The priest named as the next Bishop of Limerick called for a "new start" three years after the diocese's previous bishop resigned in the face of severe criticism of his handling of sex abuse cases.

Pope Benedict XVI named Father Brendan Leahy, a 52-year-old theology professor at St. Patrick's College Maynooth, as the Diocese of Limerick's new bishop Thursday.

"Being appointed Bishop of Limerick is certainly not something I foresaw as part of my life's journey, but I am very grateful to Pope Benedict for opening up for me a new stage in life among the people and places of the historical and renowned diocese of Limerick," Bishop-designate Leahy said Jan. 10 at a gathering at Limerick's St. John's Cathedral.

"Confidence comes certainly not from me. I am only too conscious of the contrast between who I am and the task ahead of me. But I recognize that the Church is first and foremost based on a promise that does not deceive: Jesus' promise: 'remember, I am with you always, to the end of the age,'" he said.

Bishop-designate Leahy was born in Dublin in 1960 and ordained a priest for the Archdiocese of Dublin in 1986. He is a member of the Focolare movement.

He has published several books on topics like the Mass, the Stations of the Cross and Pope John Paul II. He is an expert in the theology of Hans Urs von Balthasar and helped organize a well-received three-day theological symposium ahead of the International Eucharistic Congress in Dublin in 2012.

Those in attendance at the announcement of the bishop-designate's appointment included apostolic nuncio to Ireland Archbishop Charles Brown, diocesan administrator Fr. Tony Mullins and former Bishop of Limerick Donal Murray, the Diocese of Limerick said.

Fr. Mullins welcomed the bishop-to-be.

"Fr. Brendan Leahy's appointment as our bishop and shepherd comes at a time of great challenge. But every challenge presents us with a new opportunity to proclaim the good news of the gospel," he said.

Bishop Murray, 72, resigned from the diocese in December 2009 after an Irish government report found he had acted "inexcusably" by not investigating serial sex abuser Fr. Tom Naughton when he was an auxiliary bishop of Dublin in the 1980s. The findings came amid continued reaction and controversy over the Catholic bishops' response to the sexual abuse of minors.

Bishop-designate Leahy said Catholics in Ireland have been through "a very dark moment" but he affirmed that God is "not absent" and invites people to "look at things with new eyes."

"That the Church is going through a period of great transition is not new news and yet it is good news," he said.

"God is indeed at work in our lives. In response to God's action, we must do all we can to make sure that Church settings are always good places to be, where genuine mutual love is experienced," the bishop-designate continued. He noted the "robust measures" the diocese has in place to protect children.

Bishop-designate Leahy has studied at many institutions including the Pontifical Gregorian University in Rome. He has served as a corresponding member of the Pontifical Academy of Theology and is a visiting lecturer at the Sophia University Institute in Florence.

He is the chairman of the Archdiocese of Dublin's Diocesan Ecumenical Committee and secretary of the Irish bishops' Advisory Committee on Ecumenism .

Bishop-designate Leahy prayed for those who contribute to Limerick's community and he thanked the "very committed" laity of his diocese, the vowed religious, clergy, and Christians of other denominations.

"In particular I greet people who feel they are hanging on in the Church by their finger tips and all who are struggling with their faith," he said. "I invite you not to give up. This is a Year of Faith. It can be a new start for us all."

He entrusted himself to the Virgin Mary and asked Catholics for their prayers.

The Diocese of Limerick has 171,000 Catholics in a population of 178,000. The diocese has 167 priests, with 89 active in ministry in 94 churches. There are 411 vowed religious in the diocese.