak and do the truth, re­gard­less. Some­one who is com­fort­able speak­ing about God and the ab­sence of God in a rapidly chang­ing cul­ture,” Fr Hoban said.

But it was Fr Joe McDon­ald who in­di­cated most clearly the task facing the next arch­bishop of Dublin. His job will be “so colos­sal.”

It will in­volve “the clos­ing of about a third of our churches; the sale of huge tracts of church land and prop­erty; the di­vest­ing of about half of our schools; the sus­pen­sion of the Sacra­ment of Con­fir­ma­tion for about three years; the clos­ing down of sem­i­nar­ies re­placed with an ap­pren­tice­ship/ men­tor style model; the in­clu­sion of women in ev­ery as­pect, in­clud­ing gov­er­nance, of church life; com­plete over­all of Holy Com­mu­nion tak­ing it out of school; re­pair of the dam­age done to the LGBT com­mu­nity; huge work to be done on adult faith for­ma­tion; mas­sive task around new vi­sion of hu­man sex­u­al­ity.”

And that is just for starters.

‘‘ The last thing the peo­ple in Bal­lyfer­mot need is a guy with a big thick Ro­man col­lar, in­cense in one hand and canon law in the other

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