THE Irish Cardinal and former RC Archbishop of Dublin, Desmond Connell, has died, aged 90.
He was appointed to the archdiocese in 1988 by Pope John Paul II, whose conservatism he shared. Although ordained in 1951, his experience of pastoral ministry was limited to six months as chaplain in the Mater Hospital, Dublin; the rest of his career in the Church was as a lecturer in metaphysics in University College, Dublin, until his appointment as Archbishop of the see.
Although a strong defender of the vulnerable — especially the Travelling Community — the marginalised and the poor, and generally regarded as courteous and pleasant, he displayed a naivety when commenting on interchurch matters.
He became embroiled in the child-abuse scandal which seriously damaged the reputation of the RC Church, and rowed back on the progressive and growing ecumenism which flourished until he came to office.
He was accused of failing to disclose to the Garda authorities the activities of paedophile priests in his diocese, and denied in 1995 that the archdiocese ever paid compensation to victims abused by priests — only to face the revelation that, in 1998, he had given a loan to one of the most notorious abusers, Fr Ivan Payne, to pay compensation to a victim.
The Cardinal was criticised by the Murphy report into the abuse scandals for handling allegations badly, and particularly for his use of “mental reservation”: an excuse he explained to the Murphy Commission as being “a way of answering without lying”. The report did, however, praise him for eventually, in 2002, providing the authorities with records, but noted that, although having named 17 suspect priests seven years previously, accusations had been levelled against almost 30 priests in the archdiocese.
He later apologised, and, in a general media-interview in 2002, said: “I am as human as any of you,” and described the clerical abuse as “the issue that has devastated my period of office”.
He is widely regarded as having caused great damage to, and a reversal of, interchurch relations by comments he made, chiefly concerning the Church of Ireland, and about his Anglican contemporary in Dublin, Dr Walton Empey, whom he described publicly as not being one of the Church of Ireland’s “high fliers”, and stating that Dr Empey “wouldn’t have much theological competence”.
When the then Irish President, Mary McAleese, and her family, received holy communion during a service at Christ Church Cathedral, Dublin, in 1997, he described the taking of the Anglican sacrament by a Roman Catholic as “a sham”; and, in December of that year, during an interview with the Irish Times newspaper, he explained by saying: “The eucharist is the foundation of our Catholic identity. Taking communion is an expression of faith. Isn’t it a pretence to partake if you’re not buying into what you’re doing, and if you do not share the faith?”
At his funeral in the Pro-Cathedral, Dublin, last Friday, his successor, Dr Diarmuid Martin, said that while commentators said that the late Cardinal was slow to react to the enormity of the child abuse scandal, he must be remembered as the one who established the child-protection service in the diocese, which was the beginning of a new culture, and “which has now, thank God, been widely accepted and welcomed”.
Dr Martin acknowledged that his late predecessor was short on diplomacy, and insensitive, “but not out of malice. He was criticised for being at times less than diplomatic, just as I am criticised for being over-diplomatic.”