Cardinal Brady will be glad to step out of the limelight but should have quit in 2010
The acceptance by Pope Francis of the resignation of Cardinal Sean Brady as Archbishop of Armagh and Primate of All Ireland brings to an end a chapter in the life of the Irish Catholic Church.
Cardinal Brady is the last remaining senior prelate who is indelibly associated in the public mind with the Church's appalling handling of the clerical sex abuse scandals.
Dr Brady became the Archbishop of Armagh in October 1996. He had been Cardinal Cahal Daly's Coadjutor Archbishop and he automatically took over from Cardinal Daly once the cardinal stood down. In just the same way his own Coadjutor, Archbishop Eamon Martin, now automatically succeeds Dr Brady.
The year 1996 was a fateful one in the recent history of the Irish Church. Earlier that year, the bishops published their first-ever child-protection guidelines, signalling they were finally learning - albeit slowly and very painfully - the lessons of their past disastrous handling of the child abuse scandals.
Most of the scandals that have badly damaged the reputation of the Church pre-date 1996, that is, the incidents of abuse that later come to light happened prior to 1996, with a big majority occurring in the 1970s and 1980s.
Up to 1996 the usual response of the Church when a case of abuse was brought to its attention was to move the abuser to another assignment, where he would usually abuse again.
From 1996, the requirement was to inform the gardai and the relevant health board when a credible new abuse allegation came to light.
Bishops who were in place before 1996 were frequently the ones who mishandled the scandals. Bishops appointed from 1996 on were more likely to get things right. Dr Brady was the first of that new generation of bishops.
Few imagined that he personally could be damaged by the scandals, because he had spent so much of his time working in Rome as vice-rector and then rector of the Irish College there. In that role he didn't have to deal with abuse cases.
The irony is that he ended up damaged by his association with the case of one of the most notorious of all the Church's child abusers, Fr Brendan Smyth.
The delay in processing Smyth's extradition to the North to face criminal proceedings there helped to bring down the Albert Reynolds/Dick Spring coalition government two years before.
Even though his association with the Smyth case had been previously reported as far back as 1997, it was only in 2010 that it really became known to the public.
In that year most people learnt that in 1975 the young Fr Sean Brady interviewed, on behalf of the then-Bishop of Kilmore, two boys who had been abused by Smyth.
This means he knew of the Smyth case years ago, but never went to the gardai. Cardinal Brady would argue that that decision rested with his bishop, but that did not wash with the public.
The public were also angry that he had sworn the two boys to secrecy. That secrecy applied only to the internal Church investigation. It did not stop the two boys speaking to the gardai, but the public were either unaware of this distinction, or else did not care about it.
I argued in 2010 that Cardinal Brady should step down. Clearly, Cardinal Brady saw his role in the events of 1975 as that of a mere functionary with no real responsibility, but there was no avoiding the fact that he had become too badly damaged to credibly lead the Church here.
We have since learnt that he did offer his resignation at the time, but Rome would not accept it. The big reason for this is that the appointment of new bishops had been put on hold while an inspection of the Church, ordered by Pope Benedict following the publication of the report into abuse in the Dublin archdiocese was being carried out.
In late 2011, a new Papal Nuncio was appointed to Ireland, Archbishop Charles Brown, and he had to run the rule over possible successors to Cardinal Brady, as well as a number of other bishops, before making recommendations to Rome. In the end, Derry-born Eamon Martin was announced as Cardinal Brady's successor.
Cardinal Brady does not deserve to be associated only with the Smyth case. It is unjust to reduce his entire priestly ministry purely to that.
By every account Cardinal Brady is a good pastor. He was committed to the Peace Process, to ecumenical dialogue, to expanding the role of the laity, and to improving the Church's child protection procedures.
Now that the Pope has accepted his resignation, he will gladly step out of the limelight. He never wanted the limelight and would have been as surprised as anyone else when he was chosen to succeed Cardinal Daly.
In his own mind he might have expected to become, perhaps, the Bishop of his native diocese of Kilmore. But the height of his own personal ambition was probably to be a parish priest.
He will never become that now, but in a way his retirement as Archbishop of Armagh allows him at last to become something close to it, because he will remain on, working in Armagh archdiocese as a priest helping out other priests in their parishes.