MOSES was an unlikely leader as well. According to the Bible he was shy and tongue-tied. Nonetheless, he led his people to the Promised Land. It might be exaggerating just a tad to say that Archbishop Sean Brady, to be made a cardinal this weekend, is like Moses, and the man himself would be mortified to be so compared. But he would probably accept that he is shy and is not a natural public speaker. Nonetheless, he will now be the de facto leader of the Catholic Church in Ireland, and Rome will expect him to step up to the plate.
What Sean Brady has going for him is patent sincerity. What he also has going for him is genuine humility. The Church has its fair share of careerists and it will have impressed Rome that Archbishop Brady is not the type to campaign for a red hat. In addition, he is impeccably orthodox, though not in a rigid way. Much as I loath that overused word 'pastoral', he is a good pastor. There's a wonderful story about how, when he was rector of the Irish College in Rome , he used to regularly help out a homeless Irishman who would call to the college from time to time.
When the Pope announced a few weeks ago who was to be made a cardinal this time around it was expected that Ireland would be passed over altogether given that it already has two cardinals (Connell and Daly), albeit that both of them are retired. A lot of people also had the impression that if we did get a red hat it would go to Dublin again.
But in fact it would have been quite insulting to Armagh and to Sean Brady if they were passed over again. In addition, Archbishop Diarmuid Martin is still relatively young for a bishop and his time will probably come again.
By making him a cardinal, Rome has very much thrust Sean Brady front and centre so far as the Church in Ireland is concerned. When he was 'merely' Archbishop of Armagh he may have felt slightly overshadowed by Dublin and the media would have been more inclined to see the capital city's prelate as the leader of the Church rather than his counterpart in Armagh. This will no longer be the case. Even if he is not the de jure leader of the Church he is the de facto leader.
How will he be expected to lead? For one thing he will be expected to do more teaching than listening. The 'listening Church' metaphor has become completely over-used. Yes, the Church has to listen if it wants to read the signs of the times. But it also has to teach. First and foremost it has to teach. As a retired bishop once remarked, when Christ sent out the disciples he told them to convert all the nations, not listen to them.
Teaching will mean tackling the tough issues and not just the easy ones that will win media applause. The easy ones essentially are anything that will win an approving Irish Times editorial. The hard ones are those likely to earn you a slap on the wrist from that same quarter.
What might those issues be? One is definitely schools. Obviously there are too many denominational schools in this country. But reducing their number is not enough for our die-hard secularists who want them reduced to zero. To achieve this end they are using extremist language comparing the enrolment policy of faith-based schools with the apartheid regime in South Africa. This is rhetorical nuclear war. They dream of a system entirely dominated by the State and in which parental choice counts for nothing.
A first step by Cardinal Brady could be to back the Church of Ireland in its dispute with the Education Department over being forced to accept teachers for its schools whom those schools do not necessarily want.
He must also get the Church -- no, make that the churches, plus the Jewish and Muslim communities -- much more involved in the marriage debate. The Government is sleep-walking us into a radical new family policy that puts adult autonomy first and child welfare second by degrading marriage as a social institution even though marriage is the most pro-child of all family forms.
These tasks mean the Church must become more assertive in public debate. Assertive doesn't mean aggressive. Nor does assertive mean trying to impose itself in an undemocratic way upon society. What it simply means is having the same right as any other social actor to influence public opinion. A refusal to allow this is the kind of aggressive secularism spoken of by Bertie Ahern.
Doing all of the above successfully is a tall order. But as Cardinal, Sean Brady's responsibility will be to try. He may not quite lead us to the Promised Land. But in his new role he has a chance to lead us to a slightly better one