UNDER PRESSURE Cardinal Seán Brady
Cardinal Brady has lost his moral authority
Fr Kevin Hegarty
Twenty years ago this week Eamon Casey resigned as Bishop of Galway on foot of revelations of his affair with Annie Murphy. The resignation sent shock waves through Ireland. In the intervening years, as the avalanche of cases of the sexual abuse of children by clerics and religious gushed forth, the Catholic community has become immune to shock, though not to the implications. James Joyce’s aphorism about Irish history being the nightmare from which we are seeking to escape, has an eerie resonance for the church in Ireland today.
Last week was another torrid one for the church establishment, the last thing it wanted as it seeks to put on a brave face for the International Eucharistic Congress in June.
Two years ago Cardinal Brady faced calls for resignation, including from myself in these pages, because of revelations of his involvement in the case of Fr Brendan Smyth, whose name became a by-word for the sexual abuse of children. Last Tuesday a BBC documentary provided further information on the matter.
Let us look at the salient facts now available to us.
In April of 1975 Dr Brady along with two other priests was asked to conduct a church inquiry into an allegation of the sexual abuse of a 14-year-old boy, Brendan Boland, by Fr Smyth.
In the course of the investigation during which Brendan was subjected to searching and somewhat disturbing questioning, he told his interlocutors of another boy who had also been abused. Dr Brady later met this boy on his own in a parish house in Ballyjamesduff. Neither boy had his parents present during the inquiry and both were obliged to sign oaths of confidentiality.
Dr Brady presented his report to his bishop, Dr McKiernan of the diocese of Kilmore, who passed it on to Dr Smyth’s immediate superior, the Abbot of the Norbertine Abbey in Kilnacrott, for action.
Nothing effective was done to curb Fr Smyth’s activities. He continued his serial abuse of children well into the 1980s. Eventually the law caught up on him. He was convicted in Courts in Dublin and Belfast and died in prison in 1997.
Cardinal Brady has sought to minimise his role in the inquiry. He claims he was merely a ‘note taker’ whose task ended when he presented the report to Bishop McKiernan.
I am not convinced by this. I believe there was an abdication of responsibility here.
In 1975 Dr Brady was a 36-year-old highly qualified priest. He holds a degree in ancient classics and a doctorate in Canon Law. He was then diocesan secretary, often a first step on the ladder of promotion in the Catholic church. To claim he was merely a note taker is akin to suggesting that Mickey Harte’s only role as manager of the Tyrone football team is to write out the team list for the referee.
As a teacher in St Patrick’s College, Cavan, a school which proclaims its adherence to the Catholic ethos, he would have been aware that central pillars of this philosophy are a commitment to truth and justice. Jesus Christ made the protection of children an imperative. As a citizen of the Irish Republic he would presumably have known that there is a civic duty to report crime to the relevant authority.
Some matters have a moral urgency that transcend normal procedures. The sexual abuse of children was a crime in 1975. It is not something new that has been added to our laws.
Knowledge brings responsibility. Fr Brady, as he then was, should have impressed upon Dr McKiernan that the grave import of what he had discovered could not be adequately or properly dealt with by church laws and regulations. They now had a responsibility that could only be effectively discharged by giving the information to the police. If Dr McKiernan was unwillingly to act he should have done so himself. The question remains: did the protection of the church’s good name as they saw it outweigh their civic responsibility?
I do not know Dr Brady. He seems a decent and courteous man. He claims credit for implementing robust child protection measures in the church. With respect that is the least any church leader could do in the aftermath of the appalling revelations of recent years. I believe however that he has lost his moral authority and should resign.
If the church in Ireland is to regain credibility in regard to child abuse it must put clear blue water between a dark past and a more hopeful future. Bishop Moriarity of Kildare and Leighlin resigned after the publication of the Murphy report admitting humbly that he had not sufficiently challenged the culture of clerical deference and secrecy in the church. His action provides a template for Dr Brady.
I believe that there are times in life when we are called to stand for the truth and justice, no matter what the consequences are for ourselves. Cardinal Brady shirked this responsibility in 1975.
Of course, if he had become a whistleblower he probably would not have risen in the church ranks. He would probably now be PP in a quiet Cavan parish visiting neighbours, preparing first communion and chatting about Cavan’s prospects in the Ulster Championship.
His name would not appear in the media apart from an occasional reference in the Anglo-Celt newspaper, but he might be a happier man.