'Pious' priest will have to brush up on rugby and hurling
Published 11/01/2013 | 05:00
SOME church insiders described Fr Brendan Leahy as "a safe pair of hands" in the wake of his appointment as the next bishop of Limerick, while critics have slated the appointment of "another pious apparatchik".
Those favouring the 53-year-old Dubliner's appointment consider him a worthy intellectual successor to Bishop Donal Murray, one of the Irish hierarchy's theological heavy-hitters.
Bishop Murray was parachuted into Limerick from the diocese of Dublin in 1996, but was forced to resign in November 2009 following criticisms of his handling of abuse allegations while an auxiliary bishop in Dublin.
Fr Leahy is currently Professor of Systematic Theology at St Patrick's College, Maynooth. A lawyer by training, he studied at UCD before being called to the Bar in 1983. He was ordained in 1986.
Described by one church insider as the kind of "pleasant and caring" face the Catholic Church needs in order to rebuild the trust of the faithful in Ireland, his rapid rise to the episcopacy comes despite one source insisting "he is not a careerist".
He is deemed by some clerics as "notably pious". However, according to a colleague in Maynooth, a point in Fr Leahy's favour is that he is very much "centre ground" and cannot be bracketed as either progressive or conservative. He is, therefore, seen as a possible bridge builder in a divided Irish church.
Though Fr Leahy grew up in Crumlin, both his parents, who were teachers, were from Ballyferriter in west Kerry.
In his statement accepting the role, the bishop-elect said that though he couldn't "claim to have great links with Limerick" his father taught for a year in Athea, Co Limerick, in the 1940s.
Speaking at Limerick cathedral, he added: "I recognise I'll probably have to improve my knowledge of rugby, and be more informed about hurling."
Fr Leahy was a key figure in the drafting of the overall theme of last year's International Eucharistic Congress in Dublin: 'Communion with Christ and One Another' and its emphasis on ecumenism.
He was also "crucial", according to Cardinal Sean Brady, to the organisation of a major international theological conference ahead of IEC2012, which according to one theologian showcased his administrative skills and ability to work with a range of different people. Sources suggest that the success of both events put him in line for high-profile recognition.
Over the past couple of years Fr Leahy's name had been touted as a contender for other high-profile roles.