Incoming Archbishop of Dublin Dermot Farrell faces daunting job

Current Bishop of Ossory will oversee archdiocese in which half of priests are over 70

The announcement that Bishop of Ossory Dermot Farrell (66) is to be the new Archbishop of Dublin will come as no great surprise to many priests in the archdiocese, as his name has always been among the front runners since Archbishop Diarmuid Martin made clear his intention to retire on reaching 75 last April.

That he has not done so before now is due to the pandemic.

Odds, so to speak, on Bishop Farell being 'the man most likely to' shortened greatly when he was the only bishop to accompany Ireland's four Catholic Archbishops at their meeting with Taoiseach Micheál Martin on October 28th last.

He attended the meeting in his role as finance secretary to the Irish Bishops’ Conference, a position he was appointed to in March 2019.

A very competent administrator, this is reflected not alone in his lengthy period as president, vice-president, and executive assistant to the president, at St Patrick College Maynooth between 1990 and 2007, but also in his service on various boards and committees.

These include the Board of Allianz plc, the Governing Body of the National University of Ireland, Maynooth, the Theological Department Irish Inter-Church Committee, and as National Director of the Permanent Diaconate. He is currently also chairman of Veritas Communications.

Probably his most uncomfortable period was in 2002 when it emerged in this newspaper on May 8th 2002 that his predecessor as president at Maynooth Msgr Micheál Ledwith was then lecturing with a new age cult on the US west coast following his sudden resignation as president at Maynooth in 1994 in circumstances unexplained up to then by Catholic Church authorities and despite persistent media queries.

Then on May 31st 2002, responding to a series of questions from this newspaper, Msgr Farrell as president at Maynooth and the seminary's 17 Bishop trustees issued a statement confirming that, prior to his resignation from office in 1994, child sexual abuse allegations had been made against Msgr Ledwith, which he denied.

It emerged later that Msgr Ledwith had agreed a confidential financial settlement with his accuser, without admission of liability.

As a priest of Ferns diocese, Msgr Ledwith was also investigated by the Ferns inquiry, which published its report in October 2005.

Due to the confidentiality clause it was unable to make specific findings in the alleged abuse case but it did repeat the various abuse allegations against the then still Msgr Lediwth, laicised by the Catholic Church in 2005.

In his new role as Archbishop-elect of Dublin Dermot Farrell faces a daunting job as half of the priests in its 197 parishes are over 70 with declining Mass attendances and dropping revenues. It is also, probably, the most secularised Catholic diocese in Ireland.

Patsy McGarry

Patsy McGarry

Patsy McGarry is Religious Affairs Correspondent of The Irish Times