Sympathies expressed on passing of Cardinal Desmond Connell

Cardinal realised mistakes and was willing to apologise for them, says Dr Diarmuid Martin

Abuse survivor Marie Collins said Cardinal Connell’s lack of pastoral experience made it very difficult for him to deal with  clerical child sex abuse. Photograph: Cyril Byrne

Abuse survivor Marie Collins said Cardinal Connell’s lack of pastoral experience made it very difficult for him to deal with clerical child sex abuse. Photograph: Cyril Byrne


Tributes paid to former archbishop of Dublin Cardinal Desmond Connell have depicted him as a man of integrity who nevertheless failed to adequately address institutional child abuse in the Catholic Church.

His successor as archbishop of Dublin, Dr Diarmuid Martin, said Cardinal Connell, who died on Tuesday aged 90, realised his mistakes and was willing to apologise for them.

“He was a man who struggled. Struggled with himself, with wanting to do the right thing. He realised he made mistakes, he apologised for his mistakes and kept going,” Dr Martin said.

The archbishop said he was pleased to see messages from victims and survivors of child clerical sex abuse saying positive things about Cardinal Connell. “I also have to remember that they went through a difficult period when we hadn’t got things working as they should.”

Dr Martin praised Cardinal Connell for starting a child protection service in the Dublin diocese. “There are others who feel he was too slow in recognising the problems, but he was the one who began to change things,” he added.

Clerical abuse survivor and campaigner Andrew Madden said “the consequences of his management of allegations and knowledge of child sexual abuse by priests in the archdiocese is well documented at this stage. So on a day like today, the only thing to say is rest in peace.

“A lot has changed since. The church operates in a very different environment . . . If I have any concerns it’s that the Catholic Church . . . in this country and elsewhere, that any child sexual abuse it learns of during the course of confession it won’t report to civil authorities.”

Little understanding

“He had little understanding of the devastation to victims. When it came to some cases he mishandled them. I don’t think he ever accepted the suffering he caused by the way he handled victims,” she told RTÉ Radio.

In a short statement issued by Áras an Uachtaráin, President Michael D Higgins expressed his condolences “to Cardinal Connell’s family, his colleagues in the archdiocese of Dublin and at UCD”.

Taoiseach Enda Kenny said: “Cardinal Connell had a long and distinguished academic career and while his time as archbishop was controversial, those who knew him recognised his desire for holiness and his gentleness and humility of character.”

Archbishop of Armagh Eamon Martin said Cardinal Connell had asked forgiveness over his failings on child abuse. “Although his time as archbishop coincided with one of the most challenging periods in the recent history of the church in Ireland, he remained dedicated to his priestly and episcopal calling.

“Regarding the failures on his part in addressing the issue of child sexual abuse, he himself asked for forgiveness from those who had been ‘so shamefully harmed’, and said, ‘I express without reservation my bitter regret’.”

A statement on behalf of Church of Ireland Archbishop of Dublin Dr Michael Jackson expressed his sympathy “to members of the Roman Catholic archdiocese of Dublin on the death of the longserving former archbishop . . . He wishes to assure all of those touched by Cardinal Connell’s death of his prayers at this sad time of bereavement”.

Cardinal Connell’s remains will repose at St Mary’s Pro-Cathedral, Dublin, on Thursday, February 23rd, at 7pm, reposing in the Pro-Cathedral until 9pm. Funeral Mass will be held on Friday at 11am.