The announcement yesterday that the Archbishop of Dublin and Primate of Ireland, Dr Desmond Connell, is to be made a cardinal has been warmly welcomed by religious and political leaders. As even those who may disagree with Dr Connell on many issues will acknowledge, it is due recognition of loyal and dedicated service to Rome through a period of unprecedented difficulty for the Catholic Church in Ireland. Such service did not always guarantee popularity, even from within his own flock, and cannot have been without cost on a personal level for a man who is by nature self-effacing. It has been said he was looking forward to retirement from his post as Dean of Metaphysics at University College Dublin, when asked to accept the appointment as Archbishop of Dublin in 1988.
In the 13 years since, he has managed one of the largest dioceses in Europe, helping bring its finances under control, while giving clear leadership on controversial issues. He has distinguished himself over the past seven years on the Vatican's most influential body, the Congregation for the Doctrine of the Faith, as well as its Congregation of Bishops. He also served on the Pontifical Council for the Pastoral Care of Migrants and Itinerant People in Rome. Since the retirement of Cardinal Cahal Daly as Archbishop of Armagh and Primate of All-Ireland in 1996, Dr Connell has been the most influential figure among bishops on the Irish Episcopal Conference. He is vice-president of that body and, included in an already prodigious workload, is his service on numerous Episcopal commissions.
His appointment means that an Archbishop of Dublin will become cardinal for the first time since the death of Cardinal Edward McCabe in 1885. It is also the first time since the foundation of the State in 1922 that the red hat has not gone to Armagh. At 61, Archbishop Brady is still comparatively young to be created a cardinal but will, most probably, be appointed to the College of Cardinals at a future date.
Dr Connell's promotion means that should there be a conclave within five years, an Irish cardinal will be able to take part in a papal election for the first time since 1963, when Cardinal Michael Browne took part in the conclave which elected Pope Paul VI.