Archbishop Connell is rewarded as Rome's loyal son in Ireland


Perhaps in hindsight the real surprise is not that Armagh was passed over by Rome yesterday, but that the last time Dublin had a cardinal was 116 years ago. There are four basic reasons why a prelate is made a cardinal.

In no particular order, the first is that he is the bishop of an ancient and historic see. The second is that he is a head of one of the Vatican's important congregations. The third is that he is the bishop of a major diocese, and the fourth is that the Vatican simply wants to honour him in recognition of a lifetime of service to the church.

Armagh falls into the first category, and Dublin the third. Apart from being the Archbishop of Dublin, Dr Desmond Connell probably falls into the fourth as well.

Certainly he has been Rome's loyal son in Ireland since he succeeded Archbishop Kevin McNamara in 1988. He rarely hesitates to defend even the most controversial teachings of the church - witness his defence two years ago of Humanae Vitae, the papal encyclical reaffirming the Church's opposition to artificial means of family planning - and he has been to the fore in pushing for another referendum on abortion.

Even so, Archbishop Connell is almost congenitally unsuited to the limelight. With close friends and associates he is a self-effacing man with a dry sense of humour. In public he is socially awkward. He does not mix easily, his shyness sometimes communicating itself as defensiveness. This means he has never been a "people's man" in the same way as, say, the late Cardinal Tomas O Fiaich.

In addition, he is not suited to the age of the sound-bite. A man more conversant with the ways of the media would not have chosen the word "sham", during the inter-communion row of 1997, to describe the action of Catholics receiving communion in Protestant churches.

Thirty-five years teaching philosophy at UCD are hardly ideal preparation for the quick-fire world of public controversy, and so when he was made Archbishop of Dublin it must have been almost as much a shock to him as it was to many observers.

That he will become a cardinal next month will have been something less of a shock. His unimpeachable orthodoxy has been recognised before by Rome. He is a member of several important congregations, including arguably the most important one of all, the Congregation for the Doctrine of the Faith, a sort of doctrinal watchdog headed by Cardinal Joseph Ratzinger. It issued the recent controversial document, Dominus Iesus. No one becomes a member of this congregation unless he is extremely well regarded in the Vatican.

Certainly, he would appear to be more highly regarded than Archbishop Sean Brady, who many people would still have expected to have been among the names announced by the Pope yesterday.

Why was Armagh passed over this time? One reason is because Cardinal Cahal Daly is still alive. Although he is past the age when a cardinal can take part in a conclave to elect a new pope, Armagh has never had two cardinals. Secondly, the situation in Northern Ireland is the most settled it has been in more than 30 years, making it politically easier to give the red hat to Dublin.

Thirdly, Archbishop Brady has not achieved a national profile. A recent opinion poll in this paper showed that fewer people recognise him than recognise his Church of Ireland counterpart, Dr Robin Eames. He appears content to be more the Archbishop of Armagh than the Primate of All Ireland. While he has commented on Northern issues of importance, for example, on whether Catholics should join the Police Service, he has been largely silent on issues of importance south of the Border.

For instance, he did not become involved in the inter-communion row, perhaps because the President, Mrs McAleese, whose action in Christ Church Cathedral sparked it, is popular in the North. On no issue has he put himself in the firing line as Dr Connell has. To this extent Dr Connell has earned his spurs in a way Dr Brady has not.

A FOURTH reason is the one mentioned at the top of this article, namely that perhaps the real surprise is that it has taken so long for Dublin to receive once more the red hat. Dublin, after all, is easily the most important city on the island. It has by far the greatest concentration of people. It is the political capital. It is also in many ways the cultural capital. What happens in Dublin tends to happen elsewhere later.

Dr Connell will next month become the third archbishop of Dublin to be made a cardinal. He will be our 10th home-based cardinal overall. The first two - Cardinals Cullen and Logue - were also archbishops of Dublin.

Since then it has always gone to Armagh. Archbishop McQuaid might have received the red hat in the 1960s, except that he was thwarted by opponents of this both in Rome and Ireland.

At around the time of his death, Northern Ireland exploded and it was regarded as an important gesture to Northern Catholics that their archbishop was also a cardinal.

Dr Connell is 75 in March - the normal retirement age for a bishop. Now he is to be a cardinal, we can assume he will remain at the helm in Dublin - indeed, in Ireland - for another five years. After that the red hat may return to Armagh. Archbishop Brady is still relatively young and could yet be made Cardinal Brady.

David Quinn is the editor of the Irish Catholic.