Archive for March, 2010

Catholic Opinion

Revelations last week that the Primate of Ireland, Sean Brady (a cardinal) had administered oaths of secrecy to children who had been sexually abused by Brendan Smyth (a priest) led to calls from many Catholics for his resignation.

Others were more supportive and thought a good man (Brady) was entitled to forgiveness for his mistake (failing to report the raping of children to the police).

The first podcast is based on interviews with Catholics in Belfast.
The second is based on interviews with prominent Irish poets from Catholic backgrounds.

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The Pope is patronising us.
The BBC reported his letter as an apology butit was nothing of the
kind, for he takes no responsibility at all for abuse or cover-up. He
is sorry in the way he might be sorry for the Haitian earthquake,
sorry it happened.
The most distinctive feature of his pastoral letter is his confidence
in his superior wisdom and in Rome’s detachment from the problem of
child abuse in Ireland.
His contribution to putting things right is to urge the church to pray,
and to rebuke bishops for having failed to understand canon law when
they protected abusers from the police.
He speaks of ‘information that has come to light’, as if it was news
to him that some priests had been raping children here for decades and
that his own bishops had been swearing traumatised children to
He refers repeatedly to the Irish bishops coming to him and reporting
the problem. He has listened to what they had to say, like a parent
who has summoned children to explain how a window had come to be
He has provided Irish Catholics with a prayer to say and he has urged
a special Mission to reflect on the sins of the past; he even promises
us an ‘Apostolic Visitation’. By this he means, I presume, that he’ll
be checking up on how well the local church is responding to his
advice and guidance.
Expect a lot of breast beating by bishops and clergy as they indulge
their remorse and come to feel better about themselves.
The letter addresses all the faithful of Ireland and sets out hopes
for the future, which are simply that the people will pray more
ardently and recover their respect for their clergy and their bishops
and that the tsunami of horror raised by the scandals will not reach
The Pope’s entire approach is as a wise teacher who has had nothing to
do with the creation or perpetuation of the problem of child abuse by
priests in Ireland, or the cover up, and who can put it right if we
follow his advice; which is to pray.
And Cardinal Sean Brady, who got into trouble by being a company man
at the start is loyal still and has welcomed the letter, expressed his
gratitude for it, as if the Pope had gone to some great trouble for us
all by writing it.
I wonder who did write it.Clearly somebody with a knowledge of Irish
history and an expectation that Catholics today will mellow in the
face of appeals to remember the history of the Irish Catholic
martyrs, ‘the rock from which [they] were hewn’.
The letter reflects on the history of Catholic persecution and the
rapid expansion of the church in Ireland after Catholic emancipation.
The writer occasionally loses the run of himself: ‘In almost every
family in Ireland, there has been someone – a son or a daughter, an
aunt or an uncle – who has given his or her life to the Church.’ This
overstates the enveloping scale of Irish Catholicism to the extent of
failing to notice that there are Irish Protestants too.
The pitch is to Irish Catholics to feel good about themselves; to
remember their proud history and not to be disheartened by the
scandal; it is an appeal to them to indulge instead the old fantasies
about the land of saints and scholars.
Much of the letter reflects on the creation of the problem of abuse.
None of the blame attaches to Rome. There were poor selection
procedures for priests and bad training in the seminaries, a culture
of deference in our society and ‘a misplaced concern for the
reputation of the Church and the avoidance of scandal, resulting in
failure to apply existing canonical penalties and to safeguard the
dignity of every person.’
The Pope accuses the bishops of failures of leadership and a
misapplication of canon law and tells them to ‘continue’ co operating
with the civil authorities, as if there was never any impediment to
them reporting abusers to the police, other than in their own failure
to grasp Rome’s intentions.
In other words, when Sean Brady was imposing oaths of silence on abused
children, it was out of a misreading of canon law, not a judicious
application of it.
The cardinal may be grateful for these Papal insights, as he says, but the
Pope has just washed his hands of him.
The letter says, ‘In particular, there was a well-intentioned but
misguided tendency to avoid penal approaches to canonically irregular
The tragedy is that abuse has ‘obscured the light of the Gospel to a
degree that not even centuries of persecution succeeded in doing’.
So the letter concedes nothing to those who blame the cover up on
systemic failures within the Catholic church. There is no suggestion
anywhere that Rome was part of the cover up or that those priests and
bishops who protected abusers from the law had any endorsement for
their measures from the Vatican.
The Pope believes the Catholic church in Ireland can be restored to
former glory and that the scandals of abuse and cover up can be put
behind us. This is good news for anyone who feared for a moment that
the church was going to change rules on celibacy or obedience or
seriously consider that there was anything systemically wrong with it.
The only problem, after all, was the bishops and their recruitment and training
procedures and a weakening of the faith.The Pope trusts that all that
can be put right and that things will be back to normal before long.

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I saw this protest outside the church of St Nicolas in Nantes last week, March 13. The Catholics on the church steps were conducting a service around an icon, the protesters were objecting to Catholic teaching on abortion and women’s rights, and the police were in the middle.

You can hear both the protest chanting and the prayers in this clip below.

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Brady is a Coward

Sean Brady, the Catholic Primate of Ireland and a Cardinal, participated in a church tribunal in 1975 at which two sexually abused children were sworn to secrecy. The punishment for the priest who had raped them: he was stripped of his power to hear confessions and the Nortbertine order, of which he was a member, was notified.
Brady, having participated in a procedure which freed an abuser to attack children for another twenty years, should see that he is unfit to head a church which must own up to its past crimes against the people and change its ways.

We now understand what the highest Catholic authority in the land
regards as an adequate moral defence against the charge of colluding
with a paedophile priest against the state.
For what absolves Cardinal Brady in his own mind is what he must
concede absolves all below him who behaved as he did.
When deployed by his bishop to witness a pledge of silence from the
victims of the odious Brendan Smyth, the most notorious of all the
paedophile priests, because his outing was the first major one in a
long series since, Father Brady, as he then was, did what most other
priests would have done at the time.
He was just obeying orders.
A priest makes a pledge of full obedience to his bishop at ordination.
There are now serious grounds for considering whether that pledge
should be allowed in law.
Cardinal Brady explains that there were people in authority over him
who were properly appointed to make the kind of decision that he as a
bishop’s flunky could not make.
There were no procedures in place by which a mere priest could act
against the wishes of a bishop to report the rape of children to the
police and to report his own seniors for exacting secrecy from
Well, no doubt there weren’t.
A priest was not an independent citizen with a responsibility to deal
directly with the institutions of the state.
And the church of that time lived in the smug confidence that its
authority was higher than that of the law of the land.
So, what Cardinal Brady says in his defence merely confirms the most
negative perception of the church he now heads; that it was a law onto
itself and that those who lived by that understanding are even yet
immune to criticism for having surrendered their civic duty and their
moral consciences.
If the Cardinal does not withdraw this defence, then he allows it to
countless other priests and bishops who, in the past, lived by the
precept that they were above the law and that they had a right to
conceal paedphilia from the police.
And he misses the significance of the disclosures of the past year.
The Murphy and Ryan reports into abuse by clergy and members of
religious orders, and their cover-ups, didn’t go in much for
retrospective justification.
And heads rolled in some dioceses at least, as bishops recognised that
their moral authority was tainted by their participation in cover-up.
If Cardinal Brady does not step down then he is saying, in effect,
that these others need not have stepped down either.
And even if there is a legal clause that allows that he did not break
the law when he witnessed cover up and did not speak out, there is no
moral defence. And Cardinal Brady’s misfortune is that he must be a
moral exemplar and he is not.
He has known, throughout the agonising in this country after the Murphy
Report, that he was as vulnerable as any other priest to the charge of
collusion. And if he was really leading the new open church he
promised, then he should have stated frankly at that time that he had
himself worked on cover-up procedures and asked the forgiveness and
indulgence of his flock.
It is an extraordinary reflection on his church that it elevated him
to the post of Cardinal without checking – or perhaps without caring –
that past scandal might rise up to undermine him.
Certainly, he could not run for public office in any other
organisation if his colleagues knew that he had once taken statements
from abused children in which they pledged themselves to secrecy.
What did his fellow bishops know? This case has been brewing for
years. What did the Pope know? Did the Pope, when he summoned bishops
to Rome last month, know that the Irish Primate himself, a cardinal,
was vulnerable to being outed in this way?
What is needed of Cardinal Brady is that he can stand above any
scandal that arises and that he can make clear the church’s total
rejection of paedophilia and cover up. He can not now do that.
He must never be vulnerable to having any other colluder point him out
as a reason to evade resignation.
Yet, if he does not go, then many of the others who will be exposed in
future will be able to refuse also to go.
And if his defence remains that he was only doing what any other
priest in his position would have done at that time, then every priest
in the country must come under suspicion of having done the same.
There were some in the church who believed that the worst of the
scandals were over with the sample cases examined and exposed by the
Murphy and Ryan reports.
But Cardinal Brady’s defence of his action carries the implication
that the whole church was primed to collude against victims and
against the law.
If that is the case, then the whole church should be investigated.;
every diocese. Flush out them all.

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