RENEWAL of the Catholic Church in Limerick is one of the top priorities for the new Bishop-Elect of the diocese, Fr Brendan Leahy.
The 52-year-old Dublin-born theologian is the choice of Pope Benedict XVI to succeed Dr Donal Murray to lead 170,000 Catholics in the city and county.
The announcement comes over three years after the resignation of Dr Murray, who was caught up in the clerical child abuse scandals after being criticised in the Murphy Report.
And as the announcement was made at St John’s Cathedral on Thursday, Fr Leahy said he “warmly greeted” Dr Murray and took heart that the church’s own child protection watchdog had recognised the “Diocese of Limerick has robust measures in place in the area of child safeguarding and protection”.
Mayor Gerry McLoughlin was given a round of applause for his supportive words for Dr Murray by over 200 worshippers who had hastily made their way to St John’s after the word went out at morning masses that an announcement was imminent.
“Truly a wonderful man,” was how the mayor described Dr Murray as he welcomed Fr Leahy to Limerick, “one of the friendliest cities in the world”.
In a reference to the abuse scandals, Fr Leahy said “we have been through a very dark moment” and added “we must do all we can to ensure that Church settings are always good places to be, where genuine mutual love is experienced”.
The Bishop-Elect also had a message for politicians currently considering legislation on abortion.
“An occasion such as this affords me the opportunity to offer a word of gratitude to our legislators for all their commitment to promoting the common good. Politics is a vocation and I am convinced most people enter politics with a vision and a desire to improve the world. I want to assure them of prayers at this delicate time for the protection of life, that they may be inspired to know how best to protect the lives of mothers and their unborn children,” he said.
Fr Leahy declined to be drawn further on the abortion debate, saying the views of the Catholic hierarchy would be made plain by its representatives at the Oireachtas hearings.
He said he was particularly concerned for those “who feel they are hanging on in the Church by their fingertips and all who are struggling with their faith. I invite you not to give up. This is a Year of Faith. It can be a new start for us all”.
Flanked by the Papal Nuncio Archbishop Charles Brown, who had informed him of his appointment on New Year’s Day, Fr Leahy said it had come as a surprise.
Fr Leahy could claim no great link to Limerick but mentioned his father had taught for a year in Athea and promised to inform himself more on rugby and hurling.
Archbishop Brown conceded that: “three years is a long time to wait” but added that “standing here in front of the cathedral with Fr Brendan Leahy who has been appointed by the Holy Father as Bishop of Limerick, we can all say the wait has been well worth it”.
“He has his family roots in west Kerry. Fr Brendan Leahy is one of the most renowned theologians in all of Ireland and I am absolutely confident that he is going to be a good and holy bishop here in Limerick,” the nuncio said.
Archbishop Brown also thanked Fr Tony Mullins for his contribution as administrator of the Diocese of Limerick during three years of sede vacante - the episcopal see being vacant.
“Three years ago in the middle of a big crisis, Fr Tony said yes and he has guided and administered the Diocese of Limerick with great care, with exceptional competence and with an impressive spirit of joy and self sacrifice. The Holy See and indeed the Church in Limerick is deeply grateful to Fr Tony for everything he has done.”
Fr Leahy is expected to be ordained Bishop of Limerick some time around Easter.
Born: In Dublin in 1960, Fr Leahy grew up in Crumlin and Rathfarnham. Both parents are from Ballyferriter on the Dingle Peninsula.
Lives: In Prosperous, County Kildare and lectures as Professor of Systematic Theology at Saint Patrick’s College, Maynooth. Fr Leahy is expected to move into the Bishop of Limerick’s house in Castletroy.
Career: Ordained in 1986 as a priest of the Archdiocese of Dublin, he previously served as curate in Clonskeagh, south Dublin. He is a qualified barrister and regarded as one of Ireland’s foremost theologians. Praised by Cardinal Sean Brady for his organisational and adminstrative work with the Irish Bishops Conference and International Eucharistic Congress 2012.
Hobbies: Likes to keep fit by going to the gym and taking long walks, reading and cinema.