Change at St Patrick's


THE DEAN of St Patrick’s Cathedral, Dublin, the Very Rev Robert MacCarthy, retired on Wednesday, following a blistering farewell sermon on Sunday in which he was less than delicate in his criticism of all he had crossed swords with since his election 13 years ago. While he raised some legitimate questions about relations between the Christian churches, ecumenical progress may require a more nuanced approach.

The cathedral chapter and board will want to relegate much of what was said last Sunday to the annals and archives as the chapter begins the immediate task of searching among its own members for a new dean they must hope will be a worthy successor to not only Jonathan Swift but other great deans such as William King and Adam Loftus.

During the tenure of Dean Victor Griffin, the cathedral had a warm place in the hearts of inner-city Dubliners. But St Patrick’s is also a unique institution in the Church of Ireland, serving not as a diocesan cathedral but as a national cathedral, with a chapter that represents all 12 dioceses, North and South. With this unique role, it ought to embody the Church of Ireland’s engagement and interaction with the life of the nation.

The dean may only be chosen from among current, serving chapter members or canons– an all-male body of over two dozen canons. This limits their choice as they seek a new dean with the necessary vision, generosity and true qualities of spirituality.

The first task of the next dean must surely be to mend the many breaches in the cathedral close and to restore trust and confidence with the chapter, the cathedral board and members of the congregation.

This means the new dean must have innate pastoral skills, a true ability to listen to people, and an approach to cathedral life that is collegiate, hospitable and inclusive. Naturally, the new dean must be gifted in liturgy, music and administration, and be learned, scholarly and inspirational. But he must also have a passion to represent Saint Patrick’s to the whole Church of Ireland, to the wider church in general, and to the whole community so that the cathedral once again becomes a truly national cathedral for the whole island.

Electing a dean who falls short in these expectations will have serious consequences for St Patrick’s, for if it fails in its role of allowing the church to speak to the nation and the nation to speak to the church it has lost its sense of mission and vision.