By Andrew Bushe
DUBLIN — Cardinal Desmond Connell has been forced to mend fences with a statement of “regret” for a series of remarks in which he claimed Trinity College had insulted him and said his Church of Ireland counterpart “wouldn’t have much theological competence.”
The cardinal, who made his remarks in an interview for a forthcoming book, also said that the Protestant archbishop of Dublin, Dr. Walton Empey, was not one of his church’s “high flyers.”
Connell also accused Trinity College of insulting him, and through him the Catholic people of Ireland, by giving an honorary degree to a former Church of Ireland archbishop, Dr. Donald Caird, in 1988 during the city’s celebration of its millennium.
“Leaving me sitting down watching it [the conferring of the degree] was a downright insult,” he said.
The cardinal also took issue with Senator David Norris, a gay rights activist, for saying he knew more about angels than fairies.
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Connell said his guardian angel helped him when an intruder broke into his bedroom in the archbishop’s palace in Drumcondra in the middle of the night a year ago.
His comments drew strong criticism from Church of Ireland clergymen. The cardinal has also been involved in controversy in the past with the Church of Ireland, describing as a “sham” the taking of communion by President Mary McAleese in St. Patrick’s Cathedral.
After his remarks in the book were published, Connell issued a statement saying his comments were “likely to give rise to misunderstanding.”
“In the context of the perfectly understandable differences in theological perspective between us, I referred to Archbishop Empey in a way which might have appeared to denigrate him,” Connell said. “I want to make it as clear as I possibly can that this was never my intention and I profoundly regret if such an impression has been given.”
The cardinal said he gave an extended interview last December for the book, “The Irish Soul: In Dialogue,” which is being published this month.
“Interviews can sometimes be so careful that they say nothing,” he said. “But I am all too aware that I myself sometimes say things in the course of an interview without sufficiently adverting to the reactions of others.
“When the result is the giving of offense, no one is more regretful than I am — and this is so in the present instance.”
The cardinal said he had warm personal relations with Empey, which he greatly valued.
“I hold him in the greatest respect, and respect in particular his widely acknowledged and admired pastoral gifts,” Connell said.
Connell, a former professor of philosophy, said the difficulties with Trinity College are “all now in the past.”
Empey, who had been in Ethiopia, accepted Connell’s “sincere apology” on his return.