Friday 6 December 2019

Primate is a moral hardliner who is learning to soften his tone

Cardinal Sean Brady and Archbishop Eamon Martin concelebrate Mass in St Patricks Cathedral in Armagh.
Cardinal Sean Brady and Archbishop Eamon Martin concelebrate Mass in St Patricks Cathedral in Armagh.

It might be argued that Archbishop Eamon Martin has taken on a poison chalice in his new role as Primate of an Irish Catholic Church scarred by the clerical abuse scandals, grappling with a major vocations crisis and falling mass attendances.

But the 52-year-old is no pessimist nor is he a naïve optimist.

He has a plan for renewal and the rebuilding the faithful's trust. As coadjutor to Cardinal Brady he had 16 months waiting in the wings, observing and thinking strategy.

A gifted administrator and communicator, he was formerly director of the National Board for Safeguarding Children in the Catholic Church. His strong track record on child safeguarding means the church will no longer be led by a wounded leader, as Cardinal Brady referred to himself, but by a committed reformist.

The Catholic Church in Ireland is now headed up by two Martins, one in Dublin and one in Armagh, whose records to safeguarding can stand up to the closest scrutiny.

This will help to allay the concerns of survivors of clerical abuse and push the church towards continued vigilance and best practice.

Archbishop Martin is a pastoral leader. His down to earth nature is the product of a happy home life, growing up as one of six boys and six girls in Derry city.

Softly-spoken, he is a gifted musician and was a teacher in St Columb's College in Derry where he taught maths and religion before he was elected college president in 2000.

He has a plethora of academic qualifications from Maynooth, Queen's University and the University of Cambridge.

He also has extensive experience in episcopal conferences such as the Northern Ireland Commission for Catholic Education (NICCE) and Catholic Bishops' Joint Bioethics Committee and the NBSCCCI.

Though considered a moral hardliner on election, some have detected a softening in his tone.

As he told the Irish Independent, Ireland has "a new context and therefore we need to learn ways of bringing the Gospel. That is why I chose the motto 'Sing a New Song to the Lord'. I am not actually talking about writing new words but maybe a new melody - and that is very much inspired by Pope Francis."

Sarah Mac Donald

Irish Independent

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