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End of an Era in Northern Ireland as Cardinal Brady Steps Down

Archbishop Eamon Martin of Armagh

Archdiocese of Armagh

Greg Daly - published on 09/11/14

Archbishop Martin says that he hopes to put a “fresh heart” into the renewal of the Irish Church.

Few Catholics in Ireland will have been surprised by the news Monday that Pope Francis had accepted the resignation of Cardinal Sean Brady, and that Eamon Martin, his Coadjutor Archbishop, was succeeding him as Archbishop of Armagh.

In July, the same month Cardinal Brady tendered his resignation in advance of his 75th birthday, Marie Kane, a 43-year-old survivor of clerical abuse had met with Pope Francis. Kane asked the Pope to remove Cardinal Brady from office, telling him that “until people like Sean Brady are gone, I will never believe that there is change.”

Michael Kelly, editor of the Irish Catholic newspaper, describes as “one of the great paradoxes” of Cardinal Brady how despite the Primate of All Ireland having done perhaps more than anyone to bring in the Irish Church’s now robust child protection guidelines, he nonetheless “remained as a very potent symbol of the way things were handled badly in the past.”

Originally appointed to the see of Armagh in the belief that he was someone untouched by the clerical sex abuse scandals that filled the pages of Ireland’s newspapers in the mid-1990s, it was revealed in 1997 that while still a young priest Brady had served as a notary in the 1975 canonical investigation into Father Brendan Smyth, Ireland’s most notorious child abuser. As notary he had sworn victims of Smyth to silence about their involvement in the investigation, and had passed on what they told him to the bishop to whom the victims’ parents had initially complained, but had not reported the matter to the police, trusting his bishop and Smyth’s own order to handle matters responsibly.

This story was generally ignored when first reported, but sparked popular outrage when revived in 2010 and made the subject of a BBC documentary in 2012. “I think the cardinal was ready to go in 2010,” says Kelly. “I think there was a moment when he decided that it was the right thing for him to do: survivors were calling on him to go, other people within the Church were saying he should go.”

Instead, though, Brady stayed on, despite it being clear, according to Kelly, that “his heart hasn’t been in the job.” He sought the assistance of a coadjutor bishop, and in January 2013 it was announced that Eamon Martin, hitherto administrator of the Diocese of Derry, was to fill that role, with the expectation that he would succeed Brady as soon as practically possible.

Describing the speed with which Pope Francis accepted Cardinal Brady’s resignation as almost unprecedented, Kelly says it shows that Pope Francis realizes how important it is that the Church not merely takes the issue of child protection seriously, but is seen to be doing so. “And when you have someone like Cardinal Brady at the helm,” he adds, “you can’t really talk of looking to the future.”

Looking to the future, on the other hand, is exactly what Archbishop Martin, successor of Saint Patrick and 116th Archbishop of Armagh, is calling us all to do.

“I really feel motivated by Pope Francis to think of pastoral ministry now in a missionary key,” he told Vatican Radio. “I love that phrase of his, and I really feel that Pope Francis is challenging us to really think of evangelization in terms of mission – going out there to the peripheries and trying to bring the good news of Jesus Christ to everyone that we meet. For me that’s my greatest priority, and also my greatest challenge.”

Identifying the abuse scandals, increasing secularization, and fewer vocations to the priesthood and religious life as challenges that need to be faced, and paying tribute to his predecessor for his important work in Northern Ireland’s peace process, Archbishop Martin says that he hopes to put a “fresh heart” into the renewal of the Irish Church, but that his first priority is to get to know his people, many of whom he has already met in his 16 months as coadjutor.

“Pope Francis,” he says, “challenged us all with those words ‘getting to know the smell of your sheep’ and I think in my own case, it’s so important that I get out there, get to meet the people, the priests, the religious, who are in the diocese here in Armagh.”

The more he listens, the more he is likely to experience a Church that, although demoralized, is far from a lost cause. Ninety percent Mass attendance rates may be a thing of the past, with some Dublin parishes barely managing one percent or two percent, and generally low attendance rates among younger age groups have caused one priest to remark that “the real crisis for the Church is the shortage of laity rather than the shortage of clergy.” Nonetheless, even now 84 percent of people in the Republic of Ireland still self-identify as Catholic, a typical Sunday sees about a third of Ireland’s Catholics at Mass, and there are real signs of life in such movements as Youth 2000.

Archbishop Martin would do well to remind himself of this if he needs the “courage to get up and go out.” Getting up and going out, he says, is not merely his greatest challenge but “the great adventure that is evangelization and that is being a believer in today’s world.”

Greg Daly covers the U.K. and Ireland for Aleteia.

Tags:
IrelandPope Francis
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