Wednesday, August 21, 2013
Archbishop Eamon Martin, Coadjutor Archbishop of Armagh, Ireland
"Eamon Martin, the youngest member of the Hierarchy at 51, was Rome’s surprise choice to lead the Irish Church in the coming quarter of a century. Since his appointment last January the "young" Derryman, as the heir apparent to the hapless Cardinal Sean Brady, has surged to national prominence as the Church’s chief spokesman in the 21 years long Church-State battle over abortion.
Having lost a crucial battle with the passage with resounding majorities through the Oireachtas of the Protection to Life during Pregnancy Bill, Martin has served notice that he has commitment, stamina and youth on his side to renew the crusade for the holding of a constitutional referendum aimed at returning to the situation prior to the 1992 X case when the Supreme Court permitted abortion where suicide is threatened by the mother.
In barely eight months he has unleashed threats of excommunication on Catholic politicians in both the Dail and Seanad Eireann who supported the limited legislation to give effect to the Supreme Court judgment in the X case.
“It was a shock to hear Archbishop Martin's warning of excommunication to any TD voting for the abortion legislation,” complained a stout Northern Protestant from Lisburn, the heartland of traditional evangelism that traditionally equated Home Rule with Rome Rule, but is now coalescing with the DUP-Sinn Fein administration at Stormont.
“Church leaders have every right to advise and counsel their members, but to issue an explicit threat to elected representatives over how must vote in parliament is an assault on the democratic process,” he told Goldhawk, cannily adding: “there was a whiff of the medieval about it.”
His thundering “No cooperation with evil”, which he claimed was being enacted by the Oireachtas, was the strident one-liner rallying cry to the Pro-Life forces from the surprisingly soft-spoken Derryman with Hollywood good looks of a slick salesman, a winning smile and a misplaced reputation for a safe pair of hands. He sounded more like like a miscast Humphrey Bogart in a script authored by the New York-born Apostolic Nuncio to Ireland, Archbishop Charles J. Brown, cast in the role of an Armagh midwife.
As a barometer of changing attitudes, most moderate Catholics on both sides of the border, and not just the ageing liberal brigade from the heady days of the reformist Second Vatican Council in the 1960s, would intone Amen to the Lisburnman’s incisive verdict. Although described by a Tyrone parish priest as “a thoroughly good fellow,” a Belfast Catholic said she finds him under-whelming and un-prepossessing but wily. “He wouldn’t have got as far as he has without being the latter.”
“Eamon, the Awful”, as distinct from the generally acclaimed “good” Diarmaid Martin” in Dublin, is not due to take over the reins of ecclesiastical power vested in the Primacy of All Ireland until August 2014 when Cardinal Brady retires at 75. Already, however, Martin’s blitzkrieg arrival marks him out as the big broom in a new generation of bishops picked for orthodoxy and loyalty to the Holy See by Nuncio Brown.
Nationally unknown when his appointment was announced, he was nonetheless a familiar figure within the cloistered walls of Maynooth, where he acquired an insider’s intimacy of the secretive workings of the Hierarchy as secretary to the Episcopal Conference. Indeed, when Seamus Hegarty stood down as Bishop of Derry, Eamon was appointed caretaker administrator of the diocese of Derry.
Echoing at his first news conference Mary Robinson’s 1990 Presidential “come dance with me” invitation, Martin said this was a good time to “sing a new song to the Lord” in a time of change, challenge and opportunity. He repeated this signature tune on his installation in Armagh’s St Patrick’s Cathedral in April, when he explained that his motto would be Sing a new song to the Lord – suggestive of church renewal.
Instead of a new spring, and in contrast to his image for being politically savvy, Eamon’s bellowing on the abortion legislation took many by surprise - not because of what he said but because of the language and tone used. It was as if he was threatening opponents with the archaic excommunication ritual of “bell, book and candle”, retorted Labour’s Sean Sherlock, who damned the primate-in-waiting’s threats as "incendiary".
From the outset Eamon attacked the Government’s decision to introduce legislation to allow for limited abortion in line with the 1992 X case decision. This catapulted him on a collision course with Taoiseach Enda Kenny, who insisted that the Government would not be diverted from introducing legislation following public furore over the death in Galway University Hospital of the pregnant Indian Hindu woman, Savita Halappanavar.
Martin’s lack of expertise in theology – he was a maths teacher, college principal and a musician - did not inhibit him from pronouncing on the unborn. As one of a family of 12, Martin obviously felt he well placed to speak with omniscience on childbirth.
This dogmatism brought him a learned rebuke from the late Sean Freyne, the former professor of theology at Trinity College, Dublin, who dubbed him a scaremonger operating with a 19th-century devotional understanding of the Eucharist. Freyne also accused Martin of “disingenuously insisting that the church was not being threatening” when during the pregnancy Bill’s passage, he had even suggested no priest should administer Communion to any politician who supported the Bill and had warned that errring politicians “excommunicate themselves” from the body of Christ.
Martin’s overnight rise to hawkish prominence is due to the management strategy of Archbishop Brown, the Pope’ Ambassador’s to Ireland, which is essentially to promote younger and energetic men with managerial skills to the episcopal ranks by designating them to head dioceses other than their own native ones.
In Martin’s case, two factors appear to have influenced Brown’s in nominating him to Rome for the top job. First, Martin had shown zero tolerance towards clerical paedophiles when he served on the Church’s own watchdog, the National Board for Safeguarding Children, (NBSC), until earlier this year, Martin had also impressed by not hesitating as administrator in Derry to name two previous bishops of Derry criticized in the NBSC review of that diocese in November 2011. Significantly, in an address on August 11 in West Belfast’s Saint Oliver Plunkett Church he doubted that “the dark clouds of abuse shall lift easily.”
Second, and probably the most significant consideration for Brown and the Vatican, was that last December Martin in his capacity as administrator of the Derry diocese came south to join some other bishops outside Leinster House at the first of what turned out to be monster protests against the proposed abortion legislation.
According to a church insider, the phlegmatic Martin, unlike the nervous Brady, is noted for his ease with the media and is willing “to articulate Catholic teaching clearly and compassionately on very significant matter of unborn life.” At key stages in the legislation’s passage he either took part in news conferences or issued statements and gave interviews. These interventions were given ample space in the national media.
Unnoticed, however, by journalists were his timely interventions on the Eternal World Television Network, (EWTN), the American Catholic fundamentalist television conglomerate founded in Alabama by Mother Angelica. This first “Catholic CNN” is the satellite station used in past campaigns by Derry’s better known Pro-Life crusader, Rosemary Dana Scanlon. Its programmes beam to over 100 million viewers in 115 countries including Ireland.
On the opening day of the Dail debate Martin featured on EWTN from outside St Patrick’s Cathedral in Armagh denouncing the Bill, and again ahead of a critical vote on July 10, urged TDs to vote against the Bill. He also deplored the lack of a free vote of conscience in Fine Gael that cowered T.D.s like Mayo’s Michelle Mulhern but was unsuccessful in the case of Blessed Lucinda Creighton.
Martin’s holy blarney failed when on July 12, ironically the biggest day in the Orange Order’s marching season to commemorate the victory of the Protest King Billy against the Catholic King James, the Dail passed the legislation by 127 to 31 votes.
On Wednesday July 17, the third day of Senate sitting on abortion, the surprisingly Martin also appeared on EWTN along with two women associated with the Vigil for Life movement and Micky Harte, the Tyrone manager, who said the Irish legislation with its 35 weeks time-span was worse than the UK 1967 Abortion Act.
Eamon of Derry’s coalescing with militant uncompromising Catholicism contrasts with the more diplomatic approach pursued by Diarmuid of Dublin. You did not see Diarmuid joining the street demos, and while his statements were orthodox, he appeared to recognise the limited constitutional application of the legislation.
Both Martins are of strong character and as professional churchmen will work well together. But Eamon just cannot compete with the broad range of cultural, pastoral and life experience which Diarmuid acquired over almost three decades as a diplomat with the Holy See.
Both Martins, too, will watch closely the tide charts on the Tiber to guage the winds of change under the first Latin American Pope, though neither of them will take initiatives to introduce married and women priests favoured by the majority of Irish Catholics, especially now that Pope Francis has closed the doors on the ordination of women. Nor has Francis’s more conciliatory language towards gays softened the church’s teaching that active homosexuals are disordered. Nor has the intellectual purge against theologians such as Redemptorist priest Tony Flannery been lifted in Rome, Drumcondra or Armagh.
Michael Kelly, the ebullient editor of the Irish Catholic, has predicted that Eamon Martin can renew Irish Catholicism by targeting young people, as has been done with a degree of success by Diarmuid. But Kelly has also counselled Eamon not to make Diarmuid’s mistakes of being seen to be remote from his fellow bishops and local clergy. It might just suit Eamon if Pope Francis would find places for Sean Brady and Diarmuid in his administration when he reforms the Roman Curia!
However, Eamon is now saddled with an ingrained, perhaps even imperishable populist image of his being a Northern backwoodsman who does not understand public opinion in the Republic. He failed when he eye-balled and commanded Kenny to desist from enacting the Bill. He did so in a theocratic imperial manner which belonged to the earlier decades of the independent Southern State, but which no longer carries any political or credal weight in a society where the standing and influence of the Catholic Church has substantially diminished.
In personalizing the confrontation so menacingly, Eamon lost to the country and western Taoiseach from Castlebar who accurately claimed that his handling of the legislation was “in tune with Irish public opinion and the public expression of support in this case.”
It is likely that the majority of Irish Catholics who continue to practice their religion identify with Kenny’s insistence that his Catholic faith has not been damaged by the abortion controversy. Like, Kenny, many Catholics will remain regular Mass-goers with their religious beliefs intact, but most likely too, with their skepticism about the credibility of Eamon Martin’s rhetoric and leadership abilities reinforced.
Compared with Eamon’s insistence that legislation was not required, a stance which gave the impression that he was more concerned with the unborn than with the health of the mother, Catholic women reacted more warmly to Enda’s “sensitive” appreciation that the legislation brought “legal certainty” and conferred a Constitutional right on them.
In contradiction to Eamon’s claim that “the deliberate and intentional killing of an unborn child” would create difficulties for doctors, Enda pointed out that “written into the legislation is the clarity of the Constitutional responsibility of medical personnel to do everything practical and possible to save the life of the unborn, as well as that of the mother.”
To say the least, it has been an inglorious start for Eamon Martin’s expectedly long reign: he has a major Church-State defeat under his clerical vestments. The current Government has now parked the unfinished business of wider abortion legislation to a future Oireachtas. With President Michael D. Higgins signing the legislation into law without referring it to the Supreme Court to test its constitutionality, it is now up to the Hierarchy and/or the Pro-Lifers to attempt to mount a legal challenge through the courts.
As Alex White, Labour’s Junior Health Minister noted, any further changes (such as incest, rape and foetal abnormality) will require a amendment to the Constitution in the not too-distant future, an indication of his confidence that the Church will lose even further ground to a more liberal abortion proposal in a future referendum.
That Eamon Martin is gearing up for the next round of battle was signalled at Knock Shrine, County Mayo, on August 15, the feast of the Assumption of the Blessed Virgin when Cardinal Brady consecrated Ireland to the Immaculate Heart of Mary - and Eamon, was principal celebrant and preacher.
The last such consecration was made by Pope John Paul II in 1979 when Eamon was an impressionable 18 years old, and in a belated effort to get back on side with the Catholic women of Ireland, Eamon revealed that a print of the Annunciation fresco by Fra Angelica hangs on his bedroom wall, a symbol his dedication to Catholic womanhood. "