Apr 07, 2005
Cardinal Desmond Connell Age: 76 Appearance : bespectacled stooped professor Newsworthiness: at the centre of the clerical paedophillia scandal. By Kieron Wood.
(THE POST.IE, April 14, 2002) Before Desmond Connell was appointed Archbishop of Dublin, he was on retreat in Rome when an inscription caught his eye. Taken from St John's gospel, it read: "In the world, you will have trouble".
He could hardly have imagined the extent to which that prediction would come true over the next 14 years.
The apogee of Connell's Calvary was apparent at last week's Maynooth news conference, when the 76-year-old prelate sat with head bowed as the Catholic hierarchy confessed its inadequate response to the scandal of clerical child abuse.
But Connell is no stranger to controversy. Since his surprise appointment to the see of Dublin in January 1988 he has seldom been out of the headlines.
The appointment of the unknown academic to head the country's most important diocese came as a shock to many -- and as a serious disappointment to the Church's liberal wing. Connell quickly proved himself a staunchly conservative prelate. He had already published a book arguing against the ordination of women. He was soon called on to defend Catholic teaching on a range of other controversial social and religious topics, including divorce, homosexuality, abortion, euthanasia, Sunday trading, and intercommunion. Most recently he has been obliged to face the storm over the sexual abuse of children by priests.
The 1988 move from his semi-detached house in Booterstown to the episcopal palace in Drumcondra brought Connell full circle and back to his northside Dublin roots.
Born on March 24, 1926, Connell was educated at Belvedere College. From his parents he absorbed a love of music. His father, John, from Moycullen in Co Galway, was a civil servant and member of the Irish delegation to the Ottawa Conference of 1932. He was later appointed by taoiseach Sean Lemass as managing director of the Irish Sugar Company. He died when Connell was 13.
The claim to fame of his mother, Mary (née Lacy), was that she had been on duty as a telephonist at the General Post Office on Easter Monday 1916 and was escorted to safety by The O'Rahilly.
Connell's father had a fine bass voice, and his mother was a pianist. At Belvedere College this family musical background was reflected in Connell's participation in Gilbert and Sullivan operas and his fondness for the works of Puccini and Verdi. In later years his favourite composers were Bruckner, Mahler and Elgar. Today he takes a keen interest in the affairs of Our Lady's Choral Society, of which he is ex officio president.
Connell entered the diocesan seminary, Holy Cross College, Clonliffe, in 1943 and began studying philosophy at UCD, gaining first class honours in his BA and MA. He went on to study at Maynooth, where he obtained the Bachelor of Divinity degree. Following his ordination in 1951, he spent two years at the Institut Supérieur de Philosophie in Louvain, where he was awarded a PhD "avec la plus grande distinction" for his dissertation on The Passivity of Understanding in Malebranche.
In 1953, Connell joined UCD's department of metaphysics in Earlsfort Terrace. For the next 35 years his life was centred on the university. In 1967, he published his major work, The Vision in God -- Malebranche's Scholastic Sources. He was appointed professor of general metaphysics in 1972 and became dean of the faculty of philosophy and sociology in 1984.
UCD chaplain Fr Kieran McDermott says: "His students over the years -- as well as his colleagues, both academic and non-academic -- always found him courteous and approachable, unhurried and generous with his time."
But four years after becoming dean a telephone call from the papal nuncio changed his life. From the serene groves of academe he was hurled into the national and international media spotlight as Archbishop of Dublin.
His public utterances on the controversies of the day have always attracted media attention, but his comments have landed him in hot water on more than one occasion.
In 1997 he was taken to task for appearing to describe Anglican communion as a "sham". The comment followed the decision of President Mary McAleese to receive communion in Dublin's Christ Church cathedral.
The resulting uproar forced the archbishop to explain that he did not mean that Anglican communion was cheap or shoddy, but that it was "not what it appeared to be". The archbishop said that if the rules for intercommunion were changed because of public pressure, there could be "a blurring of the boundaries about what we believe about the Eucharist and about who we are."
Cardinal Cahal Daly, speaking shortly afterwards at the University of Salford in England, said the episode had caused him "immense upset" but he backed Connell. "As Cardinal Basil Hume [the late head of the Catholic Church in England and Wales] stated in Ireland recently, the first condition for genuine inter-church dialogue is for each church to respect the regulations of the other, and he was quite right," said Daly.
But the issue of intercommunion did not go away. In 1999 Connell turned down an invitation from the dean of St Patrick's Cathedral, Robert MacCarthy, to allow Catholic priests to celebrate Mass in the Cathedral on weekdays. Connell's spokesman said he believed there was "a risk of the Eucharist becoming a divisive issue" because of the division within the Church of Ireland over the proposal.
In an interview with The Sunday Business Post last year Connell made reference to incidents where Anglican ministers had offered communion to Catholics at events with mixed congregations.
"The Church of Ireland knows, for example, that we have a very clear position on the question of Catholics receiving communion in churches other than Catholic churches," he said. "Now, it is all very well to say that everybody whose conscience permits is welcome to come to communion, but in circumstances when it is known that this is tantamount to an invitation to Catholics to come to communion, that fails to respect the faith and obligations of our members and, consequently, the cause of ecumenism.
"I like to be honest and to face the differences honestly, but I do not think that the whole question of intercommunion is being sufficiently clearly dealt with at the moment."
The remarks led to a storm of protest, but Connell refused to back down. His relationship with the Anglicans was not improved when, last October, Connell questioned the theological qualifications of the Church of Ireland Archbishop of Dublin. Connell had said in an interview for a book that Empey "wouldn't have much theological competence", and wouldn't be regarded as one of the Church of Ireland's "high flyers".
The cardinal later said that he regretted having spoken about Empey "in a way which might have appeared to denigrate him" and explained that he sometimes said things in the course of an interview "without sufficiently adverting to the reactions of others".
In the same interview Connell accused Trinity College of insulting him -- "and through me, the Catholic people of Dublin" -- for awarding an honorary degree to Donald Caird, then Church of Ireland Archbishop of Dublin, to celebrate the Dublin Millennium.
"To celebrate the centenary of the city of Dublin by awarding the Protestant archbishop with an honorary degree and leaving me sitting down watching it was a downright insult," he said.
The petulant remark did little to improve the public perception of the archbishop. He is seen by many as aloof and out of touch, or as an intellectual snob -- but that's not how all his colleagues perceive him.
One man who worked closely with Connell over several years said: "Many people see him as impersonal, but it's simply not true that he has no heart. He values family life, and is very close to his brother and sister-in-law. And he's kind and attentive to the people who work for him.
"He's something of an ascetic, the sort of chap who would leave the table five minutes before he was full. He used to enjoy an occasional tipple, but I believe he gave that up for some time as a personal form of penance for the behaviour of abusive priests.
"Even people who don't agree with his religious or moral views respect him because you know where you stand with him. What you see is what you get."
The colleague said that Connell was deeply hurt that he was regarded as having lied over the Fr Ivan Payne affair. Connell lent the paedophile priest money to compensate his victims, but later said that "diocesan funds are in no way used" for such purposes.
"When he said that in 1995 it was true, as diocesan policy had changed," said the colleague. "The Payne case didn't even occur to him, as this question came at the end of an interview on a different matter. I think it's one of the biggest crosses he has had to bear, that reasonable people think Cardinal Connell told a fib."
In his own words, Connell has "tried to be a Catholic voice in our society". His faithfulness in that role was rewarded by his appointment to the Vatican's Congregation for the Doctrine of the Faith and to the Congregation of Bishops. He also served on the Pontifical Council for the Pastoral Care of Migrants and Itinerant People in Rome.
In January last year -- 13 years to the day after Connell's appointment to the see of Dublin -- the papal nuncio sprang another surprise by announcing that the archbishop was to be made a cardinal. This was the first time the red hat had come to Dublin for more than 100 years, and was seen as further evidence of the trust that Rome reposes in Connell.
But the week before Connell received the red hat he again raised hackles by remarks he made in an interview with The Sunday Business Post. Apart from attacking intercommunion, he censured couples who lived together, criticised unrestricted immigration and called for the appointment of a Catholic bishop as a direct contact with the government of the day.
For Connell, the red hat was the pinnacle of his career. Over the past year he has seen a steady erosion of his authority. Last December the bishops -- unexpectedly -- backed the government's controversial proposals for an abortion referendum. Connell gave the proposal his personal blessing, indicating that he would be voting yes and advising Catholics to do likewise. They didn't.
After the failure of the bishops to persuade their flock to follow their advice on the referendum, the authority of the hierarchy was further diminished by the reaction to the BBC documentary Suing the Pope.
Following the resignation of Bishop Brendan Comiskey of Ferns over his handling of the Fr Sean Fortune abuse scandal, Connell -- in a joint statement with Archbishop Seán Brady of Armagh -- offered his "profound apologies" to all victims of such abuse, describing the sexual abuse of children by priests as "an especially grave and repugnant evil".
"We realise that the whole Church in Ireland is suffering at this time from the scandal caused by this evil and the manner in which it was dealt with at times," he said. "It is a scandal which has evoked entirely justified outrage. The sexual abuse of children by priests is totally in conflict with the Church's mission and with Christ's compassion and care for the young.
"We realise that the events of recent weeks have also caused great distress and anxiety to the faithful throughout Ireland . . . Not only has trust in the Catholic Church been damaged, but so too has the faith of the people and the morale of clergy."
Last Monday Connell and the rest of the hierarchy belatedly responded to the scandal by proposing an independent audit of the way dioceses have dealt with complaints of child sexual abuse. But even then Connell and the three other bishops at the news conference refused to detail the extent of the problem in their individual dioceses.
Connell complained that he had suffered "agonies" over "this thing" which had "devastated" his period of office. In a rare public show of feeling, he told journalists: "I am as human as any of you."
Today, 50 years after disserting on the passivity of understanding in Malebranche, perhaps the time has come for the cardinal to reflect on his own passivity of understanding and consider how best to address that problem.
Connell's words of wisdom
I am not assuming that everybody listening is going to agree with me. But I listen to what the liberals are saying; why shouldn't they listen to what I am saying?
I do feel bound to say that the cause of ecumenism would be greatly helped if the Catholic Church's rules for its own members could be respected.
One thing that worries me very much is the fact that many young people are living together and not getting married. It's a very worrying development and it's gaining social respectability.
It appears to me that the market is receiving more consideration than the family.
We are losing things that have been traditionally highly regarded, we are surrendering them without noticing. Nobody passes any comment -- and then we will find some day that they are gone and we have a different kind of world.
Connell as Pope:
There is not the slightest chance of that. It's a non-starter anyway. But if you want reasons, the first one is that I don't speak any Italian. You can't become the Bishop of Rome if you don't speak Italian.