Charles John Brown
|Reference style||The Most Reverend|
|Spoken style||Your Excellency|
|Posthumous style||not applicable|
Charles John Brown (born 13 October 1959, New York City, United States) is an archbishop of the Roman Catholic Church and the serving apostolic nuncio to Ireland. He was appointed to this post by Pope Benedict XVI on 26 November 2011. He had previously served as an official at the Congregation for the Doctrine of the Faith.
Early life and education
Brown was born in the East Village of Manhattan, near Orchard Street and Chinatown. At that time it was a very Jewish area. When he was growing up in New York in the early 1960s his family "were pretty much the only Gentile family in the apartment block". He is the oldest of six children. When the future archbishop was five, they moved to Rye, a suburb north of New York City. In 1971, when he was 11, his parents moved again to Windham NY in the Catskill Mountains.
His mother’s maiden name was Patricia Murphy and one great grandparent was called O’Callaghan, but Archbishop Brown has had little contact with the Ireland of his maternal ancestors. The Brown surname an anglicisation of German Braun.
Brown made the following academic studies: BA (History), University of Notre Dame, MA (Theology), University of Oxford (England), MA (Medieval Studies), University of Toronto, he then entered the seminary and earned an M. Div., Saint Joseph's Seminary, Yonkers (USA), STD (Sacramental Theology), Pontifical University St. Anselmo, Rome.
During his study for the priesthood at Dunwoodie Seminary, Edwin Frederick O'Brien was the rector of the seminary. He was ordained a priest for the Archdiocese of New York by Cardinal John Joseph O'Connor on 13 May 1989 in St. Patrick's Cathedral, New York. From 1989 to 1991 he was assistant priest at St. Brendan's Parish in the Bronx, New York City. In 1991, Fr Brown was sent to Rome because Cardinal John O’Connor of New York, who had ordained him, asked him to study for a doctorate in sacramental theology and to go back as soon as possible to become a theology professor at Dunwoodie. But the plan never became a reality. A position opened up at the Congregation for the Doctrine of the Faith because they needed an English speaker. The CDF asked Cardinal O’Connor if he would release Fr Brown from his duties in New York.
From 1994 to his appointment as nuncio, he worked as an official of the Congregation for the Doctrine of the Faith. He became a Chaplain of His Holiness on 6 May 2000. He was appointed Adjunct Secretary of the International Theological Commission in September 2009.
The Congregation for the Doctrine of the Faith, the curial department where he worked, has dealt with child abuse scandals since 1994, when it was headed by the then Cardinal Joseph Ratzinger, who as Pope Benedict XVI appointed him nuncio.
In an interview given in October 2012 Brown describes his appointment to Ireland. "I was thunderstruck and flabbergasted in the autumn of 2011 when Cardinal Bertone [the Vatican Secretary of State] presented me with this new mission and said that the Holy Father [i.e., the Pope] had personally requested me to do it" he says. "I will do whatever the Holy Father asks me to do – that goes without saying – but of course I thought there might be others who would be better for the job and who had more experience. It's not the usual pattern for someone who works in one of the dicasteries of the Holy See to be transferred to the diplomatic service". He was given a day "to think and pray about it", after which he said to the Holy Father that he believed the assignment was part of God’s will for him, coming as it did from the Pope himself. When I suggest that the appointment was a sign that Benedict XVI esteems him highly, Archbishop Brown shakes his head, shrugs and says: "Maybe. But I have a lot of work to do in Ireland and it remains to be seen if I’ll do the job well".
Brown was named Titular Archbishop of Aquileia and nuncio to Ireland on 26 November 2011 and was consecrated by Pope Benedict XVI on 6 January 2012, along with Marek Solczyński, Titular Archbishop of Caesarea in Mauritania and Apostolic Nuncio to Georgia and Armenia. After his consecration Archbishop Brown said "The entire experience was one of great joy and consolation for me. I was certainly aware of my unworthiness for the episcopate and my limitations, but especially when the pope laid his hands on my head, I had a tremendous sense of the strength of the Holy Spirit and the presence of the saints". The experience, he said, "gives me total confidence that I can do something beautiful for God".
Brown is one of the very few nuncios appointed from outside the ranks of the Holy See's diplomatic service and who have not attended the Pontifical Ecclesiastical Academy, which trains those diplomats. Some of these are Michael Louis Fitzgerald and Aldo Giordano. Speaking to the Irish Independent, Archbishop Diarmuid Martin of Dublin said he did not believe the appointment was an attempt by the Vatican to patch up relations with the Irish Government. He called Brown a theologian "much more focused on theology than relations between church and state". Archbishop Timothy M. Dolan of New York said: "He’s a young, vibrant, very theologically savvy but pastorally sensitive guy".
Among the main tasks of the new nuncio would be to assist the Pope by sending recommendations to fill the vacancies in the already vacant dioceses of Cloyne (the appointment of William Crean was announced on 24 November 2012), Derry, Kildare and Leighlin and Limerick and in other sees whose incumbents have passed retirement age, and to appoint a coadjutor to the Archbishop of Armagh, Cardinal Seán Brady. It has been envisaged that there could also be a merging and reordering of the dioceses of Ireland.
On 16 February 2012 Archbishop Brown presenting his Letters of Credence to President Higgins pledged to do everything in his power to "solidify and strengthen" as well as "confirm and deepen" the relationship between the Holy See and Ireland. Archbishop Brown said Pope Benedict had asked him to convey his personal esteem to the President as well as his "best wishes and sincere affection" for the Irish people.
There are three key aspects to the post. On weekdays at the nunciature he has to trawl through a lot of paperwork as one part of the overall process that leads to the appointment of bishops for Ireland’s vacant dioceses. Every morning the post takes an hour or two to read. Many Irish lay people, who see him as embodying the hopes for the Church in Ireland to make a fresh start, have got in touch with questions. Second, as dean of the diplomatic corps he has to be present at all diplomatic occasions. Third, he is an envoy to the Holy See at many Church events across the length and breadth of Ireland. One day he might be at Letterkenny in Donegal to celebrate a Mass for pregnant mothers and on another climbing up the stony mountain of Croagh Patrick.
In November 2012 Archbishop Brown said the Church "had “passed through periods of incredible trial” over 15 centuries here but each time has emerged “stronger, purified and ever more faithful to the Lord,” he said. He went on to note that Catholics in Ireland needed to ask why it was that “prior generations were able to pass on their faith in situations of extreme hardship – in times of persecution, famine and even forced emigration – while, in our own time of relative comfort and ease, the faith is not always being handed on”. In an interview for the Catholic bishops’ Intercom magazine, he asked could it be that the “way in which we live in modern western societies makes us less sensitive to spiritual realities? Could it be, for example, that filling every hour of every day with music or television or internet or video games or texting, leads to a kind of spiritual insensitivity or numbness?”
In a 2012 interview Archbishop Brown said that he is well aware of the delicate moment in Ireland but says that he goes to Ireland "to learn" and "to help". He added that "Let us not exaggerate. The nuncio is a representative of the Holy See on the ground there. It is not that, in any sense, he is in control of the Church in Ireland. It is the bishops of Ireland who are in control of the Church in Ireland".
Archbishop Brown acknowledged that he has a good line of communication with Pope Benedict, saying: “I know him, he knows me. I worked with him closely for 10 years, I travelled with him, I worked hard for him. He trusts me, for better or for worse". He added that "I have not seen anything yet. I have a steep mountain to climb and I hope to be there helping. As for reforms to the Irish church, I am agnostic about this. I need to study all that material and then talk to the Irish bishops". He concluded that "The church was left behind the curve on all of that, the church has to modernise and to find new ways of presenting her message to people in this new context of the materialism and consumerism of a society that is now more similar to other European countries than it was in the 1980s".
Reopening Irish Embassy
With the re-opening of the Irish Embassy to the Holy See, Archbishop Brown said: “It is an excellent decision for the people of Ireland and will be beneficial to Ireland in making its distinctive and important contribution to international relations. We are all grateful to those who worked so hard to make this day possible.”
Archbishop Brown described the rebirth as the spring after 20 years of winter, saying he sees "green shoots." "You see a renewed enthusiasm among young Catholics in Ireland now," said Archbishop Brown, who was appointed as papal ambassador in November 2011, at the cusp of the church's troubles stemming from a long-standing period of unreported clergy sexual abuse. The new generation of Catholics, some of whom are studying for the priesthood at St. Patrick's College, the national seminary in Maynooth, or the Pontifical Irish College in Rome, will "lead the church forward into the next decade," he said. Young Catholics represent what is best in the tradition of Vatican II, "the idea of communicating the ancient unchanging faith in a new, vibrant and attractive way," he said. 
However writing in The Tablet, Fr Sean McDonagh writes, Figures on the bishops’ own website show the age profile of Irish priests. Over 65 per cent of Irish priests are aged 55 or over. There are only two priests under the age of 40 in the Archdiocese of Dublin. A priest in Killala diocese, Fr Brendan Hoban, pointed out that there has been a priest and celebration of the Eucharist in his parish –Moygownagh – since the eighth century. But he believes he will be that last priest in that parish. At the moment there is a priest in every parish in Killala. Within 20 years there will be seven serving 22 parishes spread out over a wide area. The situation is much same in other dioceses. The research points out that to maintain the status quo would mean ordaining 82 priests each year. The reality is that 20 students entered Maynooth in September 2013. It is likely that only 10 or 12 will be ordained in 2020.
Archbishop Brown warned Catholics against becoming caricatures, “we need to avoid the caricature that the only thing the Catholic Church has to speak about is abortion, gay marriage and contraception”. He said “the caricature would be that these Catholics, all they talk about are those three things, and we don’t want to put ourselves in that situation because the beauty of life with Christ, the spirituality of the Catholic Church, the history of the Catholic Church, the life of grace, the aspiration to be found worthy of the life of the world to come, eternal life, that is what this is about.” In this he echoed Pope Francis in his interview with La Civiltà Cattolica in which he said “we ought not to be reduced as Catholics to the disjointed, obsessive proclamation of a few moral truths to the exclusion of everything else”. He also praised bishops for doing “an excellent job” in their presentation of the church’s teachings prior to last May’s same-sex marriage referendum.
- List of the Catholic bishops of the United States#American bishops serving outside the United States
- NOMINA DEL NUNZIO APOSTOLICO IN IRLANDA
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|Apostolic Nuncio to Ireland
2011 – present