Pope’s election ‘highlight of my life’ – Cardinal Brady

Tributes paid to Cardinal after Pope accepts resignation

Michael Kelly and Cathal Barry

Last year’s conclave that elected Pope Francis was “the highlight of my life,” said Cardinal Sean Brady, the day the Pope accepted his resignation as archbishop of Armagh and Primate of All-Ireland.

Pope Francis “challenges and inspires me” with the “message of God having mercy and at the same time choosing us, despite our sinfulness,” the cardinal told people gathered in St Patrick’s Cathedral in Armagh. “It reminds me that I, too, need to say sorry and to ask forgiveness. And I do so again, now.”

Cardinal Brady spoke on Monday, the day it was announced at the Vatican that Pope Francis had accepted his resignation, which bishops must submit when they turn 75. The cardinal, who as archbishop of Armagh serves as Primate of All-Ireland, will be replaced by Archbishop Eamon Martin, who has served as coadjutor since early 2013.

“It has been my privilege to have been appointed a bishop by Pope St John Paul II, to have worked closely with Pope Benedict XVI and to have taken part in the conclave that elected Pope Francis – that conclave has been the highlight of my life,” he said.

“The people of the Archdiocese of Armagh and the people of Ireland will remain in my prayers for the rest of my life. I ask the favour of your prayers to help me continue to serve God as best I can all the days God gives me,” he said.

Cardinal Brady was ordained a priest in 1964 and was initially appointed to teach in a Catholic high school while serving as a part-time secretary to the late Bishop Francis McKiernan of Kilmore.

It was in this role that he assisted in a canonical inquiry into a priest who had been accused of abuse. Then-Fr Brady interviewed a 14-year-old boy who alleged he had been abused by Norbertine Fr Brendan Smyth. The allegations were not shared with the civil authorities, and Fr Smyth went on to abuse in Ireland north and south and the United States; he was arrested and imprisoned in 1994.

When Cardinal Brady’s role came to light in 2010, he faced serious pressure and calls for his resignation. However, he refused to quit, but admitted he had done wrong, sought forgiveness and pledged to stay on, describing himself as a “wounded healer”.

During his time as president of the Irish Bishops’ Conference, Cardinal Brady was responsible for the adoption of stringent child-safeguarding procedures on both sides of the Irish border that have won praise from the civil authorities in both jurisdictions. He also spearheaded a zero-tolerance approach to abuse and insisted that all allegations are passed on to the civil authorities.


In a bid to ensure confidence in the new procedures, he established the National Board for Safeguarding Children in the Catholic Church as an independent watchdog to ensure that the Church was following its own guidelines when it came to the protection of children and vulnerable adults.

As an archbishop whose diocese straddles the border, he keenly followed events that led to the 1998 Good Friday Agreement.

In 2001, he led his fellow bishops in supporting a radical programme of reform of policing that would phase out the Royal Ulster Constabulary and replace it with the Police Service of Northern Ireland. The PSNI had an affirmative action policy to ensure equal recruitment from the Catholic and Protestant communities.

He showed a passion for ecumenism. The Rev. Donald Watts, co-chair of the Irish Inter Church Meeting and president of the Irish Council of Churches, said the cardinal made an “enormous contribution to inter-Church relations in Ireland.

“He chaired meetings with a gentle humility that has enabled rich dialogue and built understanding. As he retires, we enjoy unprecedented positive relationships between our member Churches,” Rev. Watts said.

The Church of Ireland Archbishop of Armagh, Dr Richard Clarke, wished Cardinal Brady “every happiness” in his forthcoming retirement.

“He has been a good friend to successive Archbishops of Armagh and to the wider Church of Ireland throughout his archiepiscopate, and we are grateful to him for this unaffected generosity of spirit,” Archbishop Clarke said.

Several members of the Irish Bishops Conference also expressed their gratitude to Cardinal Brady.

Bishop Leo O’Reilly of Kilmore acknowledged the cardinal’s “innate decency and personal kindness”, stating that the bishops would miss his “support, wisdom and outstanding leadership”.

Bishop Brendan Leahy of Limerick thanked the cardinal for his “personal kindness”, as well as his “example of prayerful discipleship and zeal for ecumenism”. 

Recognising that Cardinal Brady had led the Church through a very challenging period, Bishop Kevin Doran of Elphin said the cardinal had “sought at all times to respond honestly to the past, while seeking to be an agent of renewal in the Irish Church. 

“My experience of him during the three years when we lived and worked together was of a gentle leader and a good listener.  His care for those in need was very practical and no task was too menial for him,” he said.