When I was a small boy fifty years ago, I went with my father to see the arrival of Cardinal DAlton on a visitation to Derry. We were standing in Waterloo Place craning for a decent view when suddenly everything cleared. An open topped limousine entered the square with the cardinal inside, wearing a big round red hat and waving serenely at the faithful. In that second the crowd had seemed to vanish. In fact everybody had fallen to their knees, leaving only me and my daddy upright – or so I remember it and giving me the best view in town. The event was almost as grand as the Queen’s visit a few years earlier, although with a mostly different crowd I suppose. Ive just come across this archive clip from the Derry Journal, reporting anger at the demand of the Six County Housing Trust to remove decorations for the visitation from Creggan houses. Arrogantly insensitive then and unimaginable today. What would have been inconceivable then would have been the condemnation – even after his extenuating explanation – of Peter Robinsons delayed reaction to Cardinal Daly s death, which roused the Belfast Telegraph to the deliver the sort of magisterial rebuke for which it was justly famous forty years ago. The northern Irish may still be capable of murtherin hate for the living but boy, how they demand respect for the newly dead. Still, times have certainly changed on balance for the better. Deference for any six county institutions, always thin at best, has long gone. So also and far less predictably, has almost sacramental respect for the fathers of the Church but not entirely, as just witnessed in Armagh.No backlash greeted the traditional princely obsequies for Cardinal Daly – the lying in state of the open coffin, the ceremonial for the funeral itself with both States representatives diplomatically recognised, the live coverage. This is the first primatial funeral I havent covered in 30 years, so I cant judge whether this one was older and sparser attended than those for Cardinals Conway and O Fiach. It was striking that Cardinal Brady used his bully pulpit to deliver a contemporary message could not help but draw attention to one of his predecessors failures. This showed a quality of leadership for which Cardinal Brady himself may be remembered when his turn comes.
Cardinal Daly would have been well aware that the next steps on that pilgrim journey for the Catholic Church in Ireland will be among the most critical and most challenging of its history. The abuse of children and its shameful mismanagement by those charged by God to protect his ‘little ones’, have wrought such damage on those who were abused. It has caused such justified anger and outrage on the part of the faithful and damaged trust so profoundly in the integrity of the leaders of the Church.
No-one can doubt the Catholic Church in Ireland is now at a defining moment in its history. The only way to authentic renewal is that of humble service to God’s people. The rebuilding of trust will entail making sure that children are safe at every moment and in every Church setting. It will require complete commitment to the path initiated by Cardinal Daly, of working with the civil authorities and whole parish communities to ensure best practice, cooperation and accountability in safeguarding children in all Church activities.