Retirement of Dean of St Patrick’s

The Very Revd Dr Robert MacCarthy will retire from his post as Dean of St Patrick’s Cathedral, Dublin, and from the stipendiary ministry of the Church of Ireland onWednesday. He preached his final sermon as Dean at Evensong yesterday.

The C of I correspondent to the Irish Times writes:
Robert MacCarthy trained for the ministry in Ripon College, Cuddeson, Oxford, but was ordained in the Church of Ireland for the curacy of Carlow in 1979 where he served under the influential Archdeacon of Leighlin, the Ven. Andy Willis. He returned to Oxford in 1981 to join the staff of Pusey House and was a  Fellow of St Cross College, subsequently serving as curate and team vicar in the parish of Bracknell. In 1986 he returned to the Church of Ireland as Bishop’s Vicar in Kilkenny where, among other things, he actively promoted St Canice’s Library and was involved in the Kilkenny Arts Week with the late Dean of Ossory, the Very Revd Brian Harvey. Incumbencies in Castlecomer and Galway preceded his election in 1999 as Dean of St Patrick’s where he had been a canon from 1994.

His election to the deanery prompted speculation of a return to the Swiftian style of the office in contrast to the genial and unhurried style of his predecessor, Dr Maurice Stewart. In this, Dr MacCarthy did not disappoint and much has been made of his controversial statements as Dean. However, rather less has been written of his many acts of kindness, of his care for the sick and the elderly, especially those in hospital, of the generosity of his hospitality in the Deanery and of his careful stewardship of the fabric and fittings of  St Patrick’s. But then, deans, like other holders of high office in the Church, cannot, with integrity, be all things to all men. It has been seen as both a strength and weakness of Dr MacCarthy that he not tried to be so.

The Irish Times today carries this report of Dean McCarthy’s sermon:

The demoralised state of the Catholic Church in Ireland “may have something to do with its lack of ecumenism”, the Very Rev Robert MacCarthy (71), Dean of St Patrick’s Cathedral in Dublin, has said.

“While I have been happy to welcome the present Roman Catholic Archbishop of Dublin as a preacher here, I have to say that there has been no reciprocal invitation to the Pro-Cathedral,” he said.

Ecumenism in Dublin seemed “to be equated to fellowship between the two archbishops; that should merely be the first step”, he said in his final sermon as dean at evensong in St Patrick’s yesterday. He steps down from the position on Wednesday.

Last month he announced his retirement as life had been “made more difficult” for him by the attitude of some members of the cathedral chapter and board.

“They have not supported me all along and they can find someone else to carry on,” he said.

Yesterday, he recalled that when he was elected dean in 1999, “a bishop remarked that it would be interesting to see how an iconoclast did as an icon”. The “special position” of a dean of St Patrick’s in the Church of Ireland “was resented by the previous Archbishop of Dublin [John Neill], who challenged my position as ordinary, declined to preach in the cathedral and abolished the cathedral parish”, he said.

The Church of Ireland itself showed every sign of splitting into “a sort of Catholic sect in the South with married clergy and a body indistinguishable from other Protestant sects in the North”.

The former and current Catholic archbishops of Dublin, Cardinal Desmond Connell and Archbishop Diarmuid Martin, had “both refused to appoint a Roman Catholic chaplain to St Patrick’s, and in this they were supported by their Anglican colleague”, even while such chaplaincies were “commonplace” in England. He disagreed with those members of his church who felt it could benefit from the abuse crisis in the Catholic Church in Ireland. They had been “lucky that there was no inquiry into sexual abuse within the Church of Ireland – if there had been, I doubt if we would have been found to be blameless”. Clericalism “was at the root of the church’s ills” and was “alive and well in the Church of Ireland.” He did not attend a reception at Dublin Castle in 2001 to mark Cardinal Connell getting the red hat, “since the invitation was in the names of the then Taoiseach and his then mistress”.

He said “the affair was well summed up by a priest friend of mine at Maynooth who said: ‘Isn’t it great to see the Protestants standing up for what we once believed in’.” As a member of the board of the Rotunda Hospital, he “was in a minority of one in opposing the move of the hospital to the Mater site”. He introduced elections to the board and in return it passed a vote of no confidence in me and “attempted to muzzle my public utterances”. Dealing with the board and chapter at St Patrick’s “has shown me how unchristian the institutional church can be”, he said.