Pope Francis missed a remarkable opportunity to establish his popularity with the Irish faithful by refusing a red hat to Archbishop Diarmuid Martin. Francis announced 19 new cardinals, but Martin was not among them.

Martin, Archbishop of Dublin, was one of the candidates who was in line for  a promotion according to the National Catholic Reporter. Ireland matches one of the key criteria as it will have no cardinal-elector for a future pope after Cardinal Sean Brady retires this year.

The other cardinal is the elderly Desmond Connell, retired Archbishop of Dublin.

Martin’s nomination would also have fulfilled a profound desire among the laity to have his remarkable work on child abuse and removing abusive priests recognized.

There were many times when Martin seemed alone in forcing the issue and making the church stand up and confess the many abuses they covered up, especially moving pedophile priests around.

Current cardinal Sean Brady was hopelessly compromised by his own shady see-no-evil behavior when he tried to silence two young witnesses to abuse by the worst offender of all, Father Brendan Smyth, a truly evil pedphile whose male and female vicitms in Ireland and America numbered in the hundreds.

Martin endured harsh criticism from within his own colleagues, especially fellow bishops, for his outspoken stance on abuse and the need to combat it. It also seemed at times that Pope Benedict was doing as little as possible to assist him.

Beloved by the laity, Martin was and still is a controversial figure among his peers because of his outspokenness and his determination to leave no stone unturned.

As the senior clergyman left standing after Brady’s retirement he should surely have expected that this pope would reward him for his pastoral work and deep integrity on the paramount issue of the time.

For Francis it would have continued his sweeping new broom’s clean-up and shown that the broom extended into dark corners in Ireland too.

Alas, it was not to be and the pope has missed an outstanding opportunity to make a profound statement about where the church in Ireland should be headed.

It is an omission he may come to regret.