ONE of the country's most senior clerics is retiring on the grounds of ill-health.
Auxiliary bishop of Armagh, Gerard Clifford, is leaving his post on medical grounds. His resignation was accepted by Pope Benedict in recent days.
Dr Clifford, who is from Co Louth, was president of crisis pregnancy agency CURA since 2010 and 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. "My decision to retire is based on medical advice which I have been receiving since last August. It is with great sadness that I come to the decision."
Dr Clifford (72) was ordained in June 1967 and became 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 Council for Ecumenism and Dialogue.
He also 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" Dr Clifford's decision to retire.
"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.
Dr Clifford said his work had been both "challenging and complex", but was a "deeply rewarding vocation".
"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.
The Catholic Communications Office said larger dioceses including Armagh, Dublin and Down and Connor generally had at least one auxiliary, or assistant, bishop.
A spokeswoman also said there were no bishops in place in two dioceses, Kildare and Leighlin and Derry, after senior churchmen resigned their posts in 2009 and last year.