Friday, October 19, 2007

Why Pope restored primacy of Armagh

~from Irish Independent

The return of the cardinal's hat to Armagh from Dublin with the nomination of Archbishop Sean Brady is an endorsement by the Pope of the symbolic importance of the historic see of St. Patrick as the ecclesiastical capital of Ireland in both the Catholic and Protestant traditions.

That the decision was made by Benedict XVI gives it added significance, because, as Cardinal Joseph Ratzinger, he strongly supported the elevation in 2001 of Desmond Connell, the first Archbishop of Dublin to become a cardinal in over a century.

By returning the cardinal's hat to Armagh the Pope is in a sense acknowledging the personal nature of the honour bestowed on Connell.

The loss of the cardinalate to Dublin last time went down badly, and not only in the North, as Church historian, Oliver Rafferty, S J, explained at the time: "The hat came to symbolise the unity of the Church in the face of political disunity.

"Given the political complexity and the suffering of the last 30 years it is extraordinary that the hat has gone to Dublin. We now have ecclesiastical partition."

The Irish Bishops' Conference is unusual in that it straddles two political jurisdictions, whereas in Britain Scotland's conference is separate from that in England and Wales.

The Armagh diocese straddles the border, stretching from northwest of Lough Neagh to within 25 miles of Dublin.

Armagh's leadership role within the Irish Church is recognised by his fellow bishops by consistently electing the incumbent archbishop President of the Episcopal Conference.

However, it was widely assumed that since the cardinal's hat had been given to Dublin six years ago it would remain there this time, given the fact that the transformed political environment in the North appeared to lessen Armagh's strategic significance.

Archbishop Diarmuid Martin's strong Roman connections were also thought to be another significant factor.

Such speculation overlooked the fact that there had been a close affinity between Cardinal Connell and Cardinal Ratzinger, now Pope Benedict.

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