Ledwith's name submitted for Dublin archbishop post


Among the three names submitted to Rome in 1987 as likely successors to the post of archbishop of Dublin was that of the former president of St Patrick's College, Maynooth, Dr Miceál Ledwith, against whom there have been allegations of sexual abuse.

When an episcopal vacancy arises in the Catholic Church it is procedure for a papal nuncio to canvass the views of diocesan priests and others on likely successors. From names proposed, three may be selected by the nuncio and submitted to Rome, from which one is appointed by the Pope.

When it came to choosing a successor to the late archbishop of Dublin, Dr Kevin McNamara, the then papal nuncio Dr Gaetano Alibrandi is understood to have submitted the names of Mgr Ledwith, that of then auxiliary bishop of Dublin Dr Donal Murray, (now Bishop of Limerick), and Dr Desmond Connell, then dean of metaphysics at UCD. Dr Connell was appointed to the vacancy.

What makes Dr Alibrandi's submission of Mgr Ledwith's name to Rome in 1987 surprising is that three years previously in 1984 the former president was a frontrunner to become Bishop of Ferns when concerns about his behaviour emerged. Bishop Brendan Comiskey was appointed to Ferns.

Father Gerard McGinnity, senior dean at St Patrick's College Maynooth in 1984, told The Irish Times last July he had been consulted then about Mgr Ledwith as a likely bishop of Ferns by Dr Alibrandi, as part of church procedure. This Sub Pontificio Secreto (under pontifical secrecy) procedure involves filling written answers on a form sent by the papal nuncio to people who would know a prospective episcopal candidate well. In his replies, Father McGinnity repeated concerns about Mgr Ledwith's behaviour, then being expressed by senior seminarians and others.

On June 1st last year, the trustees of St Patrick's College, Maynooth acknowledged that, before his abrupt departure in 1995, an allegation of sexual abuse involving a minor had been made against Mgr Ledwith, which he denied strenuously. They also said he made a settlement with the claimant, without admission of liability. They further disclosed that in 2000 they were told of another allegation against the monsignor, made by a former student at the college between 1992 and 1994.

In 1987, Bishop Murray was the choice of a majority of Dublin priests to succeed Archbishop McNamara. However, Dr Alibrandi did not favour him, and the post went to Dr Connell.

Bishop Murray's prospects were not helped by controversy generated by an RTÉ news report which claimed he was not acceptable to Rome because he permitted "unorthodox" practices such as allowing altar girls take part in church services in Bray.

The report caused surprise, not least as it created an impression that Bishop Murray was on the Church's liberal wing. The leading moral theologian among Ireland's Catholic bishops - then as now - belongs very much to the more orthodox school in the church.