As a blizzard of snow swirled around the Armagh hilltop, Cardinal Sean Brady stood at his doorstep and shook the hand of the victims of child clerical abuse.
His colour heightened and his eyes suspiciously bright, he bid farewell to his visitors, casting a quick, almost fearful, glance at the watching cameras.
His caution is understandable. He knows it is not just members of the Irish Catholic Church or the wider community in this country that are watching his every move with bated breath — it is the world.
After their meeting yesterday, queries for interviews with the victims immediately flooded in from media in Brazil, Colombia, Denmark, Italy — even a request from al-Jazeera.
The cardinal spent two hours with John Kelly, Patrick Walsh and Marie Seo of Survivors of Child Abuse (SOCA), representing 4,000 victims of institutional abuse based in Ireland and the UK; an hour and a half with Marie Collins, a Dublin woman who was sexually abused as a child by the chaplain of Crumlin Children's Hospital and a further hour and a half with Michael O'Brien — a former mayor of Clonmel who was abused at St Joseph's Industrial School and Christopher Heaphy of the Right of Place/Second Chance organisation.
A glance at the cardinal's face showed it had been a gruelling and harrowing day as, over tea and scones, he listened to the accounts of their ordeals, heard their criticisms and their suggestions.
He is supportive, they said, of an all-Ireland inquiry and says the church is committed to working to find a “just solution” for women who suffered in the Magdalene Laundries, who were left out of the loop in the Redress Board on the excuse that they were “adults” when they had been admitted.
This alone is progress, the abuse survivors yesterday rejoiced, saying this itself had been well worth travelling to |Armagh.
They believe there are at least “a couple of hundred” victims like these out there.
Cardinal Brady has met with victims in the past but never like this and never with his own head so perilously perched on the block.
John Kelly of SOCA said of the meeting that the cardinal is “not for this job much longer”.
All the cardinal would say to them is that he will be making a decision “shortly”.
When the SOCA representative put it directly to his face that he is a “lame-duck primate”, the cardinal was “a little emotional”, they said.
As for the cardinal's own suggestion that he might remain on as a “wounded healer” to implement fully child protection measures in the church across Ireland, the victims all shook their heads slowly — nobody saw how this was possible.