The Men and (few) Women Who Shape Irish Catholicism

By Patsy Mcgarry
Irish Times
June 7, 2012

Who holds power and influence in the Catholic Church in Ireland today?

Cardinal Sean Brady

Archbishop of Armagh since 1996, the Primate of All-Ireland and titular head of the Catholic Church in Ireland. By rank he is the senior of Ireland’s four Catholic archbishops, including Archbishop of Tuam Michael Neary, Archbishop of Cashel Dermot Clifford and Archbishop of Dublin Diarmuid Martin.

Cardinal Brady chairs meetings of the Irish Episcopal Conference but, as each bishop is answerable only to Rome, his authority is entirely moral. A humble, well-liked man, both by fellow bishops and throughout the Irish church, he is believed wounded beyond repair following revelations of his handling of a 1975 inquiry into the abuse of six children by Fr Brendan Smyth. He neither informed the parents or the police and Smyth abused for a further 18 years. In what he did, the then Fr Brady complied fully with canon law requirements. He will be 73 in August and believed to be approaching the end of his tenure as primate.

Archbishop Diarmuid Martin

Archbishop of Dublin since 2004, in which time he has achieved a moral stature unequalled by any other senior Catholic prelate in Ireland. None too popular with either his priests or his fellow bishops, he adopted a policy of openness and transparency to archdiocesan affairs from the beginning. But it has been his handling of the abuse issue and his consistent compassion for victims that has earned him most respect. He has succeeded in retaining the respect and trust of victims, a rare achievement for a senior Catholic prelate. Adroit and canny politically, whether dealing with secular or ecclesiastical affairs, he is 67.

Bishop Noel Treanor

Bishop of Down and Connor since 2008. He served as secretary general of the Commission of the Bishops’ Conference of the European Community from 1993 until his appointment to Down and Connor. He spent all but five years of his priestly ministry abroad since ordination in 1976, most of it in Brussels where he had been working with the bishops’ conference since 1989. Tipped as a future Archbishop of Armagh, he is 61 this year.

Bishop Michael Smith

The Bishop of Meath runs one of the tightest ships of all in the 26 Catholic dioceses on the island. Unequivocally orthodox, he is an adept defender of even the most controversial of church teachings, whatever the forum, though rarely in a confrontational manner. He is 72.

Msgr Eamon Martin

Diocesan administrator in Derry diocese following the resignation of Bishop Seamus Hegarty last November, for health reasons. Ordained in 1987, Msgr Martin was secretary to the Irish Bishops Conference from 2008 to 2010 before appointment as vicar general in Derry. He joined the Church’s National Board for Safeguarding Children (NBSC) last year and was notably strong when the board published its highly critical review of child protection in Derry diocese last November.

Fr Tim Bartlett

A priest of Down and Connor diocese and general assistant to Cardinal Brady. An influential behind-the-scenes figure, it was he who headhunted Ian Elliott, then with the DHSS in Northern Ireland where he drew up the legislation in that jurisdiction on child protection. Mr Elliott become chief executive of the NBSC in 2007. In May 2009, following publication of the Ryan report, Fr Bartlett got into hot water with the Conference of Religious of Ireland (Cori) when he said the 18 religious congregations concerned should pay more than the ˆ128 million capped by their 2002 indemnity agreement with the State.

Fr Kevin Doran

Ordained in 1977, he had been chaplain at UCD for seven years. He was parish priest in Glendalough before taking up his position as secretary general of the 50th International Eucharistic Congress. He served on the ethics committee of Dublin’s Mater hospital and has been involved in preparing men for both the diaconate and the priesthood. For three years he was co-ordinator of the European Vocations Service. He also contributes a column to the Alive paper.

Fr Michael Drumm

Executive chairman of the Catholic Schools Partnership, launched in January 2010. He has become something of a chief advocate for the Catholic position in the debate over plans to increase plurality of boards of management at primary school level. Brother of Dr Brendan Drumm, formerly of the HSE, he has insisted that the church would most likely divest itself of control of 10 per cent of schools. Minister for Education Ruairi Quinn said the figure should be closer to 50 per cent.

Msgr Hugh Connolly

He has been president of the national seminary at St Patrick’s College Maynooth since 2007 and Msgr Ciaran O’Carroll has been rector of the Irish College in Rome since last September where some Irish seminarians are prepared for the priesthood also.

Archbishop Charles Brown

Papal nuncio to Ireland. He is a New Yorker, succeeding Archbishop Giuseppe Leanza who was called back to Rome for consultations following the Taoiseach’s Dail address last July criticising the Vatican. Archbishop Brown worked alongside Cardinal Joseph Ratzinger at the Congregation for the Doctrine of the Faith (CDF) from 1994 until 2005 when the cardinal was elected Pope. Archbishop Brown continued to work at the CDF until his appointment to Ireland. He is 53 this year.

Sr Marianne O’Connor

Director general of Cori. It has a membership of 136 religious congregations and represents about 9,000 men and women religious across the island of Ireland. Among its membership are those 18 religious congregations that managed the reformatories, orphanages and industrial schools investigated and severely criticised by the Ryan commission. Following publication of the Ryan report, Sr O’Connor landed herself in hot water when she said of the 2002, ˆ128 million indemnity deal the congregations concluded with the State, that it “is closed, the deal is done. It was done in good faith”.

Fr Eamon Aylward

Executive secretary of the Irish Missionary Union, which represents 73 congregations. He was in the news recently when he spoke of his involvement with the Communications Clinic prior to RTE’s broadcast of the Prime Time Investigates programme in May 2011 which libelled Fr Kevin Reynolds. Fr Aylward said the union employed the clinic to help deal with an expected “backlash” against missionaries after the broadcast. The union had dealt with Terry Prone in the run-up to the broadcast but, he said, he had no dealings with Ms Prone’s husband, RTE chairman Tom Savage.

Censured priests

Fr Tony Flannery, Fr Gerard Moloney, Fr Sean Fagan, Fr Owen O’Sullivan, Fr Brian D’Arcy have received huge public support following recent disclosures they had been reprimanded by the Vatican. It followed writings of theirs challenging church teaching on mandatory celibacy for priests, women priests, homosexuality and contraception. It was also recalled that three Augustinian priests in Drogheda, Fr Iggy O’Donovan, Fr Richard Goode and Fr Noel Hession, had been censured by the Vatican for concelebrating an Easter Sunday Mass in 2006 with local Church of Ireland rector Rev Michael Graham. Fr O’Donovan also lost his teaching job in Rome.

Marie Collins

Probably one of the most influential abuse survivors in Ireland, not least as she remains a practising Catholic. Last February she was the only abuse survivor internationally to be invited to attend a “Towards Healing and Renewal” symposium in Rome’s Gregorian university, attended by church leaders from all over the world. Forthright and articulate, she did not pull her punches there, either, about ongoing church inadequacies in this area. Having dealt with church figures up to and including cardinal level on this issue for about two decades, she has unusual authority and depth of knowledge on the subject.

John Morgan and Ian Elliott

National Board for Safeguarding Children (NBSC). Mr Morgan, a corporate lawyer, is chairman of the board, which he joined in 2006. Deeply committed to the issue of child protection he had been chairman of the Bishops’ Committee on Child Protection from 2002 and had been on the Bishops’ Committee on Child Abuse, set up in 1999.

Arguably one of the most important individuals when it comes to implementation of the church’s child protection policy, NBSC chief executive Ian Elliott is a graduate of Trinity College Dublin. He spent most of his working life in Northern Ireland where he was director of the National Society for the Prevention of Cruelty to Children from 2001. In 2005 he was seconded to the Department of Health, Social Services and Public Services and later designed and implemented a major reform programme for child protection services within Northern Ireland. He was appointed to the NBSC in 2007.

Baroness Nuala O’Loan

One of the most articulate and outspoken female Catholics in Ireland. Former police ombudsman in the North, she was appointed to the House of Lords, becoming Baroness O’Loan in 2009. Since 2010 she has been chairwoman of the governing body at NUI Maynooth. She was keynote speaker at one of the first Association of Catholic Priests meetings in 2010.

Mary McAleese

Former president of Ireland Mary McAleese is studying canon law in Rome. Highly literate theologically, she is a deeply committed Catholic, though not necessarily one to gladden hearts in the Vatican. She accompanied the Irish Catholic Bishops to the New Ireland Forum in 1984. She made a deeper impression, however, when, in one of her first acts as president, she received Communion at a Eucharistic service in Dublin’s Church of Ireland Christ Church Cathedral in 1997. An ardent ecumenist, she has also been critical of church teaching on celibacy, women priests and homosexuality.

Association of Catholic Priests

Not yet two years in existence, and promoting an unequivocal Vatican II agenda, the APC has already succeeded in having almost 1,000 Irish Catholic priests as registered members. There are 4,475 priests in Ireland, including those 1,628 in religious congregations. Its leadership team includes Fr Brendan Hoban, parish priest in Moygownagh, Co Mayo, Columban priest Fr Sean McDonagh, Fr PJ Madden who serves in Graigcullen, Co Carlow, and the recently censured Redemptorist priest Fr Tony Flannery.


Without doubt one of the most influential groups when it comes to church handling of the abuse crisis have been lawyers. Some would say that where the institutional church is concerned the advice of lawyers has been the most sought after and acted upon when dealing with the issue. It has been at a cost. Figures published last month by the Dublin archdiocese disclosed that of ˆ15.2 million paid out as a result of child abuse there to date, ˆ4.9 million was in legal costs, or almost a third. Lawyers, however, have been good for the church. It was lawyers who helped the religious congregations in 2007 set up the Catholic Education and Irish Schools Trust and in 2008 the Edmund Rice Schools Trust. It meant that schools run, respectively, by female and male religious congregations were placed beyond State reach before the Ryan report was published in 2009. Both trusts include congregations heavily criticised by the Ryan commission. It was also lawyers who helped devise the 2002 indemnity deal under which the 18 congregations concerned agreed to pay a once-off sum of ˆ128 million towards redress for abuse victims.

Iona Institute

This conservative Catholic group promotes “the place of marriage and religion in society”, defends “the continued existence of publicly funded denominational schools and promotes “freedom of conscience and religion”. Its director is Irish Independent columnist David Quinn. Patrons include psychiatrist and Irish Independent columnist Prof Patricia Casey, Irish Times columnist Breda O’Brien, former editor of Studies magazine Fr Fergus ODonoghue, founder of the Blackrock, Galway and Hermitage clinics Dr James Sheehan, and former professor of moral theology at St Patrick’s College Maynooth Fr Vincent Twomey. Its board includes Dr John Murray, lecturer in moral theology at the Mater Dei Institute, Fr Brendan Purcell a former lecturer in philosophy at UCD, and John Reid, managing partner of law firm O’Rourke Reid. A former board member was Irish Catholic columnist and communications director with the Presentation Brothers Dr Andrew O’Connell. He was also campaign manager for Senator Ronan Mullen in the 2007 and 2011 Seanad elections.

Senator Ronan Mullen

An independent Senator elected on the National University of Ireland panel. He is the most prominent member of the Oireachtas when it comes to defending or promoting Catholic teaching. A barrister and lecturer in law and communications at the Institute of Technology in Blanchardstown, he was spokesman for Dublin’s Catholic archdiocese from 1996 to September 2002. A graduate of NUI Galway, where he was president of the Students Union, he was associated with aggressively conservative Catholic groups while there. He is on the board of directors of Ceist, the schools’ trust involving five female religious congregations.

NGO leaders

Prof John Monaghan is national vice-president of the St Vincent de Paul Society and tends to act as its spokesman. One of the most respected Catholic organisations in Ireland, it has 9,500 volunteers. It is strongly committed to social justice and the creation of a more just and caring society. Also highly respected is Trocaire, headed by Justin Kilcullen. It helps communities across Africa, Asia, Latin America and the Middle East. Social Justice Ireland, led by Fr Sean Healy and Sr Brigid Reynolds, has been one of the most powerful advocates for social justice.

Lay organisations

Among the traditional lay Catholic organisations, the ones that remain most active are the Knights of Columbanus and the Legion of Mary. However, they are no longer as influential as they were. A newer arrival is Communion and Liberation. Among its leaders in Ireland is Owen Sorensen of Butlers Chocolates. It organises the annual Good Friday Way of the Cross walk in the Phoenix Park.

Opus Dei

Continues to operate the Nullamore University Residence at Dartry in Dublin as well as at Hume Street, Glenard in Clonskeagh and Cleraun in Dublin. It also operates the Gort Ard and Ros Geal residences in Galway, and Castleville in Limerick. Since 2008 Opus Dei priests run Merrion parish in Dublin.

Legionaries of Christ

In July of last year it was announced that the controversial Legionaries of Christ religious congregation was to close its novitiate in Dublin due to falling vocations. Founded in Mexico by the disgraced Fr Marcial Maciel, the legionaries have been in Ireland since 1960. Its novitiate has been on Leopardstown Road in Dublin’s Foxrock since 1968. Legionaries have continued to reside at Leopardstown, however, and their Dublin Oak and Woodlands academies remain open.








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