New head of Catholic church in Ireland an ‘unknown’ in Rome

New Primate is clearly seen as an expression of the previous ‘regime’, writes Paddy Agnew

 Dr Eamon Martin who succeeds Cardinal Seán Brady as Archbishop of Armagh and Catholic Primate of All Ireland, pictured at St Patrick’s Cathedral, Armagh, on Monday. Photograph: Eric Luke / The Irish Times

Dr Eamon Martin who succeeds Cardinal Seán Brady as Archbishop of Armagh and Catholic Primate of All Ireland, pictured at St Patrick’s Cathedral, Armagh, on Monday. Photograph: Eric Luke / The Irish Times

 

Archbishop Eamon Martin, the new Primate of the Catholic Church, is seen as something of a relative “unknown” in the Holy See. Furthermore, he is seen as much more an expression of the Benedict pontificate than of that of Pope Francis.

Given the fact that Archbishop Martin did not study in Rome nor has he ever worked at the Holy See, it is understandable that he is little known to the Curia. Vatican insiders point out that by no means all local church leaders come complete with a “Roman” dimension to their CV.

However, Archbishop Martin does come with the seal of approval of Papal Nuncio, Arcbishop Charles Brown, someone who after 11 years alongside the future Pope Benedict at the Congregation For The Doctrine of the Faith (CDF), is certainly well known around here.

Having been appointed by Pope Benedict in January 2013, obviously on the recommendation of Nuncio Brown, the new Primate is clearly seen as an expression of the previous “regime”. Commentators also suggest that one occasion when he may have appeared on the Rome radar came in May 2013 when, in an interview, he said that legislators who support abortion are “excommunicating themselves”.

That observation may have appealed to pro-life and other conservative Church elements but it is hardly in harmony with the ministry of a Pope who in a September 2013 collective interview with Jesuit magazines spoke of the Church as a “field hospital” that must “heal wounds”, adding: “We cannot insist only on issues related to abortion, gay marriage and the use of contraceptive methods...I have not spoken much about these things and I was reprimanded for that. But when we speak about these issues, we have to talk about them in a context...”

Vatican commentators have argued that the speed with which Pope Francis accepted the resignation of Cardinal Seán Brady as primate (on Monday) is indicative of his “zero tolerance” approach to clerical sexual abuse. Even if elements of Irish public opinion would argue that the Archbishop of Armagh’s resignation was, in fact, long overdue, it still appears to have been handled quickly by Holy See standards.

Although 75 is the mandatory retirement age for Bishops and Cardinals, the Holy See often ignores this ruling and allows a particular office holder to remain in his position for anything up to three more years. The two most obvious examples of this practise were recent Secretaries of State, Cardinals Angelo Sodano and Taricisio Bertone, who were both 78 years old when Popes Benedict and Francis finally accepted their resignations.

Commentators see the rubber stamping of the Brady resignation, within less than one month of his 75th birthday, as further indication of the Francis style of church governance. In the last year, the Pope has sent two very clear signals with regard to clerical sex abuse, firstly by instituting the Church’s first ever Commission for the Protection of Minors and secondly by the “defrocking” of former Papal Nuncio Josef Wesolowski, found guilty of paedophile crime by a Roman canonical court this summer.

Vatican senior spokesman Father Federico Lombardi, however, rejected such an interpretation, describing the resignation as “totally normal”. Father Lombardi pointed out that, given that Coadjutor Archbishop Martin had already been appointed, then there was no reason for the Pope not to immediately accept Cardinal Brady’s resignation, saying: “I find the whole thing totally normal...from the moment that you have a Coadjutor in place, then there is no reason to hang around, looking for a successor...”

Commentators point out that in realpolitik terms, Cardinal Brady’s effective resignation came in January last year with the appointment of Archbishop Martin, given that the appointment of a Coadjutor is often seen as a way of moving aside an office holder, whilst sparing him the humiliation of a public sacking. Many in Rome consider Cardinal Brady to have been a decent man whose good work in the area of ecumenical relations was entirely overshadowed by his unfortunate involvement in the case of abuser priest, Brendan Smyth.

Many Rome observers also believe that Cardinal Brady’s decision not to resign in 2010 at the height of the controversy sparked by his role in the Brendan Boland/Brendan Smyth case was as a result of direct orders from Pope Benedict:

“Sean would always do whatever Rome tells him to do...His decision not to resign would have come from Rome...”, commented one Vatican insider this week.

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