Daly, Cahal Brendan (1917–2009), cardinal and theologian, was born on 1 October 1917 in Loughguile, Co. Antrim, third of seven children (four sons and three daughters) of Charles Daly, a schoolteacher originally from Keadue, Co. Roscommon, and his wife Susan (née Connolly), who came from the Loughguile area and had been a monitress (trainee teacher) in her future husband's school. The children all received second-level education (and three proceeded to third level) at a time when this required considerable sacrifice by their parents. To the end of his life, Daly often recalled his parents' love and faith, and credited them with instilling in him the prayer life without which the theological intellect would be hollow.
Education and priestly formation
Daly often stated that his earliest memory was of the house where his family lodged being burned by the north Antrim IRA in 1921 to smoke out the police from an adjoining dwelling. Despite this trauma, however, he retained a deep emotional attachment to Loughguile and remembered his childhood fondly. He also recalled generally good relations between the local catholic majority and the presbyterian minority; several of his primary-school contemporaries went on to become presbyterian ministers and he retained contact with them in later life. Daly attributed these good relations in part to the residual influence of the north Antrim presbyterian liberal tradition. In his later years he returned to Loughguile annually, and in 1995 there was a proposal to open a Cardinal Daly heritage centre in the family's old home.
Daly claimed that he could never remember a time when he had not wanted to be a priest. He was educated at St. Patrick's national school, Loughguile, before proceeding to St Malachy's College, Belfast, and studying classics at QUB. Brian Moore (qv) was a contemporary, and in later life Daly praised Moore's (highly critical) portrayal of St Malachy's in his novel The feast of Lupercal (1957). At QUB, Daly came under the influence of R. M. Henry (qv), whose presbyterian liberal nationalism he admired. Henry taught him to revere the memory of J. B. Armour (qv), and directed his interests towards patristics (the study of the Latin and Greek theologians of the early church, known as the fathers). Daly graduated BA in classics in 1937, becoming the first recipient of the R. M. Henry medal for Latin studies, and received an MA in 1938 with a dissertation on Tertullian (c.155–c.240), the first major Latin Christian theologian. (Tertullian was a rigorist who fell into schism; Daly later claimed that studying him helped in understanding Northern Ireland's religious fundamentalism.)
Completing his preparation at St Patrick's College, Maynooth (1938–41), Daly was ordained to the priesthood on 22 June 1941. He then undertook further study at the Dunboyne Establishment, graduating DD and with a licentiate in theology in 1944 for a dissertation on the penitential discipline of the early church with particular reference to Tertullian. A book based on this research, Tertullian the puritan and his influence, was published by Four Courts Press, Dublin, in 1993.
Daly suffered tubercular episodes in 1942–3, and in the mid 1950s and early 1960s. In 1963 he had the lobe of one lung removed to prevent a recurrence; this procedure left him with a distinctive low, rasping voice, which frequently attracted comment, as did his short stature (he stood just over five feet in height). As bishop of Down and Connor, he was affectionately known as 'ET' (after the diminutive alien in Steven Spielberg's 1982 film). Less affectionately, in the early 1990s Dermot Morgan (qv) in his satirical radio show Scrap Saturday lampooned him as 'Whispering Cahal'. (Daly told friends he was amused by the show's portrayal of him.)
A quiet, somewhat self-sufficient man, he was a lover of language and of poetry, who weighed his words carefully because of his sense of intellectual (and, in later life, pastoral) responsibility. He tended to divide opinions, with some finding him off-putting while closer acquaintances regarded him as warm and friendly. He had particular devotions to St Therese of Lisieux and (as a bishop) to St Francis de Sales. Even at the height of his labours, he made a point of answering every letter he received. Every year until 2009 he composed a Christmas card based around meditation on a scriptural text and sent it out to a growing list of correspondents. A volume of these Christmas cards was privately published after his death.
Academic and commentator
As a seminarian, Daly developed a strong interest in social justice and the application of the church's social teaching. In 1945, with several other 1941 ordinands, Daly formed the Christus Rex Society, which he chaired from its foundation until 1966. The society aimed at applying the teaching of the church to everyday social life; it published a well-regarded sociological journal, Christus Rex, held annual congresses in different Irish towns, and sponsored local discussion groups. After his elevation to the episcopate, Daly was too busy for further involvement in the society, and it died out within a few years.
Daly taught classics in St Malachy's (1944–5), and in 1946 was appointed lecturer in scholastic philosophy at QUB, becoming reader in the same subject in 1962. Regarded as a particularly effective lecturer, he was known for his wide range of cultural interests, willingness to engage with others' viewpoints, and clarity of exposition. A regular contributor to the journals Philosophical Studies and Irish Theological Quarterly, Daly was strongly influenced by the English catholic Wittgensteinian philosophers Elizabeth Anscombe (1919–2001) and Peter Geach (1916–2013), who sought to combine Thomism with analytical philosophy, and was one of the group of philosophers (of which Anscombe and Geach were leading lights), who met annually at the English Dominican retreat centre, Spode House. In the 1960s Daly served as a religious adviser to the Independent Television Authority, to BBC Northern Ireland and to an RTÉ interim committee, and as a board member of the Catholic Communications Centre in Dublin.
Nouvelle théologie and Vatican II
Daly spent a sabbatical year (1952–3) in postgraduate study of philosophy at the Institut Catholique, the Collège de France and the Sorbonne in Paris. Here he realised that the Irish church's self-image as a model of pastoral success rested on complacent ignorance of social and intellectual trends that were likely to influence Ireland in the near future. He developed enthusiasm for many of the new theological developments germinating in France and the 'Rhine countries', which were regarded with suspicion by elements in the Roman Curia and which were later to have a profound effect on the second Vatican council; he became a personal friend of the influential theologian Henri de Lubac (1896–1991). These trends included: (a) a critical attitude to the dominant form of neo-Thomist theology (encapsulated in academic manuals) as dry and legalistic, and belief that it was necessary to 'return to the sources' (ressourcement), taking scripture and the early fathers of the church as role models on how to address concrete human concerns and to evangelise a world in which Christianity had ceased to be taken for granted; (b) a view of liturgy as primarily didactic and participatory rather than a ritual act; (c) belief in ecumenical outreach to other Christian bodies and in the promotion of a code of human rights based on the concept of natural law discernable to all of good will. In the European context, this form of ecumenism was stimulated by the experience of interdenominational resistance to Nazism; Daly would later apply it to the Northern Ireland troubles, and speak of the need for religiously observant catholics and protestants to join in witnessing for Christ against the growing influence of secularism. It also influenced his strong support for Irish membership of the EEC, which he saw as upholding Christian civilisation as well as promoting economic development.
During his year in Paris, Daly lived in the guest house of a community of Benedictine nuns at Vanves in the Paris suburbs, which was a centre of theological outreach and of liturgical experimentation. In subsequent years he returned there for his vacations (spending three weeks in the guest house and one week travelling), consolidating his love of France and French culture and landscape. His first book, Morals, law and life (1962) – a personalist rebuttal of various forms of situation ethics and consequentialism (a term coined by Anscombe), with particular reference to the writings of the jurist Glanville Williams (1911–97) – cites a remarkably wide range of French texts, from French catholic philosophers to the conspicuously unbelieving André Gide, Françoise Sagan, Jean-Paul Sartre and Simone de Beauvoir. (Daly saw existentialist writers as displaying a thirst for meaning, which, whether they realised it or not, could only find fulfilment in God; he also saw some of their views, such as de Beauvoir's 'extraordinary' defence of the Marquis de Sade, as showing the logical implications of seemingly humanitarian abandonment of various details of Christian morality.) His ambition to write a broader work of moral philosophy was, however, to be derailed by the demands of the second Vatican council and by his pastoral duties as a bishop.
Daly attended the Vatican council (1962–5) as a theological adviser to Bishop William Philbin (qv) of Down and Connor in the first session, and to Archbishop William Conway (qv) of Armagh for the remaining three sessions. In 1996 Daly described the council as 'the great joy of my life', and in his 1998 memoir he declared that he remained optimistic about the prospects for religious renewal deriving from the council and would have preferred to be a young priest beginning his ministry at the end of the twentieth century, rather than in what he recalled as the complacent and rule-bound church of the 1940s. Since Daly is often loosely described as a 'conservative' opposing 'progressives' (a political terminology whose importation into theological debates Daly regarded as extremely damaging), it is important to realise that he was not a pre-conciliar figure such as John Charles McQuaid (qv) or the French traditionalist archbishop Marcel Lefebvre (1905–91). Instead, Daly should be seen as representing one side of a post-conciliar division among adherents of the nouvelle théologie, between those such as de Lubac and Hans Urs von Balthasar (1905–88), who emphasised a broader continuity with the church's traditions, and those such as the Swiss theologian Hans Küng (b. 1928) (regarded by Daly as an enfant terrible), who placed more emphasis on rupture with the past and reconciliation with secular modernity.
Daly's tract Natural law morality today (1965), originally a paper read to the Christus Rex Society, criticised advocates of a change in the church's traditional prohibition on artificial contraception for virtually denying and misrepresenting the concept of natural law. Attracting international attention, the paper was cited by the Ushaw College theologian Lawrence McReavy (1902–87) in an official presentation to the bishops of England and Wales defending the traditional teaching, while the Canadian progressive theologian Gregory Baum (b. 1923) publicly denounced Daly's work in a widely publicised North American talk.
First bishopric: renewal and controversy
In 1967 Daly was appointed bishop of Ardagh and Clonmacnois (receiving episcopal orders on 16 July). Though initially dismayed at his removal from academia, he soon developed enthusiasm for his pastoral role and decided that the university had detached him more than he realised from ordinary people's concerns. He rapidly emerged as the leading spokesman on the bishops' bench and their principal interpreter of the post-conciliar changes. From 1967 until 1996, most of the documents issued by the Irish episcopal conference bore the distinctive marks of his style. He carried out pioneering work on liturgical reform and on developing new forms of catechesis; through his membership of the relevant committees, his influence in these fields stretched far beyond his diocesan authority. His endeavours met with a mixed response; his removal of the high altar from St Mel's cathedral, Longford, to allow mass to be said facing the congregation provoked significant local opposition, which he dismissed with the comment that the church was not meant to be a democracy; to the end of his life he regarded the remodelling as a source of joy and inspiration. His promotion of similar remodelling elsewhere was criticised as vandalism by some architectural preservationists, as well as catholic traditionalists. While Daly sought to enter into dialogue with contemporary artists (notably Ray Carroll, who carried out many of his remodellings), and to encourage new forms of distinctively modern church art, the results were mixed.
The widely praised Children of God catechetical programme, whose development was personally overseen by Daly, was praised for attempting to give children an understanding of its subject matter appropriate to their ages rather than repeating half-understood question-and-answer formulae, but was criticised by defenders of the older memorised catechism as so vague that it left pupils with little idea of what they were supposed to believe. Daly also oversaw extensive seminars for religious aimed at promoting post-conciliar redesign of religious life.
In 1973 the bishops responded to the introduction of legislation proposing to legalise contraception with a statement (largely written by Daly) that disavowed any wish for state legislation to be based on the teachings of the catholic church, while at the same time opposing the proposed change as contrary to the common good and defending the right of church authorities to express their views and appeal to the Christian conscience. Daly maintained this position consistently throughout his career (notably, when he acted as the bishops' principal spokesman at the New Ireland Forum in 1984), and it is in accordance with his earlier writings on moral philosophy and with Vatican II's disavowal of the confessional state as an ideal. It was, however, criticised both by secularisers and by traditionalists for treating distinctly catholic beliefs as universal.
Daly also played a prominent role in ensuring that the Irish church's new overseas development agency, Trócaire, would operate with a broader remit than acting in support of Irish missionaries. The pastoral Peace: the work of justice (1977), of which he was the principal author, advocated the redress of social problems through state-directed action in a manner contrasting sharply with the suspicions of the welfare state and of state intervention voiced by a previous generation of Irish catholic bishops and theologians. (Daly later suggested that the democratic programme of the first dáil should be displayed in schools along with the 1916 proclamation of the republic.)
Northern Ireland Troubles and ecumenism From 1972 Daly served on the Vatican's secretariat for Christian unity, and in the same year took a prominent role in the first official talks between the Irish churches at Ballymascanlon, Co. Louth, which led to the development of organised ecumenical structures. Co-chairman in 1976 (with the methodist minister Revd Eric Gallagher (qv)) of an inter-church working committee that produced a report on violence in Ireland, he was an official observer at the 1978 Lambeth conference (the regular decennial meeting of anglican bishops), and in 1980 was the first Irish delegate to the catholic church's Commission of the Bishops' Conferences of the European Community (COMECE) and served as one of its vice-presidents. He represented the Irish catholic bishops at major ecumenical gatherings at Chantilly, France, in 1978 and Løgumkloster, Denmark, in 1981. At Løgumkloster, Daly made a major co-presentation with Revd Jack Weir (qv) of the Presbyterian Church in Ireland, aimed at countering the perception that the Northern Ireland conflict was a war of religion. Throughout his career he established good relations with numerous Irish protestant church leaders, though they recognised that he saw certain catholic positions as non-negotiable. Ray Davey, founder of the Corrymeela Community, remarked that protestants should pay more attention to his writings because they were so deeply grounded in scripture, while Church of Ireland Archbishop Robin Eames remarked that Daly was unusual among Irish catholics he had met in his efforts to understand what it was that protestants – including Paisleyites – really believed. Not all protestants shared this view; after Daly was elevated to the cardinalate, one protestant fundamentalist called him a red-hatted weasel, while some unionist politicians claimed that his advocacy of Irish unity showed him to be fundamentally inimical to the unionist people. Daly was also criticised by advocates of integrated education for his insistence that denominational schooling was essential for moral and religious formation and for his refusal to appoint chaplains to integrated schools.
One of the principal stimuli to ecumenism and to the abandonment of the confessional state ideal was the outbreak of the Northern Ireland troubles from the late 1960s. Here again, Daly emerged as the catholic hierarchy's principal spokesman. Two collections of his writings and statements on the subject were published as Violence in Ireland and Christian conscience (1973) and Peace, the work of justice (1979). (A third collection, The price of peace, appeared in 1991.) These works belong to a distinctive literary genre addressing the achievements and shortcomings of the revolutionary generation in the light of the 1970s crisis, and suggesting how the island's problems might be addressed. (Other examples would be States of Ireland (1972) by Conor Cruise O'Brien (qv) and Towards a new Ireland (1973) by Garret FitzGerald (qv). Violence in Ireland criticises, without mentioning its author's name, Cruise O'Brien's view that advocacy of Irish reunification in any form was dangerous and should be abandoned.) Daly argued that while the just war tradition still retained validity under certain restricted circumstances, these did not apply in Northern Ireland, and that while the 1916 rising and the war of independence had been justified, they had nonetheless inflicted physical and intellectual damage which had taken a generation to repair. He cited Martin Luther King (1929–68) and the Brazilian Archbishop Helder Camara (1909–99) on the need for a policy of non-violence which was not merely passive but involved active correction of unjust social structures, while avoiding the tendency of violent action to trigger a self-sustaining spiral of destruction.
Daly praised the academic historical tradition derived from Irish Historical Studies for deglamourising violence and showing that Irish history was not simply a series of battles but had involved a long process of state-building under constitutional politicians. He called for Ulster catholics and protestants to engage in mutual recognition of each other's rights and traditions (implicitly through a power-sharing government such as that attempted under the 1973 Sunningdale agreement), and expressed the hope that this might lead to Irish unity by mutual consent. It was widely believed that the speeches delivered by Pope John Paul II during his 1979 visit to Ireland (notably his call at Drogheda for 'men of violence' to return to 'the ways of peace') were drafted in association with Daly.
Although Daly suffered a heart attack in February 1982, in September of that year he was appointed bishop of Down and Connor in succession to Philbin. This brought him into increasing conflict with the rising political power of Sinn Féin. Although Daly condemned the misdeeds of British security forces as well as republican paramilitaries (Violence in Ireland is dedicated to two priests shot dead by soldiers in Belfast while carrying out their duties, and he strongly supported the claim – eventually vindicated – that the Guildford Four, Maguire Seven and Birmingham Six had been convicted on false evidence), he was widely accused by republicans of being a 'west Brit', remote from the experiences of the people on the ground, particularly after his call in 1988 for catholics to join the RUC. (He was often contrasted with the more ebullient and outspoken Cardinal Tomás Ó Fiaich (qv), perceived as having more republican sympathies.) Even some SDLP supporters feared his statements increased rather than diminished support for Sinn Féin. Daly's work in promoting community development schemes in working-class areas run by church-linked businessmen and funded to a considerable extent by the British government was denounced by republicans as part of a British counter-insurgency strategy and an attempt to displace locally controlled groups. Daly refused to meet Sinn Féin representatives unless they renounced the movement's explicit support for violence, but from the late 1980s, as the republican movement moved towards political negotiations, he began to suggest they should be included in a peace settlement. He encouraged the SDLP leader John Hume's engagement in secret talks with Sinn Féin leader Gerry Adams, and defended Hume when he was criticised after the talks became public.
Archbishop of Armagh, and later life
After the sudden death of Cardinal Ó Fiaich, Daly became archbishop of Armagh on 6 November 1990, and was created a cardinal on 28 June 1991. Since catholic bishops from the early 1970s had been expected to submit their resignations at the age of 75, Daly's appointment at the age of 73 was seen as recognition of his stature. The developing Northern Ireland peace process was widely seen as a triumph for Daly's long-expressed views; in a high-profile ecumenical event, he and Archbishop Robin Eames prayed and preached together in Canterbury cathedral. The last years of Daly's episcopate were overshadowed by tensions surrounding Orange marches at Drumcree near Portadown, Co. Armagh (both Daly and Eames were involved in unsuccessful attempts to negotiate a resolution), and by a developing wave of sexual scandals involving priests, highlighted by the case of Fr Brendan Smyth (qv). Although Daly was involved in the eventual reporting of Smyth to the authorities in 1990 and later stated that he had been unaware of the priest's long record of sexual crime in Belfast, there was a widespread feeling that he should have known and done more, and as primate of all Ireland he became a focus for much of the indignation about nationwide disclosures of sexual abuse. In November 1995 Daly was confronted about the subject on RTÉ's Late late show by the Passionist priest Fr Brian D'Arcy, and was subjected to sustained hostility from the audience about various issues concerning church teaching. Many viewers and commentators said Daly came across as old and out of touch, though others thought he responded more level-headedly than other bishops might have done. He later stated that he had actually enjoyed the experience, since it was important for a bishop to engage with people's concerns and perceptions. He retired as archbishop of Armagh in November 1996, moving to a modest residence in Rosetta Avenue, Belfast.
In retirement, Daly lived a life of prayer (he said the seven penitential psalms daily for victims and perpetrators of clerical abuse) and collected his academic papers for publication: Four Courts Press published Moral philosophy in Britain: from Bradley to Wittgenstein (drafted in the early 1960s) in 1996 and Philosophical papers in 2006. Steps on my pilgrim journey, which he described as a collection of memories and reflections rather than a straightforward autobiography, was published in 1998. He published The minding of planet Earth in 2004, and a collection of eucharistic meditations, The breaking of bread, appeared in 2008. Daly presented copies of all his public statements to the Linen Hall Library, Belfast, in 2005, and gave his personal library to QUB. (The books were originally destined for a short-lived QUB outreach centre in Armagh, but eventually were kept at the main QUB library in Belfast.) He continued to make public appearances and to engage with contemporary debates. Though he regretted declining religious observance and vocations to religious orders and the priestly life, he continued to maintain (paraphrasing John Henry Newman (qv)) that the Vatican council had initiated a 'second spring' in the Irish church, in which cold spells and wintry showers were to be expected; this was seen by some as optimism and by others as denial. Privately, he expressed concern about extended availability of the older form of the Latin rite liturgy under Pope Benedict XVI, believing that the vernacular liturgy had been one of the great achievements of the council and that adherents of the older form were attempting to escape into the past. He appeared in an RTÉ documentary series about changes in the republic's legislation on social matters, Altered states (2005), defending the catholic church's position. In 2006 he delivered a lecture in Armagh on Newman, seen as a model of faith and endurance in troubled times from whose example the contemporary Irish church could profit. (This was published as a pamphlet by the Armagh Historical Society in 2010.) As late as the summer of 2009, Daly addressed a gathering of priests in connection with an official year of priesthood, and addressed the NUI Galway meeting of the American Conference for Irish Studies by video link from Belfast, politely but firmly replying to hostile audience members on such subjects as the refusal of the catholic church to ordain women as priests. Cahal Daly died on 31 December 2009 in Belfast City Hospital from heart illness.
Any assessment of Cahal Daly's overall effectiveness will depend on a broader assessment of the Irish catholic church in the second half of the twentieth century, in which he played such a central role. Whether the churchman is seen as a prophet of renewal or as a Cú-Chulainn (qv) fighting the tide, there can be no question that he was a significant public intellectual concerned with the ability of dialogue and clear thinking to promote social improvement, who worked to promote civic peace and better understanding among the people of the island; but his life stood or fell on his faith. 'I would have no business being a bishop unless I could say … “There is only Christ: he is everything and he is in everything” (Colossians 3:11)' (Daly, Steps, 322).