CHURCH sources this week expressed hope that a new Bishop of Limerick will be appointed in the coming weeks and Catholics won’t face into a fourth Christmas without a figurehead in the diocese.
It follows the appointment of Canon William Crean as Bishop of Cloyne more than two years after the resignation of John Magee.
The sudden nature of that appointment - after such a long wait - is said to have taken Cork priests by surprise.
Limerick’s wait for a new bishop has been even longer. Pope Benedict accepted the resignation of Donal Murray a week before Christmas in 2009 after his handling of child sex abuse complaints in Dublin in the 1980s was criticised in the Murphy Report.
“We are hopeful that we will have a bishop in place in the next few weeks, hopefully this side of Christmas,” said one Limerick priest.
“From what we have heard, the Vatican is keen to appoint bishops in Limerick and Kildare. They were supposed to be next on the list after Cloyne. But you can never be sure with the Vatican. Sure weren’t we told at the start, we’d only be waiting a year?”
In appointing Canon Crean as Bishop of Cloyne, the Vatican opted for a cleric not serving in the diocese. Similarly when Bishop Kieran O’Reilly succeeded Dr Willie Walsh in Killaloe in 2010, Rome chose an African missionary rather than a diocesan priest.
Limerick priests were canvassed on who should succeed Dr Murray as far back as 2010. A shortlist was forwarded to Rome through the office of the papal nuncio and is believed to have included Monsignor Dan Neenan, Monaleen; Fr Eamonn Fitzgibbon, Mungret/Raheen/Crecora; Fr William Walsh, Our Lady of the Rosary and others.
“Whether or not any of them get it is up to Rome. It would be nice to see one of our own get it but for ordinary parishioners they just want to see a new bishop, preferably by Christmas,” said the city priest.
Limerick is currently one of six Catholic dioceses without a bishop.
An audit of child protection standards in the diocese, published by the church’s National Board for the Safeguarding of Children in September, stated that the “continued absence of a bishop...is not helpful either to the clergy or to the people”.
Fr Tony Mullins, who has been administrator of the Diocese of Limerick since Dr Murray’s resignation, said at that time that he was also concerned at the length of time it was taking to find a permanent successor.
“I would be very anxious that we would have the appointment of a bishop as soon as possible but that is a situation where the authorities in Rome and in the Holy See will make their choice on,” said Fr Mullins.
Fr Mullins said he had discussed the matter with the papal nuncio, Archbishop Charles Brown, following his appointment in the spring.