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Dublin Archbishop Says Pope Francis’ Age Will Affect His Leadership Style

Omar Shamout |
March 28, 2013 | 11:40 p.m. PDT

Staff Reporter

Archbishop Diarmuid Martin greets parishioners outside St. Mary's Pro-Cathedral in Dublin on St. Patrick's Day. (Omar Shamout)
Archbishop Diarmuid Martin greets parishioners outside St. Mary's Pro-Cathedral in Dublin on St. Patrick's Day. (Omar Shamout)
DUBLIN, Ireland -- Diarmuid Martin, archbishop of Dublin, said in an interview that due to Pope Francis’ age, his papacy will be defined more by “signs and gestures” rather than “specific” projects.

“I think this man at 76-years old … is asking himself, ‘What can I do?’” Martin, 67, said in the library of the Archbishop’s Palace on the outskirts of Dublin. 

After his inauguration in Rome’s St. Peter’s Square last week, Francis became the ninth oldest pope on record since the year 1295. At age 78, Pope Emeritus Benedict XVI was the fifth oldest, but his eight years in charge are longer than the historical average of seven calculated by the Nate Silver of the New York Times. But Silver also noted that, “The nine previous men who were known to be 75 or older at the time of their election to the papacy served for an average of only five years.

The pope’s advanced age left some people in Dublin concerned.

Gerry Treanor, 58, said he was “a little bit disappointed” when he first heard of Cardinal Jorge Mario Bergoglio’s election.

“I thought they would have gone for somebody younger,” the civil servant said as he left mass at St. Mary’s Pro-Cathedral last Thursday. St. Mary’s is the seat of Archbishop Martin’s Dublin diocese.

Treanor identified fallout from clergy sex-abuse scandals, corruption at the Vatican Bank, and declining church attendance as the primary challenges facing the Roman Catholic Church.

The civil servant added he had doubts whether of not Francis would “have the energy to continue the responsibilities that lie ahead.”

“There’s a lot of heavy work,” Treanor added. “You do need young blood.”

Martin said Pope Francis should take a long, hard look at which officials he appoints to Vatican posts. The ongoing “Vatileaks” affair continues to bring forth new allegations of corruption among Church officials.

“I would hope that he would look at the Roman curia,” Martin said, himself a 27-year veteran of administrative posts at the Holy See. He called for a “smaller, leaner,” hierarchy, with a greater “presence of diocesan bishops.”

The pope’s symbolic approach to leadership is already on display. Francis chose to ride the bus with the Cardinals after being elected and then personally paid his hotel bill. He also greeted crowds near St. Peter’s Square in Rome before and after celebrating his first Sunday Mass as pontiff.

Another St. Mary’s parishioner, 62-year-old Margaret Devlin, said she was also hoping for a pope who could potentially serve for a longer period of time.

“I wish he was a bit younger,” the self-described “devout” Catholic said as she waited for a friend on Dublin’s Henry Street.

Raymond Corcoran, 67, said after St. Patrick’s Day Mass at St. Mary’s that he and his friends were not expecting the College of Cardinals to choose another older pope after Ratzinger’s resignation.

“I was surprised,” Corcoran said immediately following Martin’s closing remarks at Mass. “I was expecting the Cardinal Archbishop of Vienna to be elected. Certainly I was expecting a younger man.”

Corcoran said he agrees with the pope on all moral and theological issues and remains hopeful that Francis’ experience will bring another much needed attribute to the Vatican.

“There’s great wisdom in old age.”

Reach staff reporter Omar Shamout via email or follow him on Twitter.



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