A cardinal under pressure
UNTIL very recently, public questioning of past actions by the head of the Catholic Church in Ireland would have bordered on the unthinkable. Even farther outside the realms of possibility would have been calls for his resignation.
In the 1990s the church, though damaged, survived the arrest and conviction of the paedophile priest Brendan Smyth. He was found guilty of a string of abominable crimes. But attention concentrated instead on the fall of the Fianna Fail-Labour coalition, caught up in a controversy over a request for his extradition to Northern Ireland on similar offences.
Since then the church, the nation and the world have changed. The publication of the Ferns, Ryan and Murphy reports have had a devastating effect on public opinion and on the authority and prestige of the institution. The recent Rome meeting between Pope Benedict XVI and the Irish bishops has been widely judged a failure, ending without any tangible outcome.