Desmond Connell is created Cardinal-Priest by Pope John Paul II at the Consistory in Rome on February 21, 2001. He becomes the first Archbishop of Dublin in over 100 years to be installed as a Cardinal. A large Irish contingent from Church and State, along with family and friends of the Cardinal, attend the installation which for the first time takes place at the front of the entrance to St. Peter’s Basilica.
Connell is born in Dublin on March 24, 1926. He is educated at St. Peter’s National School, Phibsborough and the Jesuit Fathers’ second level school, Belvedere College, and studies for the priesthood at Holy Cross College. He later studies Arts at University College Dublin (UCD) and graduates with a BA in 1946 and is awarded an MA the following year. Between 1947 and 1951, he studies theology at St. Patrick’s College, Maynooth for a Bachelor of Divinity.
Connell is ordained priest by Archbishop John Charles McQuaid on May 19, 1951. He takes up a teaching post at the Department of Metaphysics at the University College Dublin. He is appointed Professor of General Metaphysics in 1972 and in 1983 becomes the Dean of the Faculty of Philosophy and Sociology. The College’s Department of Metaphysics is abolished after his departure.
Connell is appointed Archbishop of Dublin by the Holy See in early 1988. He is consecrated at St. Mary’s Pro-Cathedral, Dublin on March 6, 1988. He is created Cardinal-Priest by Pope John Paul II at the Consistory in Rome on February 21, 2001 with the Titulus S. Silvestri in Capite. Archbishops of Armagh, who hold the higher title of Primate of All Ireland, are more frequently appointed Cardinal than Archbishops of Dublin. The last Archbishop of Dublin to have been a cardinal is Cardinal Edward MacCabe, who was appointed in 1882.
On April 26, 2004, Connell retires as archbishop, handing the diocese to the coadjutor bishop, Diarmuid Martin. All bishops submit their resignation to the Pope on their 75th birthday. Connell’s is accepted shortly after his 78th birthday.
Connell is one of the cardinal electors who participates in the 2005 papal conclave that selects Pope Benedict XVI. Connell is considered quite close to Pope Benedict, both theologically and personally, both having served together on a number of congregations. He attends the 50th International Eucharistic Congress in Dublin in June 2012 and concelebrates at the Statio Orbis Mass in Croke Park.
It is Connell’s failure, when Archbishop of Dublin in 1988–2004, to address adequately the abuse scandals in Dublin that lead the Vatican to assign Archbishop Martin as his replacement in the country’s largest diocese. The Murphy Report finds that Connell had handled the affair “badly” as he was “slow to recognise the seriousness of the situation.” It does praise him for making the archdiocesan records available to the authorities in 2002 and for his 1995 actions in giving the authorities the names of 17 priests who had been accused of abuse, although it says the list is incomplete as complaints were made against at least 28 priests in the Archdiocese.
From 1988 Connell also continues to insure his archdiocese against liability from complainants, while claiming to the Murphy Commission that the archdiocese is “on a learning curve” in regard to child abuse. He arranges for compensation payments to be made from a “Stewardship Trust” that is kept secret from the archdiocese’s parishioners until 2003. In 1996 he refuses to help a victim of Paul McGennis and does not pass on what he knows about McGennis to her, or to the police. He apologises for this in 2002.
Desmond Connell dies in Dublin at the age of 90 on February 21, 2017, exactly sixteen years after his creation as Cardinal.