Vatican could name Archbishop Sean Brady's successor today
The successor to Cardinal Sean Brady as Archbishop of Armagh could be announced as early as today.
Speculation is mounting about a major announcement from the Vatican concerning the future of the head of the Church in Ireland.
It is widely believed that the Vatican has been looking to appoint a coadjutor bishop -- a bishop with the right of succession -- to take over.
However, it is also possible that a more immediate successor will be announced, with a very short timeline put in place for Cardinal Brady to step down.
Dr Brady is under 80 and still within voting age, so Ireland is not expected to get a new cardinal any time soon.
If a coadjutor is announced, it would likely mean a longer time frame for Cardinal Brady to step down, perhaps 18 months, which would allow him to retire at the age of 75.
It is understood his successor will be from Northern Ireland, in keeping with tradition.
Any announcement will be made simultaneously in Rome and Armagh, meaning a planned meeting between the Taoiseach and Cardinal Brady today may be postponed.
He had been due to discuss abortion with the Taoiseach for the first time since the Irish government decision to bring in legislation. He was scheduled to lead a delegation to Government Buildings just weeks after calling for TDs to be lobbied over the abortion laws.
The departure of Ireland's most senior cleric is not unexpected after the Irish Independent revealed last October that the Vatican and the Papal Nuncio, Dr Charles Brown, were planning to replace Dr Brady as Primate of All Ireland, a post he has held since 2007.
Senior sources in Rome at the time said plans were afoot to announce a successor to Dr Brady and that the Vatican was compiling a shortlist of candidates -- believed to be Irish clerics based outside Ireland -- to replace the 73-year-old.
Cardinal Brady has repeatedly refused to resign despite revelations of his handling of abuse allegations about the notorious Fr Brendan Smyth.
It emerged that Dr Brady had been aware of abuse by Smyth in the 1970s but did not inform gardai or the victims' parents.
He came under renewed pressure to step down last May when the BBC broadcast a documentary in which it revealed that Dr Brady had the names and addresses of children who were molested by Smyth as far back as 1975, but he only passed the allegations on to his superiors. Smyth continued to abuse children until 1988.
Last year the cardinal apologised to Smyth's victims for not doing anything earlier.