The primary cause championed by the current pope is opposition to ‘moral relativism’. In fact, this is what the church he heads specialises in.
‘What more could Cardinal Conway have done?’
This question was voiced by Cardinal Sean Brady when faced with the charge that the Catholic church had colluded in helping a priest suspected of murder to evade prosecution.
Well, it is an important question and it is important that Sean Brady should show himself well able to answer it, if indeed there was some measure, taken or not taken by his predecessor, which disgraced his office.
For Cardinal Brady is himself under criticism for having concealed crime. He, like William Conway, was notified of crimes committed by a priest. He was told of the abuse of children by Father Brendan Smyth.
And he covered up those crimes, swore to secrecy the young people who had brought accounts of them to him, and held his silence for decades afterwards, while the odious Smyth cut a swathe through Irish children.
He was himself in a similar position to that of Cardinal Conway, notified of a crime and involved in the concealing of it and the release of the offender among Catholic communities in which he would be trusted because the church that sent him was trusted.
Sean Brady holds onto office, against calls for his resignation over the Brendan Smyth affair, and he justifes this by assuring us that he has understood the lessons of experience and that no cover up of abuse can be allowed under his watch.
Yet he says: ‘What more could Cardinal Conway have done?’
If Sean Brady does not understand the grotesque violation of innocence at the heart of Cardinal Conway’s handling of James Chesney, then he has hardly proven to the Catholics of Ireland that he even yet grasps the moral responsibilities attendant on his office.
So, let it be spelt out for him.
Cardinal Conway believed that James Chesney, a priest in the Derry diocese, was a mass murderer. He had met the Secretary of State William Whitelaw and had had that explained to him. His own description of Chesney as a ‘bad man’ confirms that he had believed what he was told.
And he can not be held solely responsible for the initiative to spirit Chesney away, any more than sean Brady can be held accountable on his own for the transfer of Brendan Smyth.
But Chesney, like Smyth, was not a postman being transferred to some quiet town out of harm’s way.
Chesney was a priest and he was sent to a parish to function as a priest and where his arrival would be understood to have the approval of the church.
There he would baptise babies. He would prepare small children for their Holy Communion. He would hear their confessions. He would marry young people in his church. He would receive the trust and even reverence of people who accepted him as an emmissary of the church they were born into and raised in.
Conway’s decision to have Chesney sent to work like this among people who would be kept in ignorance of his appalling crimes says a lot about the man.
It says that he had nothing but contempt for those people. That the insult of providing a murderer as a moral exemplar to them was untempered by either theology or respect.
It is one thing to imagine a hardened and pragmatic RUC Chief Constable, faced with a horrible quandary, assenting to a priest being shuffled off to a distant parish. He hasn’t any responsibility for the souls that the beast will patronise. He has problems enough.
But Cardinal Conway did have a responsibility to Catholic parishioners, as had Bishop Neil Farren of Derry, who directly ordered the transfer, and the fact of their imposing a murderer on unknowing parishioners in Donegal shows that they had no real sense of pastoral concern for those people.
They were prepared to dump a murderer on them as the expedient solution to an undoubtedly grave problem.
This was as cyncial a move as you could ever credit an arrogant prince of the church with making.
That is all plain to anyone who gives a moment’s thought to what Conway did, but his successor Cardinal Sean Brady doesn’t get it.
He asks: ‘What more could Cardinal Conway have done?’
Well maybe he could have had Chesney sent to Rome to work in an archive or something if he hadn’t the backbone to sack him and denounce him and to pass the problem back to the police where it belonged.
And if Sean Brady doesn’t understand the real offence that Conway and Farren committed against trusting and obedient Catholics, as he doesn’t wuite get what was horrific about his imposing an oath of secrecy on raped children, then he should be thinking again about his decision to remain in office after that scandal.
Or, perhaps, since it appears he really is a moral dullard, it is for those around him to explain it to him and to ask him to go.