The Pope has selected a fierce opponent of academic selection to lead the Catholic Church here.
His new role of adjutor bishop means Monsignor Eamon Martin (52), diocesan administrator of the Diocese of Derry, will work alongside Cardinal Sean Brady.
It is also expected that he will eventually replace the 73-year-old Primate as the head of the Catholic Church in Ireland.
Yesterday’s announcement came as a surprise as there are several more senior clerics, including Bishop Noel Treanor and Bishop Donal McKeown, who were both tipped for the top job.
Just four years ago Monsignor Martin was the principal of St Columb’s College in Londonderry.
But in the last year he has gone on to become an open critic of academic selection. He was one of those who backed the Northern Ireland Commission for Catholic Education’s campaign to phase out academic selection.
Cardinal Brady has led the Church in Ireland for more than 16 years, during which a series of investigations have exposed damning levels of clerical abuse.
Monsignor Martin said: “I am very conscious of the great trust that the Holy Father has placed in me, but in truth I have to admit it was with considerable nervousness and trepidation that I accepted his call. One of the greatest challenges facing our church is to acknowledge, live with, and learn from the past, including the terrible trauma caused by abuse.
“I think today of all those who have been abused by clergy, and the hurt and betrayal they have experienced. I am saddened that many good Catholics were let down so badly over the issue of abuse and that some have even stopped practising their faith.
“As a church, we must continue in our efforts to bring healing to victims and ensure that young people are always protected, respected and nurtured.”
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Cardinal Brady made the announcement outside St Patrick's Cathedral in Armagh yesterday morning. Parishioners, including children from nearby schools, braved the bitter cold and snow showers to hear the Primate reveal the identity of his successor. Church-goers then returned inside for a special prayer service. Afterwards, the senior clerics invited the congregation to join them in the Synod Hall, where Monsignor Martin gave his first public reaction to his appointment.
Scene set for Brady’s retirement
By Alf McCreary
There was no surprise at the announcement of a coadjutor Roman Catholic Archbishop of Armagh yesterday, but the elevation of Monsignor Eamon Martin from his post as administrator in Derry to assist Cardinal Sean Brady in Armagh was a well-kept secret.
Cardinal Brady became embroiled in the clerical child abuse scandal when it was revealed that he had known about boys who were abused by the paedophile priest Brendan Smyth, but these details, which were also known to his superiors, were not passed on to the police.
Cardinal Brady publicly refused calls to resign, but it is thought that his private offer to do so was rejected by the Vatican.
He dutifully remained in post, but his authority was diminished.
Cardinal Brady is 73, and the considerable stress he has had to face is bound to have taken a toll. He is a conscientious and charming man, with many Protestant friends, but he could not carry on alone indefinitely.
The appointment of Monsignor Martin to Armagh will pave the way for Cardinal Brady to retire fairly soon.
This is similar to what happened when he became coadjutor to his predecessor Cardinal Cahal Daly, who retired shortly afterwards.
Monsignor Martin is seen as
a safe pair of hands, and also as a likely person to try to lead the Irish Church out of its current mess.
He has spent almost all of his fruitful career in Derry, and apart from his brief period as executive secretary to the Irish Episcopal Conference, he is relatively unknown in the wider Church scene.
Monsignor Martin carries no personal baggage and he is fully aware of the challenges facing the Catholic Church in the wake of the child sexual abuse scandals, fewer ordinations and decreasing membership.
He carries the good wishes of his colleagues, as well as those of faithful Catholics and the leaders and broader members of the Protestant churches, and he will need all the support he can get.