Speculation is already mounting as to who will be the next Bishop of Derry.
Within hours of Dr. Seamus Hegarty (71) announcing his intention to stand down, names of potential successors were already doing the rounds in the Diocese and further afield.
Among those tipped to be in the running are Monsignor Eamon Martin - a former President of St Columb’s College - and Monsignor Bryan McCanny, a former Administrator of the Long Tower parish.
Bishop Hegarty’s decision to stand down means Derry is now the fourth Irish diocese to be vacant with three other bishops already past retirement age and awaiting a successor.
In total, Pope Benedict will shortly have to decide whether to appoint seven new bishops or amalgamate dioceses.
In the statement announcing his intention to step aside, Bishop Hegarty said that he was no longer to fulfil his diocesan duties after being diagnosed with an “irreversible” illness.
The Bishop has not specified the illness and his Diocesan spokesman, Rev. Michael Canny, yesterday declined to be drawn on its nature. Dr. Hegarty said he had hoped to continue as Diocesan Bishop until the age of 75 but his medical condition “is such that I have an obligation to submit my resignation.”
He said he would have to “scale back” on his duties with the Pope considered his resignation letter.
“It is my hope that my resignation will be accepted,” he said. “It is my intention to maintain a pastoral ministry, to the extent that I am able, into the future.”