Saturday, November 24, 2007

For Eire, Cardinal "Moses"

Last night, Cardinal-designate Sean Brady of Armagh attended a reception at Rome's Irish College; he's shown above with his sister, Kitty, a Dublin teacher.

A former rector of the college, the elevation of the low-key Primate of All Ireland -- only the eleventh Irishman to ever receive the red hat -- is being acclaimed at home, both across the North-South divide and by press and prelates alike.

The Irish Independent's John Cooney writes in today's editions that Brady's honor "is Papal recognition of his honesty in cleaning up the clerical child sex abuse scandals, as well as for his stout defence of the Catholic faith in the most difficult period for the Irish Church since the Penal Days."

The primate "is widely seen as representing the pulse of a Catholic revival in Ireland," Cooney noted, "and is also being rewarded for his role in the peace process in the North."

What's more, in an analysis piece yesterday, the paper's chief religion hand asked if, as the "de facto" head of the Irish church, Brady might just the lead the Auld Sod "to the Promised Land":

What Sean Brady has going for him is patent sincerity. What he also has going for him is genuine humility. The Church has its fair share of careerists and it will have impressed Rome that Archbishop Brady is not the type to campaign for a red hat. In addition, he is impeccably orthodox, though not in a rigid way. Much as I loath that overused word 'pastoral', he is a good pastor. There's a wonderful story about how, when he was rector of the Irish College in Rome , he used to regularly help out a homeless Irishman who would call to the college from time to time....

By making him a cardinal, Rome has very much thrust Sean Brady front and centre so far as the Church in Ireland is concerned. When he was 'merely' Archbishop of Armagh he may have felt slightly overshadowed by Dublin and the media would have been more inclined to see the capital city's prelate as the leader of the Church rather than his counterpart in Armagh. This will no longer be the case. Even if he is not the de jure leader of the Church he is the de facto leader.

How will he be expected to lead? For one thing he will be expected to do more teaching than listening. The 'listening Church' metaphor has become completely over-used. Yes, the Church has to listen if it wants to read the signs of the times. But it also has to teach. First and foremost it has to teach. As a retired bishop once remarked, when Christ sent out the disciples he told them to convert all the nations, not listen to them.

Teaching will mean tackling the tough issues and not just the easy ones that will win media applause. The easy ones essentially are anything that will win an approving Irish Times editorial. The hard ones are those likely to earn you a slap on the wrist from that same quarter....

He must also get the Church -- no, make that the churches, plus the Jewish and Muslim communities -- much more involved in the marriage debate. The Government is sleep-walking us into a radical new family policy that puts adult autonomy first and child welfare second by degrading marriage as a social institution even though marriage is the most pro-child of all family forms.

These tasks mean the Church must become more assertive in public debate. Assertive doesn't mean aggressive. Nor does assertive mean trying to impose itself in an undemocratic way upon society. What it simply means is having the same right as any other social actor to influence public opinion. A refusal to allow this is the kind of aggressive secularism spoken of by [Irish Prime Minister] Bertie Ahern.

Doing all of the above successfully is a tall order. But as Cardinal, Sean Brady's responsibility will be to try. He may not quite lead us to the Promised Land. But in his new role he has a chance to lead us to a slightly better one.

In Belfast, the paper of record pitches in a tribute:
[I]t is generally recognised that Dr Brady's elevation is not only a personal affirmation of his work and character, but also an affirmation of the important, and indeed primary, role of Armagh in Irish Catholic Church affairs. This is the city where St Patrick established his first main Church in the fifth century AD, and the relationship between the Catholic and Church of Ireland Primates, and with other Church leaders, is of paramount importance.

It was significant that Dr Brady's appointment was welcomed by the heads of the main Protestant Churches, including the Presbyterian Moderator and the Methodist President. In his 12 years as Catholic Primate, Dr Brady had close working relationships with his Church of Ireland counterpart Archbishop Robin Eames, and latterly with the new Church of Ireland Primate, Dr Alan Harper, whom he met at ecumenical gatherings.

One of Archbishop Brady's priorities has been, and will continue to be, the development of good relations between all the main Churches. Earlier this week Bishop Anthony Farquhar, president of the Irish Bishops' Commission on Ecumenism, pointed out that this has been particularly helpful in furthering this important work.

One result of Archbishop Brady's elevation to the role of Cardinal could be a significant increase in the number of invitations to speak at functions all over Ireland, and further afield. He prepares such addresses very carefully and his work-load may increase accordingly.

This, he admits, will give him even less time to read widely or to enjoy some of his pastimes, such as Gaelic games and reading.

However it is highly unlikely that the new role will change Dr Brady as a person. He is widely-respected as a genuinely humble and spiritual man whose main desire to is spread the values of the Gospel. As he said himself recently: "My motto is 'To know Jesus Christ' and that's what I will be judged on - what did I do to help people to know Jesus Christ. In the end, that's what really matters."
In an interview with Vatican Radio on Consistory Eve, Brady characterized his thoughts on the elevation as a "taking up [of] the cross."

"It's a call to deeper service," he said.

The 68 year-old designate's parents and grandparents would also be on his mind. "I know many of them would be very proud," he said, "and a lot would be very surprised."

The new cardinal has called on a longtime friend and seminary classmate -- now Archbishop Dermot Clifford of Cashel and Emly -- to deliver the homily at Monday's Mass of Thanksgiving at St John Lateran, the Roman basilica where the two were ordained. Three days later, touring Armagh aboard an open-top bus before a climactic liturgy in St Patrick's Cathedral, word says the eighth cardinal-primate will get a "hero's welcome" home.

Brady's titular church will be, relatively speaking, a surprise. For several decades, the tradition had been to give St Patrick's successor the church dedicated to the "apostle of Ireland," located along the banks of the Tiber. However, S. Patrizio is still in the care of his predecessor, 90 year-old Cardinal Cahal Daly.

In a first, Armagh will see two living cardinals, and the Isle three; the other is the archbishop-emeritus of Dublin Cardinal Des Connell, who was elevated in 2001. With the others past 80, however, Brady becomes Ireland's lone papal elector.

PHOTO: Dara Mac Dónaill/Irish Times