Pope Benedict XVI has named 52-year old Monsignor Charles Brown as the Apostolic Nuncio to Ireland. The somewhat surprising announcement comes in the wake of devastating Irish government investigations such as the Ferns Report that documented the corruption, cover-up, and institutional negligence that provided a fertile ground for sexually abusive Catholic priests to prey on minors, especially those attending boarding schools run by the Catholic Church but funded by the Irish government.
The scandal that ensued led to the closure of the Vatican Embassy in Ireland as well as a Rome-mandated apostolic visitation led by US Cardinal Sean O’Malley of Boston.
Brown’s appointment has been characterized as “convention-shattering” by a leading Vatican watcher because the post is usually held by a senior Italian prelate as a reward for years of faithful diplomatic service on behalf of the Vatican. However, in this instance, the Nuncio will be English-speaking (something that hasn’t happened in the last half century) and has no previous diplomatic experience. Rather, Monsignor Brown is a close confidante of the Pope and is widely regarded as affable, orthodox, and intelligent. He’ll need all of these skills if he is to right the Irish ecclesial ship. The appointment comes a few days before more sexual abuse reports are due from Ireland.
The Irish Catholic sex abuse scandal has been significant and relevant to those of us in the United States for a few reasons: 1)the scope and severity of the abuse is unprecedented and involved at least the tacit compliance of the civil government, and 2)many Irish priests and bishops emigrated to the United States earlier last century and brought with them the same dysfunction of abuse from Ireland. One need only think of such notorious cases as Oliver O’Grady, Brendan Smyth, and Bishop Anthony O’Connell to recognize the extent to which the Irish sex abuse scandal affected and spread to the United States.
While the appointment of Monsignor Brown (automatically made an archbishop due to his appointment as Apostolic Nuncio) to the important post of traditionally Catholic Ireland has been hailed as a fresh start by some insiders, actions always speak louder than words. I’ll take a “wait and see” attitude before making a judgment as to the relative merits of this latest appointment.