CARDINAL Sean Brady has written to Pope Francis indicating that he would like to step down from the role of Primate of All Ireland.
The cardinal wrote several weeks ago to the pontiff, who is expected to accept his resignation in the coming months.
Dr Brady (75) does not automatically abdicate the role as he can only retire with the Pope's permission.
It had seemed likely that Cardinal Brady would be kept on as primate for some time after his 75th birthday in order to give his younger successor, Coadjutor Archbishop Eamon Martin, time to make the transition.
However, sources say the Vatican feels under pressure to accept his resignation in the near future following calls by two Irish survivors of clerical abuse who met the Pope on July 7.
Following the meeting, Marie Kane and Mark Vincent Healy demanded publicly that Cardinal Brady be forced to step down.
Ms Kane outlined her reasons in a personal letter that she handed to Francis at the end of the meeting.
She and Mr Healy are highly critical of Dr Brady's role in a 1975 secret canonical trial that came to light in 2010.
The three-member clerical team, of which the then Fr Brady was the most junior member - he acted merely as a note-taker - investigated Fr Brendan Smyth's abuse of teenager Brendan Boland.
The matter was investigated in a 2012 BBC Northern Ireland documentary which revealed that as a priest and later as a church leader, Dr Brady had not reported Smyth's horrific abuse of Mr Boland and other children to the civil authorities.
While he came in for criticism from Ms Kane and Mr Boland, Dr Brady was praised last December by the National Board for Safeguarding Children for adopting a more focused and committed approach to the safeguarding of children since he took over the Armagh diocese.
Last night a spokesperson from the Catholic Communications Office explained how the resignation process and succession takes place.
"When Pope Francis accepts the retirement, Coadjutor Archbishop Eamon Martin will become Archbishop of Armagh and Primate of All Ireland," they said.
Under canon law, a diocesan bishop is required to offer his resignation after his 75th birthday, but in many cases the Pope allows them to continue in the their position.
Archbishop Martin (52) was consecrated Coadjutor Archbishop of Armagh in April 2013.
News of the cardinal's letter to the Pope is due to be reported in the international Catholic weekly The Tablet this week.
However, it is entirely up to Pope Francis as to how long he waits before responding to the correspondence.
Dr Brady was ordained in 1964. He served as rector of the Pontifical Irish College in Rome from 1987 until 1993 and became a cardinal in 2007.