Problems of the succession

There’s a story in the latest Phoenix [subs required] that’s worth a bit of a look, not least because readers outside Ireland won’t see it. Furthermore, this being the Phoenix, it’s worth a bit of critical expansion because, as so often with that esteemed organ, it isn’t actually wrong but it isn’t necessarily right either, and depends rather heavily on putting two and two together and making five.

I refer of course to Goldhawk’s discussion of when and how Cardinal Seán Brady is to step down. The when will of course become clear in due course. Regardless of his minor role in the Brendan Smyth affair, any connection whatsoever to the Smyth atrocities is profoundly toxic; the trouble is deepened by one of the victims he interviewed suing Brady personally; hostility toward Brady goes way beyond the usual suspects of RTÉ, the Irish Times and the Labour Party; Brady is, in essence, damaged goods and, while I do like that the Catholic Church doesn’t order its affairs according to opinion polls, he is damaged goods in such a major way that he’s unlikely to make it to the statutory retirement age. It may or may not be fair, but that’s ecclesiastical politics for you.

As it happens, Brady turns 71 in a couple of weeks and has had some well-publicised health problems, so he may not be averse to taking early retirement. Indeed, he has already asked Rome to provide him with a coadjutor archbishop, which would signal an orderly transition, with the coadjutor effectively running the Armagh archdiocese and Brady himself functioning as a figurehead, gradually fading into the background. The Vatican has not yet responded to the request, but it’s difficult to see how B16 could turn it down.

This is where we come to the question of who will succeed, and it’s very much tied up with the figure of Archbishop Diarmuid Martin of Dublin. As readers will know, Martin has a unique standing as the publicly identified Good Guy in the sexual abuse scandal; because he gets how serious it is, because he’s a good communicator in terms of shame and repentance, and not least because, having been parachuted in from outside the discredited Irish hierarchy, he doesn’t have cover-ups in his own past to live down. In short, he’s the bishop who it’s okay to like.

I don’t actually dissent from that, but it’s important to bear in mind that Martin is also a very wily ecclesiastical politician. Look, for instance, at the narratives that you often find in the Dublin media. We have Archbishop Martin’s lone struggle against the Irish Episcopal Conference, and against Brady in particular; we even have Martin’s struggle against the Vatican, which idea disintegrates after thirty seconds when you remember that Martin is effectively Benedict’s troubleshooter in Ireland. These stories of Martin as an isolated and underappreciated figure alternate with speculation about the rich reward that will be his for cleaning up the Dublin archdiocese. Some of this is wishful thinking, but some of it is so blatantly self-serving that, if it doesn’t emanate from sources close to the archbishop, it really should do.

Now then. A lot of people in Dublin had their noses put out of joint when Brady rather than Dermo got a red hat at the 2007 consistory. This isn’t just a matter of the esteem Martin is held in, it also reflects a Dublin incredulity that the primatial see should be a rural backwater like Armagh. Beyond that, there can be little doubt that Martin would dearly love to be a cardinal. It’s a question of how he gets there. The Irish hierarchy only gets one cardinal elector, and regardless of whether Brady retires from active service, unless you forcibly prise the zucchetto off his head there will be no vacancy until he turns eighty in 2019, by which time Dermo himself will be facing retirement. You’ll remember the last conclave, when it turned out the sole Irish vote belonged to the retired and discredited Cardinal Des Connell.

We can also probably rule out the possibility of Martin himself moving up to Armagh – a native Dubliner would not go down well in a see normally occupied by Ulstermen, and in any case Martin is at the dangerous age of 65 where, if he took Armagh now, he may not get another job before retirement. It’s been spun for some time that he might get a plum posting in the Roman Curia, which would suit him down to the ground, but as I see it he’s too valuable for Benedict to move – he’s about the only Irish bishop the Pope can have any confidence in – so he’s stuck in Dublin until further notice. This is what’s known as a dead stymie.

The Phoenix then goes on to identify the two leading candidates for Armagh, but this seems to me to be missing the point. The big question is whether the forthcoming Apostolic Visitation will herald a rationalisation of dioceses along the lines proposed by Benedict’s old friend Vincent Twomey. There are an awful lot of episcopal retirements coming up in the next couple of years – and already retiring auxiliaries are not being replaced – so that will ease things somewhat. There’s really no need for Ireland (or England for that matter) to have more dioceses than Belgium and Austria combined, and almost as many as the far larger Catholic community of Germany.

But let’s talk candidates, and leave aside the lunatics on the phone-ins calling for Fr Brian D’Arcy to be the new archbishop. The two men put forward by the Phoenix for the Armagh job are Bishop Noel Treanor of Down and Connor, and the Belfast-based theologian Fr Tim Bartlett. These two are identified as the candidates of Martin and Brady respectively, but it’s a bit more confused than that.

Tim Bartlett is young, smart, talented, media-savvy and very well-connected. He’s especially close to Brady and basically functions as the Cardinal’s unofficial aide-de-camp. I have no doubt that some day he’ll get the mitre he’s always being tipped for, but for the primatial see he may be a little too young and too nakedly ambitious. My expectation would be that he’d be tried out first in a small rural diocese, although amalgamations might narrow the field there, and remember that Brady himself was a pretty obscure figure down in the wilds of Cavan when he was tapped for Armagh. Only in retrospect did people look at Brady’s extensive connections and join the dots.

As for my local bishop, Noel Treanor… well, he he’s been a fairly low-profile figure at Down and Connor, though at least he hasn’t turned out to be an active liability. Goldhawk identifies him as Martin’s man, largely on the basis that both “had spent years in elite church circles abroad”. Well, Treanor did spend some time at the Pontifical Irish College in Rome, but at the time the Vice-Rector there was none other than Fr Seán Brady. He also spent a bit of time on secondment in Brussels doing some justice and peace stuff. It’s not exactly the same as Martin’s long-term background in the Holy See diplomatic service. Which is not to say that Martin may not favour Treanor, nor that he may not try to pull a few strings in Rome… just that the Kremlinology isn’t all that clear-cut.

Anyway, I have no doubt that Noel would think himself a worthy candidate for the big job. When the media furore over Brady was at its peak some months ago, there was a rather amusing sideline where the Irish News kept trying to get a statement out of Treanor indicating confidence in Brady, but Noel proved almost impossible to find.

Two further points. One is that, even if Brady gets a coadjutor archbishop with the right of succession, it won’t necessarily be his favoured successor. The coadjutor wheeze was a favourite of JP2 and Ratzinger when seeking to replace a loose-cannon prelate with someone more orthodox, notably in the famous case of Archbishop Raymond Hunthausen of Seattle back in the 1980s. More recently it was used to install none other than Diarmuid Martin in the Dublin Archdiocese, as Des Connell was diverted towards spending more time with his study of French philosophy. So it’s not just a case of whether, but of who.

Finally, the Apostolic Visitor for the Arrnagh archdiocese is – you’ve guessed it – none other than our old friend Cardinal Cormac Murphy-O’Connor. Doubtless Cormac will want to discuss with Brady the circumstances of him shuffling off the archiepiscopal stage; it may also help that Cormac sits on the Congregation for Bishops, and if there’s string-pulling to be done in Rome, he’s even less of a slouch at it than Brady or Martin.


  1. shane said,

    August 2, 2010 at 2:29 am

    It has long been rumoured that Dr Martin would go back to the Curia, even before Ryan and Murphy. He is very savvy with the media (unlike every other Irish bishop) and has been able to manipulate it to advance both his personal image and interests. I haven’t a lot of time for him, and totally dissent from D4’s cultic veneration, but I can’t stand the Irish Episcopacy generally.

    The reform of the Irish Church will be the task of one of the Pope’s successors. As we seen with the recent Would You Believe special (see this Presbyterian’s review), and its specially selected panel, the Irish media have very narrow and predetermined notions of what exactly that ‘reform’ should involve.

    Catholicism on a parish level, at least in any traditional manifestation, is almost totally dead in Ireland. The older laity who were given a genuinely Catholic catechesis (eg Penny Catechism), and who grew up for a significant part of their life before the devestating post-Conciliar ‘reforms’, still practice by a large majority. On an institutional level the Irish Church has been in auto-demolition since the 60s and if current rates continue, the Irish priesthood will have effectively disappeared in two to three decades. The Irish bishops are mostly elderly men and have little interest invested either way in the future prospects of Irish Catholicism.

    But even with decent bishops, there’s only so much you can do with the Irish priesthood, as currently constituted; the overwhelmingly majority would be much better off laicised (although their age profile will soon see to that anyway).

    The current pontiff won’t appoint tradition-orientated bishops but it wouldn’t surprise me if he does in Ireland what he’s doing in Los Angelus (under the terrible Cardinal Mahony) and deliberately appointed an outsider ‘neo-cat’/Opus Dei-like bishop. Certainly any episcopal appointments must not be from the Maynooth old boys club and I’d prefer for them to have spent a long time abroad.

    • Tiggy said,

      August 2, 2010 at 8:20 am

      Do you see it all as totally the fault of V11 Shane? There is no doubt in my mind that it had a part to play, not just in Ireland but everywhere. But I think there are many other factors too. Too many to list here. Was just wondernig……

      • shane said,

        August 2, 2010 at 2:39 pm

        Agreed but VII was like a coup d’etat for forces (particularly in certain intellectual circles) that were already at work. Yves Congar called it the Church’s October Revolution. St Pius X drove the modernist movement underground but he did not eradicate it completely. The disparity between the actual documents of VII and how it was implemented is shocking.

        Vocations, particularly in religious orders, went into collapse even during the Second Vatican Council. I was speaking recently to a Holy Ghost father who was ordained in 1965. There was about 30 ordinands in his year. 2 years later it was less than half that. Of course the hyped-up and exaggerated emphasis on ‘involving the laity’ in those days caused many to loose focus (why bother sacrificing your life when you already have near-equal privileges as a layman?). Vocations to religious orders in Ireland declined by over 3/4 between 1965 and 1985.

        A lot of reforms which took place directly after VII also shattered peoples’ faith and removed any sense of coherence from the institutional church. Discipline went out the window, modernist and incompetent priests (eg Archbishop Ryan) were appointed to dioceses, and the seminaries was destroyed. When the formula for absolution was altered, most people simply stopped going to confession (but still went to receive Holy Communion!). Devotions and sacramentals like the family rosary, the Brown Scapular, the Miraculous Medal etc. basically disappeared. It was popularly assumed that Mariology (deeply offensive to ecumenical sensibilities) had been supplanted. As late as 1958 the Jesuit Sodality of Our Lady had 823 local branches in Ireland with over a quarter of a million members. All of them fell sharply after VII, especially after the Irish Jesuits turned many of them into CLCs (Christian Life Communities) against the wishes of their own members. By the 1970s, they had declined by over 90%. The Legion of Mary also suffered a similar fall.

        The most devastating changes IMO have been the liturgical and catechetical revolutions. The New Mass is a disaster; it needs to be abolished or at least reformed beyond recognition. The abolition of catechesis was an incomprehensible and inexecusable decision, how can you even expect people to adhere to their religion when they know nothing about it?

  2. shane said,

    August 2, 2010 at 2:48 am

    Obviously reform in the Church in Ireland can’t be divorced from the equally necessary need for reform (particularly liturgical) in the Latin Church generally. It’s going to take a Pope of great stamina to face down the episcopal conferences. I hope Archbishop Ranjith of Sri Lanka, former secretary of the CDW, is elevated to the cardinaliate and takes over from Cardinal Canizares when he retires.

  3. Tiggy said,

    August 2, 2010 at 5:04 pm

    I presume then you have read the book “The Rhine flows into the Tiber”?

    • shane said,

      August 2, 2010 at 8:58 pm

      I have indeed; it’s an excellent account. And for all the media’s ignorant depictions of Benedict as a hard-line reactionary, he’s really still a ressourcement theologian at heart.

      • August 3, 2010 at 1:24 pm

        a ressourcement theologian at heart who helped the US and reactionary regimes in latin America in their suppression of liberation theologists in the 1980ies

    • Conchúr said,

      August 2, 2010 at 9:31 pm

      “The Rhine pollutes the Tiber” would have been a more accurate title. 😉

  4. Corrector said,

    August 3, 2010 at 12:14 am

    Please – let’s not think for a moment that Archbishop Martin is Benedict’s man in Ireland. The Pope can’t stand him, as is well known. That’s why he doesn’t sit on any Vatican congregation. That’s also why he isn’t going back to Rome, and why Dublin will be stuck with him for another 10 years. Also, get facts straight. Martin was not a Vatican diplomat. He was a functionary in Justice and Peace, and ended up a quasi-diplomat by default in Geneva – basically to get him out of Rome. Poor old Diarmo; the media love him, but within the Church he has few friends. As to the succession in the north, Treanor has good chances I think; but watch the wild card: Archbishop Nugent, native of Kilaloe, and newly appointed nuncio in Madagascar. Now there’s a man who Benedict admires, and trusts. If he could sort out China, he might just – just – be able to put some shape on dear old Ireland.

  5. Dr. X said,

    August 3, 2010 at 10:27 am

    >>>Discipline went out the window,

    This is the ‘discipline’ paedophile priests were subjected to, was it?

    • shane said,

      August 3, 2010 at 1:57 pm

      From the Murphy Report:

      “As is shown in Chapter 4, canon law appears to have fallen into disuse and disrespect during the mid 20th century. In particular, there was little or no experience of operating the penal (that is, the criminal) provisions of that law. The collapse of respect for the canon law in Archdiocesan circles is covered in some detail in Chapter 4.”

      • neilcaff said,

        August 4, 2010 at 1:59 pm

        Get a grip Shane, failure to identify and prosecute sexual abuse in the institutions of the Catholic Church was not down to failure to adhere to canon law.

        Fundamentally sexual abuse flourishes where we have two conditions. One is a closed, uncommunicative, shame filled attitude to sex and two (and most importantly) an inequality in power relationships between the abuser and the abused. That’s why sexual abuse of minors was rampant in slave societies, among press ganged sailors or in modern secular institutions like prisons and orphanages where either the guards or the prison gangs (or as is often the case, both) are all powerful. It’s also the reason why the institution where most child sexual abuse is carried out is the family, something rarely reflected on by the those contributors here endlessly bleating about “attacks on the family”.

        In the case of the Catholic Church in Ireland we had a group of people who were effectively above the law put in charge of people who were considered the lowest orders of society, being children and predominantly the children of the working class or poor farmers.
        They were not prosecuted for the same reason government or corporate corruption goes undetected for so long despite codes of conduct, regulations laws etc. prohibiting such behaviour; the bureaucratic instincts of those not directly involved in the wrong doing was to protect the good name of the institution by covering up the wrongdoing. Please do not waste our time or insult our intelligence with this insane notion that if only the true believers in cannon law had their way then we would regularly be seeing in the 1960’s the word of a 12 year old working class kid taken ahead of a 40 year old priest and pillar of the community.

        Given what is now clear about the dynamics of child abuse (in part thanks to a more open attitude to discussing sexual matters something which would never have happened if Shane and his Penny Catechist ilk had their way) I can absolutely guarantee you priests, monks, laity working in Catholic institutions were fucking children long before Vatican II was in existence.

      • shane said,

        August 4, 2010 at 4:57 pm

        “Get a grip Shane, failure to identify and prosecute sexual abuse in the institutions of the Catholic Church was not down to failure to adhere to canon law.”

        The Murphy Commission would care to disagree:

        There is a two thousand year history of Biblical, Papal and Holy See statements showing awareness of clerical child sex abuse. Over the centuries, strong denunciation of clerical child sexual abuse came from Popes, Church councils and other Church sources. A list covering the period 153 AD to 2001 is included in an article by the Promoter of Justice in the Congregation for the Doctrine of the Faith.4 These denunciations are particularly strong on „offences against nature‟ and offences committed with or against juveniles. The 1917 code of canon law decreed deprivation of office and/or benefice, or expulsion from the clerical state for such offences. In the 20th century two separate documents on dealing with child sexual abuse were promulgated by Vatican authorities (see Chapter 4) but little observed in Dublin.

        […]The Commission is satisfied that Church law demanded serious penalties for clerics who abused children. In Dublin from the 1970s onwards this was ignored; the highest priority was the protection of the reputation of the institution and the reputation of priests. The moving around of offending clerics with little or no disclosure of their past is illustrative of this.

        “I can absolutely guarantee you priests, monks, laity working in Catholic institutions were fucking children long before Vatican II was in existence.”

        Stupid strawman. I never said that abuse of children did not take place before VII.

      • neilcaff said,

        August 4, 2010 at 5:39 pm

        Shane I don’t know why you think the Catholic Church denouncing child sex abuse for 2000 years is the same thing as actually dealing with the problem. I don’t deny that Cannon law isn’t keen on child abuse, simply that your contention that it is the failure to adhere to it was the primary part of the problem.

        To repeat it was the power inequalities that were the root of the problem which is actually proved by the fact that the Church has been denouncing it for 2000 years and yet here we are in 2010 where for decades the Catholic Church, with the connivance of the State ran gulags for working class kids where sexual abuse was rampant.

        You are simply using the sex abuse scandal to promote your own agenda of conservatism in the Catholic Church.

  6. Liberal Traditionalist said,

    August 5, 2010 at 10:25 pm

    Why not an outsider? Bishop Tartaglia of Paisley was rumoured to be in the frame for Westminster but the astute Scottish Primate tefused to let him go South of the Border. .

    A (purely one-off) non-Irish appointment might stop the rot. You never read about any Scottish Scandals or Caledonian Cover-ups.

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