'He was a man of another generation' - Cardinal Connell dies at age of 90
"He was bishop at a difficult time and had a difficult episcopate," Archbishop Diarmuid Martin of Dublin said of his predecessor, Cardinal Desmond Connell, who died yesterday morning aged 90 after a short illness.
Describing him as "a man of another generation", Archbishop Martin said this was evident in his politeness and courtesy.
However, he also acknowledged that "it was difficult for him to live in a world of fast decisions and that may have led to some errors of judgment", but that the former archbishop of Dublin had apologised for those.
"Even in his latter days, he was asking himself what he could have done better," he said.
His views were echoed by Taoiseach Enda Kenny, who said the Cardinal's time as archbishop of Dublin was "controversial" but that those who knew him recognised his desire for holiness and gentleness, and humility of character.
Prior to his surprise appointment as archbishop of Dublin in 1988, Cardinal Connell lectured in metaphysics at University College Dublin. He had just six months' pastoral experience as a hospital chaplain when he was plucked from academia to lead the country's largest diocese, which he did for 16 years. Pope John Paul II made him a cardinal in 2001.
His later years in office, until he was succeeded by Diarmuid Martin, in 2004, were dogged by the fallout of the Irish church's clerical abuse scandals which culminated in the Murphy Report of 2009 which criticised Cardinal Connell for being slow to recognise the seriousness of the situation.
In 2002, RTÉ screened 'Cardinal Secrets', which led to the setting up of the Murphy inquiry. The programme claimed the Church had failed to give information about abuser priests to the police and a 'clean' reference was issued for a priest who was alleged to have abused children.
From 1988, Cardinal Connell continued to insure the Archdiocese of Dublin against liability from the victims of clerical abuse. He arranged for compensation payments to be made from a 'Stewardship Trust' that was kept secret until 2003.
However, Archbishop Diarmuid Martin also highlighted that it was Cardinal Connell who established the first child protection office in the Dublin diocese.
Speaking in Archbishop's House, Dr Martin said that though the Murphy Commission had criticised Cardinal Connell, "he was the one person who began to change things" and had sought to establish the extent of the abuse problem.
"I think in the beginning he had no idea of the extent of the problem," he said, and highlighted that Dublin-born Cardinal Connell "was absolutely frustrated" by some of the decisions taken by Vatican officials, a reference to a directive to the Irish bishops in 1997 by members of the Vatican's Congregation for the Clergy not to enforce their new guidelines calling for mandatory reporting of priests who sexually abused children.
According to Archbishop Martin, Cardinal Connell was one of the first to invoke a provision in canon law whereby a priest who is an abuser can be directly removed from ministry. He used this to remove the notorious paedophile Fr Tony Walsh.
Nevertheless, it was not all plain sailing between the two as Cardinal Connell issued legal proceedings against Archbishop Martin to try to prevent the handing over of 80,000 files from the Archdiocese of Dublin to the Murphy investigation.
"He had a very strong sense of confidentiality," Dr Martin said, but added "the Church is not there to hide crimes."
Marie Collins, who was abused by a Dublin priest and now serves on the Vatican's Commission for the Protection of Minors, said that in the 1990s when she was dealing with Cardinal Connell, he was "very much locked into ... canon law and defending the church".
"He had little or no understanding of the devastation to victims. Undoubtedly he had done things behind the scenes to remove offending priests, but when it came to some cases, he mishandled them," she said.