Page last updated at 20:38 GMT, Thursday, 31 December 2009

Cardinal Daly faced testing times as Irish primate

Cardinal Cahal Daly
Cardinal Cahal Daly has died at the age of 92

Cardinal Cahal Daly was an intellectual heavyweight who presided over some of the most testing times the Catholic Church in Ireland has faced.

His was the poisoned chalice of the final decade of the 1900s.

He had to deal with a series of scandals: from the Irish bishop who had a teenage son living in the United States, to a list of child sex abuse cases involving Catholic priests.

Cahal Daly was born in Loughgiel, County Antrim, on 1 October 1917.

He was the third of seven children and came from a deeply religious family.

In his book, Steps on My Pilgrim Journey, he recalled a tough but often idyllic life.

There was no tap water and the family had to trudge with a bucket to the nearest spring well to fetch water.

"Having gone to that trouble, one was not going to waste it. The same applied to all the basics of life, such as food," he said.

The theme of not wasting, recycling and reusing were always close to his heart and his love of the planet is set out in his book, "The Minding of Planet Earth" which was published in 2004.

His earliest memory was of being burned out of the family home, which was attached to a building commandeered by auxilliaries, in an IRA attack.

His neighbours and friends were Presbyterians and he was a strong ecumenist. His upbringing focused on the shame and stigma of debt, the "waste not, want not" philosophy and a strict moral code.

His piety stemmed from his mother who was deeply religious. Her life revolved around the Mass, she fasted for two days every week and, if the church was closed, she would go through the stations of the cross outside the church in the darkness.

He studied at St Malachy's College, Belfast and took a Classics degree at Queen's University. He moved to the national seminary in Maynooth and was ordained in 1941.

Cardinal Cahal Daly
Cardinal Daly at the funeral mass for Cardinal Basil Hume in 1999

He taught classics at St Malachy's College for a year before becoming a lecturer at Queen's University - a job he was to do for 21 years.

Among his students was his future colleague and friend, the former Church of Ireland Primate Robin Eames.

Cardinal Daly was gifted with a great intellect. He did not have the common touch of his predecessor, Cardinal Tomas O Fiaich, but he was a deep thinker and a courageous speaker.

In 1967, he was appointed Bishop of Ardagh and Clonmacnois. After 15 years, he returned to his native diocese to succeed Dr William Philbin as the bishop of Down and Connor.

He had acted as theological advisor for Dr Philbin during the Second Vatican Council which he described as "the great joy" of his life.

He was strictly orthodox and, in the 70s, he rejected arguments for removing the constitutional prohibition on divorce in the Republic and opposed changes in the law banning contraceptives.

In 1978, he restated the Church's opposition to women's ordination at the world Anglican Lambeth Conference.

Back in Northern Ireland, he faced the Troubles and he was strong in his condemnation of violence. His consistent strident criticism of the IRA did not make him popular in republican circles.

He himself acknowledged that his stance was "doomed to be seen by some as a betrayal of one's own community" and a dereliction of one's pastoral duty towards "one's own people".

He said that you could not coerce nearly a million unionists into a united Ireland. He believed that they could be persuaded, but the task would be "demanding, slow, difficult".

He was a strong advocate of Christian unity and always believed in ecumenical dialogue, but he did not believe that joint schooling could contribute to a solution in Northern Ireland.

At the age of 73, in 1990, he became Archbishop of Armagh. In 1991, Pope John Paul II made him a cardinal.

He was courageous in his stance and was always prepared to argue the Church's case - on divorce, on celibacy and on contraception, even when it was not popular.

'Testing years'

His latter years in Armagh were to prove the most testing in the Irish Church in nearly 100 years.

The period was dominated by the IRA ceasefire and Dr Daly began to shift, saying in 1992, that if the IRA put an end to violence, then Sinn Fein should have a place in future talks.

His priests who played a role in mediation with republican leaders kept him informed as peace became ever more attainable. He played an important role in that process, although it has been unsung.

His great disappointment, he once said, was that progress was "maddeningly slow".

At the same time, the cardinal led the Irish Church through a series of sex and abuse scandals that rocked its very foundations.

It started with the 1992 revelation that Bishop Eamon Casey had a teenage son in the US.

In the following years, a series of court cases and media revelations were made in Ireland about priests sexually abusing children. The hierarchy admitted that up to 60 Irish priests had been the subject of child sex abuse allegations. Cardinal Daly expressed his horror and distress and made public apologies.

Many people's memories of Cardinal Daly will be of his interview on RTE's Late Late Show in 1995 when he faced hostile questioning from a largely Catholic audience. He appeared courageous in the face of the anger and remained dignified as others heckled and hissed.

He retired at the age of 79 and was able to return to his first love, philosophy. Among his published works are Philosophy in Britain from Bradley to Wittgenstein and The Minding of Planet Earth, published in 2004.

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