It is an indication of how seriously the Vatican continues to view the Church in Ireland that it has just appointed one of its most experienced and competent figures as coadjutor to the Archdiocese of Dublin.
That person is Archbishop Diarmuid Martin, whose most recent job was permanent observer of the Holy See at the United Nations office in Geneva. A coadjutor is an auxiliary bishop with the right of succession. This means that when the present incumbent, Cardinal Desmond Connell, steps down as archbishop of Dublin, Archbishop Martin will take over the reins.
This is likely to happen within the year because the cardinal is now 77 and has already submitted his resignation to Rome twice.
Archbishop Martin, 58, will have an enormously challenging job before him, but he is well equipped for it. Those who have followed U.N. conferences such as the Cairo Conference on Population and Development or the Beijing Women's Conference will be familiar with him.
In Cairo and Beijing, Archbishop Martin, then simply Father Martin, found himself negotiating with heavyweights such as Hillary Clinton on behalf of not only the Vatican but also the Islamic world, as well as many South American and Third World countries.
At both of those conferences a concerted effort was made by feminist nongovernmental organizations and a coalition of Western nations to foist population-control policies, including abortion, on the Third World in particular. It was Western cultural imperialism writ large. Archbishop Martin gained a reputation as a very skilled and shrewd negotiator at those meetings – and many others – and even gained the respect of his opposite numbers.
Archbishop Martin is a priest of the Dublin Archdiocese but has been serving with the Vatican since 1976. From then until 1986 he was with the Pontifical Council for the Family. He was then appointed undersecretary of the Pontifical Council for Justice and Peace, and in 1994 became secretary of that same council, working alongside the saintly Cardinal Francis Xavier Nguyen Van Thuan, who died last year.
He has been a champion of Third World debt reduction long before Bono of U2 fame took up the cause. In that capacity he has had dealings with the World Bank and the International Monetary Fund.
It is hard to imagine some clerics working in anything but the Church. This is not the case with Archbishop Martin. It is easy to visualize him heading a government department or a major corporation. Obviously there is much more to being a bishop than this – a bishop needs first and foremost a deep personal faith – but one who combines deep faith with a high level of competence plus a vision is ideal. God-given, actually. Informed Irish Catholics have high hopes that Archbishop Martin might combine all three qualities.
As archbishop of Dublin he will need them. The country's biggest diocese has been adrift for some years now. It has been beset by the child-abuse scandals and Cardinal Connell has had to postpone major decisions – for example, the fate of the diocesan seminary – until his successor takes over.
In addition, there has been a dearth of leadership in the Irish hierarchy as a whole. There are individual bishops who are doing good jobs in their dioceses, but there are none making a truly national impact or who are capable of galvanizing their colleagues.
Some people might think the fact that Archbishop Martin has been out of the country for so long will disadvantage him. If anything, it will have the opposite effect, because he will come into the job unaffected by the malaise that has much of the Irish Church in its grip. He is coming from a part of the Church that is invigorated and purposeful. He knows how to get things done and he has worked with some of the world's most powerful figures.
This means he will not be intimidated by Ireland's “movers and shakers.”
Critically, he will come into office quite untainted by the abuse scandals. He cannot possibly be blamed for mismanaging cases of clerical sex abuse.
Also, now that proper child-protection measures are in place and past cases are being thoroughly investigated by civil authorities, this whole sorry episode should be behind us shortly. This on its own will go a long way toward restoring priestly morale, which in turn will help to restore the morale of the laity.
The Irish Church is a vital cog in the wheel of the Church internationally. It has helped to build the Church in America, Australia and the rest of the “New World.” It has provided thousands of missionaries to every part of the Third World. Many Catholics of Irish descent still look to Ireland as a source of inspiration and hope.
The Church in Ireland has been going through a very rocky period in its long history. Archbishop Martin may well be the man to successfully navigate it into better times.
David Quinn is editor of theIrish Catholic.