SUGGESTIONS to ordain a priest of the diocese as the next Bishop of Limerick had been “taken very seriously” by the Vatican, the papal nuncio to Ireland Archbishop Charles Brown insisted this week.
In appointing Fr Brendan Leahy - a native of Dublin and professor of theology in Maynooth - to lead Limerick’s 170,000 Catholics, Pope Benedict XVI has followed the recent pattern established in Killaloe and Cloyne, where diocesan priests were overlooked in favour of outsiders.
While Fr Leahy formally served as a curate in Clonskeagh, south Dublin, and has held a special pastoral role ministering to young people, he is regarded by colleagues in the priesthood as a theologian first and foremost, as was his predecessor as Bishop of Limerick Dr Donal Murray.
The new Bishop of Cloyne William Crean, by contrast, is better known for his pastoral work than for his Catholic teaching.
“The Holy Father, in appointing bishops in Ireland, does his very best to match the bishop to the diocese obviously,” Archbishop Brown told the Leader.
“So in some dioceses, a priest who served in a parish is perhaps the perfect choice; in other dioceses someone with an academic background is a much wiser choice and in others it may be someone who has worked in diocesan administration. It depends on the diocese and the needs of the diocese. Limerick is a big diocese with a great academic institution in Mary Immaculate College and so I think that may be one of the reason why the Holy Father may have chosen Brendan Leahy.”
A number of Limerick priests, suggested by their diocesan colleagues, had been forwarded to Rome for the consideration of the College of Bishops after Dr Murray’s resignation in 2009.
“I receive hundreds of suggestions on bishop appointments and we take all of them very, very seriously but we do our best to match the bishop to the diocese.”
Asked whether Pope Benedict’s decision to overlook local claims on the episcopal see were a reflection on how the Vatican viewed the priests of Limerick, the nuncio gave an appropriately diplomatic answer.
“As we have seen today, the priests of Limerick are the best priests in all of Ireland,” said Archbishop Brown.
Fr Leahy was “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”, Archbishop Brown said.
A widely published theologian and a qualified barrister, among the posts Fr Leahy has held in the Archdiocese of Dublin is diocesan censor, where publications by priests and religious are reviewed for their fidelity to official Catholic teaching prior to getting the imprimatur of a bishop.
Being appointed to such a role means the hierarchy has confidence a cleric is orthodox in his views.
Priests who spoke to the Limerick Leader painted a picture of Fr Leahy as a personable and affable man but somebody who was essentially conservative on social issues and regarded by the Vatican as a safe pair of hands.
“I certainly wouldn’t expect him to call for an end to celibacy or for women priests any time soon,” was how one priest put it this week.