ONE of the country’s most senior clerics is retiring on the grounds of ill-health.
Auxiliary Bishop of Armagh, Gerard Clifford (72), announced today he was leaving his post on medical advice.
His resignation was accepted by Pope Benedict in recent days.
Bishop Clifford, who is from Co Louth, leaves his position today. The president of crisis pregnancy agency CURA since 2010, he said he would take on a “different role” in his retirement.
“The Holy Father Pope Benedict XVI has granted my request for retirement as auxiliary bishop of the Archdiocese of Armagh on the grounds of my ill health,” he said in a statement.
“I am very grateful to Pope Benedict for doing so especially at this momentous time in his own life and ministry.
“My decision to retire as auxiliary bishop of the Archdiocese of Armagh is based on medical advice which I have been receiving since last August. It is with great sadness that I come to today’s decision.”
Bishop Clifford was ordained in June 1967 and ordained a bishop in April 1991. He served as executive secretary of the Irish Catholic Bishops’ Conference from 1984 to 1991, and was a member of the Irish Catholic Bishops’ Conference’s Council for Ecumenism (and Dialogue).
He has been president of CURA since 2010 and worked with the late Church of Ireland Canon William Arlow following the 1979 visit of John Paul II to Ireland, where he urged churches to work more closely together.
Cardinal Sean Brady said he “understood and supported” Bishop Clifford’s decision to retire, and he was pleased “for his own sake and for his health”.
“However I genuinely regret the retirement of Bishop Clifford and his loyal, faithful and outstanding support at all times since my own appointment to the Archdiocese of Armagh in 1995. At a personal level I greatly appreciate his warmth, wisdom and compassion and I look forward to our continued friendship over the years ahead,” he said.
Bishop Clifford said his work had been both “challenging and complex”, but was a “deeply rewarding vocation”.
“I have grown up locally in the diocese - born in the parish of Lordship & Ballymascanlon in 1941 - and as priest and auxiliary bishop in the Archdiocese of Armagh, I have received great warmth and affection throughout my ministry from the people of the diocese. I thank them for their support in my 21 years as Auxiliary Bishop.
“At this time I wish to pay tribute to Cardinal Seán Brady and to the priests of the Archdiocese of Armagh. Cardinal Brady has been a model episcopal colleague; his humanity, deep faith and natural humility bear witness to the most fundamental of Gospel values.
“As I take on a different role I will continue, God willing, to promote and foster the Gospel message in its fullness. I ask that you remember me in your prayers today and in the future.”
The Catholic Communications Office said larger dioceses including Armagh, Dublin and Down and Donnor generally had at least one auxiliary, or assistant, bishop.
Last January, Pope Benedict appointed Monsignor Eamon Martin as coadjutor archbishop - or archbishop with the right of succession - in Armagh, meaning he will take over from Cardinal Sean Brady when he retires.
Monsignor Martin has yet to undergo his ordination as a bishop, but is expected to be assigned to Armagh shortly.