'Stop Donal' campaign aims to block bishop from filling post


A "Stop Donal" campaign is taking place in the Catholic diocese of Down and Connor, in a bid to ensure Auxiliary Bishop, Dr Donal McKeown, does not succeed Dr Patrick Walsh, who has reached the mandatory retirement age of 75 and has submitted his letter of resignation to Rome.

Down and Connor is the second-largest Catholic diocese on the island of Ireland, after Dublin, and has a Catholic population of 312,056. It includes Belfast and takes in Co Antrim and most of north Co Down.

Sources and commentators in the diocese have indicated that some priests there are actively opposing Bishop McKeown as the man believed most likely to succeed Bishop Walsh, because they perceive him as "too soft" on the issue of integrated education, which they oppose.

Priests locally have been referring to this opposition as a "Stop Donal" campaign.

Bishop McKeown, who will be 57 on Thursday, has wide experience of second-level education in Northern Ireland, having been a teacher from 1978 until he became president at St Malachy's College in Belfast in 1995. He retained that post until he was appointed Auxiliary Bishop of the diocese in 2001. Currently he is still seen as front-runner to succeed Bishop Walsh.

Other possible contenders are said to include Bishop John McAreavey of the next-door Dromore diocese, while a priest of Clogher diocese, Mgr Noel Treanor, has also been named as a possible successor. He is general secretary of Comece, the Commission of Episcopal Conferences of the European Community.

Another name being mentioned is that of Rev Prof Vincent Twomey, former professor of moral theology at St Patrick's College Maynooth, and a former pupil of Pope Benedict's, with whom he studied for seven years in Germany. However, Fr Twomey has been mentioned in connection with just about every Catholic episcopal vacancy in Ireland since the election of Pope Benedict almost two years ago.

Further speculation is that should Bishop McAreavey "translate" (the term used) to Down and Connor, his place in Dromore diocese (mostly Co Down) would be taken by the current Bishop of Cloyne, Dr John Magee, a native of Newry, who has run into difficulties in Cobh over planned renovations at St Colman's Cathedral there.

Meanwhile the appointment of new bishops is awaited in the west of Ireland diocese of Achonry, where Bishop Thomas Flynn reached the mandatory retirement age last July, and in the midland diocese of Ossory,where Bishop Laurence Forristal reached the mandatory retirement age last June. A bishop must submit a letter of resignation to Rome on reaching 75, but it is at the Vatican's discretion when it is accepted.

In Achonry, men most likely to succeed are said to include Fr Martin Convey, president of St Nathy's College, Ballaghaderreen, and Fr Eugene Duffy director of the Western Theological Institute in Galway. In Ossory a name talked about is that of Mgr Liam Bergin, rector of the Irish College in Rome.