Cardinal Desmond Connell Resignation

By Colm O'Gorman
One in Four [Ireland]
Downloaded May 5, 2004

There has been much speculation over the past two years as to when Cardinal Desmond Connell would resign. Many felt it would be impossible for him to survive the public outcry following on from revelations of the scale of clerical sexual abuse in the Dublin Archdiocese and the apparent failure of his administration to deal with it. Indeed one of the constant images that seems to show how out of touch the Catholic Church Hierarchy was with the whole issue of abuse is Cardinal Connell telling RTE that he hadn't responded to victims of abuse because he was "a very busy man". It has been widely believed that the Cardinals resignation would not be accepted until it could be clear that it was not a reaction or response to the scandals of abuse. The Vatican it has been suggested could not afford to have another Cardinal resign in such circumstances. Now it appears that sufficient time has passed for his resignation not to be directly connected with abuse and it appears that in the main it has not been. Warm tributes have been paid and indeed in many ways are due to the man that has led Irelands largest Diocese. Yet it is important that we also recognise the other legacy of that period and the huge changes in how we as a society perceive the Catholic Church and in particular it's Hierarchy.

Cardinal Connell has spoken of the pain he has felt about clerical sexual abuse; he is reported as saying that the whole problem has blighted his tenure as Archbishop. In truth he appears to have always had the capacity to talk of his pain: the difficulty has appeared to be his failure to empathise with the pain of those children which suffered abuse at the hands of clergy. He has however acknowledged that in his view "We failed in significant ways to deal with it appropriately".

It is I am sure a source of personal hurt to the Cardinal that in part the legacy of his tenure will be marked by such failures. It will be difficult to erase the memories of him being heckled in Dublin's pro-Cathedral, or of the numbers "666" daubed on the gates of his official residence. What does appear clear at this stage is that the Cardinal was ill-equipped to deal with a problem that appears to have behind beyond his comprehension and that would have caused him grave difficulty in dealing with. It is important to remember that clerical sexual abuse is not a problem limited to the Dublin Archdiocese or to Irish Dioceses but an international problem, a problem for the Catholic Church worldwide. In truth had Cardinal Connell wished to deal with the issue more transparently he could not have. The vows he took as a Cardinal meant he had to undertake never to reveal anything that might cause scandal to the Catholic Church.

So in marking Cardinal Connell's resignation we must remember that he alone is not responsible for the scandal of sexual abuse in his Archdiocese. He led an administration that has significant and difficult questions to answer in the upcoming statutory inquiry into abuse in the Dublin Archdiocese. While we of course remember his good work as Archbishop and wish him well in his retirement we must remember that he has responsibilities still to discharge around his failure to respond better to the rape of children by Priests under his management. In the end the most important thing that the Cardinal could do now is to ensure that he plays a proper and responsible role in the upcoming inquiry. If he truly does wish to respond to the failures of the past and leave a more positive legacy as Cardinal then he must work to uncover the truth of the incredible failures at many levels to prevent and respond to clerical sexual abuse.


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