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
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
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.