THE VATICAN is set to make Cardinal Sean Brady pay the price of the recent scandals surrounding him by announcing his successor within two months.
The Vatican and the Papal Nuncio, Dr Charles Brown, are advancing plans to replace Dr Brady as Primate of All Ireland.
It's all part of an effort to finally put two decades of scandal behind the church here.
Senior Vatican sources said his successor -- most likely to be a bishop from abroad -- will be named before Christmas.
Dr Brady has up to now refused to resign despite the revelations about his mishandling of abuse allegations about the notorious Fr Brendan Smyth.
It is understood Archbishop of Dublin, Dr Diarmuid Martin, and most of the current Irish Catholic hierarchy do not figure in the succession stakes.
Instead, the Vatican is shortlisting Irish clerics based outside the country.
Dr Brady has been mired in controversy, unable to shake the Smyth scandal since it ignited two years ago.
He has faced repeated calls for his resignation after it emerged that he had been aware of abuse by Smyth in the 1970s, but did not inform the police or the abused children's parents.
At the time, he announced that he had asked Rome for a bishop to assist him but this was not forthcoming from the Vatican.
However, the Vatican is now moving to appoint a coadjutor bishop -- a bishop with the right of succession -- to take over from Cardinal Brady, and hopes to have him in place by the end of the year.
Whoever is selected as Cardinal Brady's successor would likely spend 18 months as coadjutor before finally taking over as Primate.
By that stage, Dr Brady will be able to retire, having reached the age of 75. There is a widespread acceptance in church circles that suitable candidates in Ireland are in short supply.
However, it is also seen as important and in keeping with tradition, that Dr Brady's successor is a northerner.
A leading contender is Fr Aidan McGrath from Banbridge, Co Down, who is working for the head office of the Franciscan order in Rome.
Other names being spoken about in clerical circles include the Rome-based Dominican Paul Murray, who is from Belfast; the president of Maynooth, Msgr Hugh Connolly, who is from Dromore, and Derry's diocesan administrator Eamonn Martin.
Among clergy based in Ireland, Bishop Noel Traynor of Down and Connor is seen as the default candidate for the position.
Ultimately three names will go forward and a successor chosen from those names.
Dr Brady was in Rome this week but was not attending the Synod of Bishops.
However, sources have indicated that the cardinal had discussions while in the Vatican with the officials who will ultimately nominate his successor.
Dr Brady came under renewed pressure to resign last May after a BBC documentary revealed that in 1975 he had the names and addresses of children allegedly molested by notorious priest abuser Brendan Smyth.
A teenage boy, Brendan Butler, who had been sexually abused by Smyth, gave the names and addresses of other victims to Fr Brady, who at that time was a 36-year-old priest.
Fr Brady passed the allegations on to his superiors but did not inform the police or the children's parents.
Smyth continued to sexually assault children up until 1988.
Earlier this year Dr Brady apologised to Smyth's victims for his inaction.