A number of events in the past few days seem to justify my headline.
The background is that many people in Ireland, especially media commentators believe that the Holy Father and church leadership generally have been slow to respond to the ‘crisis’ in the Irish Church. There is a fear, of course, that Ireland is such a small place in the global church map that this perception might be justified.
But as a New Year barely breaks ground, I believe that the fear may be shattered. That’s not to say there will be a tsunami of activity in the next week – Rome doesn’t work that way – but the foundation stones of major change are falling into place.
- Yesterday in Rome, Pope Benedict personally ordained the man he has chosen to be his personal representative in Ireland. The new Archbishop Charles Brown worked in the same Vatican department as Cardinal Ratzinger in Rome. The 52-year-old New Yorker is the first native English speaker to hold the Papal Nuncio to Ireland post since the 1960s. He is not a trained diplomat! He will have a key role in the appointment of Ireland’s next crop of bishops. Not since John Magee’s time in Rome have the Irish Church’s concerns been positioned so close to the ear of the Holy Father.
- Much is expected of the report to be presented to the Holy Father in 2012 of the visitation (read “audit”) of the Irish Church which was conducted in the past year by senior international prelates whose opinion and wisdom the Holy Father values. As if proof of this were needed, the list of newly appointed cardinals announced by Pope Benedict yesterday included two of the four men who have reviewed the Irish church in the past year: Timothy Dolan, Archbishop of New York and Thomas Christopher Collins, Archbishop of Toronto, are among the new list of those to receive the “red hat” next month. They will be among those voting for the next pope! Both men have strong Irish affinities and connections – and the third US archbishop also on the list of Cardinals-elect is Edwin Frederick O’Brien. Guess where his background is? Archbishop Dolan has authored the report to Rome on the state of Irish seminary training for priests, Archbishop Collins’ report deals with the Archdiocese of Cashel and Emly (comprised of the dioceses of Cashel, Cork and Ross, Cloyne, Waterford, Kerry, Limerick, Killalloe).
- Next step? The presentation of the report of the visitation. A lot hangs on it. News expected in February.
So it’s time to welcome the new Apostolic Nuncio and to ask the Lord to bless and strengthen him for the challenge he faces.