PUNTERS scooped a handsome €7,000 pay-out yesterday when their candidate romped home in the Belfast Episcopal Stakes.
It was confirmed by the Vatican that Monsignor Noel Treanor, an EU expert based in Brussels, is the next bishop of the diocese of Down and Connor.
The 54-year-old monsignor suddenly emerged as the frontrunner to succeed retiring Bishop Patrick Walsh last week when Paddy Power stopped taking bets on his being picked to run the country's second largest diocese.
Up to 67 clerical insiders claimed their takings at bets ranging from 7-1 to 5-4 on the Monaghan-born Treanor.
"This is the first time that we have had to pay out in the relatively small market of church appointments," said Paddy Power PR Sharon McHugh.
"We were roughly even on the betting on the present Pope three years ago. But we closed the book on Down and Connor when we saw a rush of bets on Mgr Treanor. This has not broken the bank."
On a more solemn note, Monsignor Treanor's appointment was one of two key posts filled yesterday by Pope Benedict that will help shape the future direction of the Irish Catholic Church and influence Church-State relations in both Leinster House and Stormont Castle.
In Rome Archbishop Giuseppe Leanza, a papal diplomat, was named as the Holy See's Apostolic Nuncio to Ireland. Archbishop Leanza (65) is currently ambassador in Bulgaria.
He succeeds his fellow Italian, Archbishop Guiseppe Lazzarotto, as the dean, or automatic head, of the Irish diplomatic corps. Mgr Treanor's experience in Church-States relations has groomed him for the task of keeping close relations with the Stormont government and Assembly.
A priest of the diocese of Clogher, Mgr Treanor is presently Secretary General of the Commission of the Bishops' Conference of the European Community (COMECE).
With a Catholic population of 317,622 members, the diocese, whose headquarters is in Belfast, includes Co Antrim, the greater part of Co Down and part of CoDerry.
The previous favourite was Dr Donal McKeown, an auxiliary bishop of Down and Connor, and the Vatican's awarding of the mitre and the crozier to an outsider has come as a disappointment to the local clergy, who had hoped to be led by one of their own ranks.
But last night Cardinal Sean Brady, who attended last month's meeting in Rome of the Congregation of Bishops that made the recommendation to the Pope, welcomed the choice of Mgr Treanor.
"For over 30 years Mgr Treanor has used his great qualities of heart and mind to serve the Church generously and effectively in different assignments in three countries," said Cardinal Brady.
"He has worked in parishes, both North and South of the border in his native diocese of Clogher, and for four years he was part of the formation team in the Pontifical College in Rome.
No dates have yet been fixed for Monsignor Treanor's installation as bishop, or of Nuncio Leanza's presentation of his diplomatic credentials to President Mary McAleese.
Besides his native Italian, Archbishop Leanza speaks English, French, Serbo-Croat and Spanish.