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Cardinal Brady’s situation is now irretrievable, and he would be wise, therefore, to retire; but the storm beating down on him is wholly undeserved

This is one of those media witch hunts which have nothing to do with justice

By on Monday, 7 May 2012

Cardinal Seán Brady speaks to the media outside Armagh Cathedral last week (PA photo)

Cardinal Seán Brady speaks to the media outside Armagh Cathedral last week (PA photo)

I begin by quoting an article by Jenny McCartney in this week’s Sunday Telegraph. Firstly, because she is normally a fair-minded and well-informed commentator; secondly because she sums up well enough what seems to be the general tenor of the obloquy now raining down on the head of Cardinal Seán Brady. Jenny McCartney puts it like this: “It has become a painfully self-evident truth – surely, even to the silent onlookers at the Vatican – that the longer Cardinal Seán Brady stays in place as Primate of All Ireland, the greater the damage inflicted on the reputation of the Catholic Church in Ireland and beyond.”

I wonder, I really do wonder, if anyone has really thought through the implications of all this. What we have here, it seems to me, may well be nearer to the phenomenon we call today a “witch hunt” than to a common understanding based on an equitable understanding of the reality of the situation. The mass psychology of these affairs is rarely based on reason or justice; and such, I suggest, is the case here.

It may well be that Cardinal Brady, who is 72, should take early retirement, given the wholly intractable nature of the situation that has now arisen. It coud be that this is the only way forward, since fighting on is likely only to exacerbate the situation: he cannot expect to be listened to now, however reasonable his self-defence may be. Fr Vincent Twomey, the eminent retired professor of moral theology at Maynooth, says with some justice: “There is a sense of a Greek tragedy in all of this. In the Greek tragedy, people do things intending to do the good thing but instead some awful, dreadful things happen as a result of their actions and they have to pay for it… I think for the good of the Church, I’m afraid I am of the opinion that he should resign….”

But even that perpetuates the notion that it was because of something the young Fr Brady actually did, or failed to do, that Brendan Smith carried on abusing children, as though Fr Brady had episcopal responsibility even then. But he wasn’t the bishop, he was the bishop’s secretary: I wonder how many of those calling for his resignation have read in full the statement he issued following the BBC programme which triggered off this furore:

The commentary in the programme and much of the coverage of my role in this inquiry gives the impression that I was the only person who knew of the allegations against Brendan Smyth at that time and that because of the office I hold in the Church today I somehow had the power to stop Brendan Smyth in 1975. I had absolutely no authority over Brendan Smyth. Even my bishop had limited authority over him. The only people who had authority within the Church to stop Brendan Smyth from having contact with children were his abbot in the Monastery in Kilnacrott and his religious superiors in the Norbertine Order. As Monsignor Charles Scicluna, Promoter of Justice at the Congregation for the Doctrine of the Faith, confirmed in an interview with RTÉ this morning, it was Brendan Smyth’s superiors in the Norbertine Order who bear primary responsibility for failing to take the appropriate action when presented with the weight of evidence I had faithfully recorded and that Bishop McKiernan subsequently presented to them…

As he says, the documentation of the interview with the first child to be identified as a victim of Fr Smyth identifies the then Fr Daly simply as the “notary” or “note taker” of the proceedings. He did not formulate the questions asked in the inquiry process. He did not put the questions. He simply recorded the answers.

Even within the more stringent state requirements exiting today in Ireland, he would not, as he says, have been what is now called the “designated person” whose role would now be to report allegations of child abuse to the civil authorities. There was no such defined role, of course in the 70s, when all this happened; and it is worth remembering that that wasn’t the only thing that was utterly different then. It seems incredible to think of it now, but in this country, quite respectable people (some of whom later became prominent politicians) campaigned for “paedophile rights”: you can read about one such in the Daily Telegraph here, who wrote in 1978 that a proposed new law tightening the laws on child pornography could lead to “damaging and absurd prosecutions” and “increase censorship”, and that a pornographic photograph or film of a child should not be considered indecent unless it could be shown that the subject had suffered, and that prosecutors would have to prove harm rather than defendants having to justify themselves.” This was the decade in which organisations such as Paedophile Information Exchange (PIE) and Paedophile Action for Liberation became affiliated to the National Council for Civil Liberties (NCCL, today known as Liberty). NCCL itself campaigned to reduce the age of consent in the United Kingdom and argued that court cases could do more damage than the acts themselves, arguing that “childhood sexual experiences willingly engaged in with an adult result in no identifiable damage”.

None of that, of course, applies to the Church, within which such sexual activity has always been considered deeply sinful: I refer to the contemporary secular understanding of the matter simply to recall the fact that it was a different era entirely in our understanding of this phenomenon: it was little understood then, for instance, that paedophiles are rarely “treatable”; many cases of clerical sex abuse went effectively unchecked because a clerical sex abuser’s superiors thought that his apparent penitence and resolutions of reform could be taken seriously: after all, Christianity is the religion of the second chance. We now know that paedophiles must never be given a second chance. And in case anyone thinks that I am thinking up excuses for the abuses of the last 30 years, I’m absolutely not doing anything of the kind. Whatever mitigating circumstances may exist in particular cases, there is ultimately no excuse: this is something we should have cleaned up many years before we did.

As Dr Pravin Thevathasan wrote in his book “The Catholic Church & the Sex Abuse Crisis” (CTS) “It is true that the abuse of minors is rife within society. But we claim, by the grace of God, to be members of the one Church founded by our Lord and Saviour Jesus Christ and we are therefore called to a higher standard than that found in society at large.” But that doesn’t mean that this is a problem that can be seriously addressed by mounting witch hunts against senior clergy for what they did or failed to do 40 years ago: particularly when it is absolutely clear that they had no direct responsibility for making decisions in the particular case concerned.

There is much more that could be said in defence of Cardinal Brady: but who would listen? I fear that his position is now irretrievable, and that for the good of the Irish Church, it would probably be wise for him to ask for the Holy Father’s permission to take early retirement. It seems to me, nevertheless, that he has suffered, at the hands of the This World programme, a profound injustice (which he has eloquently rebutted in his official response to it); and that when he finally does bow before the storm, as he almost certainly must, it should be well understood that this is one of those resignations for the greater good which have nothing to do with any culpability on the part of the person resigning.

  • bellebrise

     Had a priest reported the matter to the police when his superiors had not done so he would have remained a priest until the end.  One knows priests who upset members of the hierarchy and were banished to far-off parishes forever.  Of course, strong men do the right thing and take the consequences.  Too bad we are not all strong.

  • bellebrise

     “A basic precept, one should not lie, or conceal the truth, except to
    defend the honour of the Chuich, as respresent by the Pope, the curia,
    the cardinals, bishops, old uncle Tom Cobleigh and all”

    I do hope that is some kind of post-modern irony?

  • bellebrise

    Fascinating stuff.  One was aware in the 60s and 70s that priests and the Church were living in a culture entirely separate from that of the secular world.  Indeed, the mindset was secretive and defensive.  Prior to Vatican 2 and for a while afterwards priests were seen as, and revered as, figures of Authority.  In Scotland, the Catholic Church had only officially returned to the country less than a hundred years earlier. It was very much the case that poor sinners should be encouraged to repent and reform within the arms of the Church rather than the walls of a prison.  The error was in extending this view to the most serious of crimes and excluding the participation of society at large; a society that was as much the victim as any individual.
    Nevertheless, any man of pretensions to moral fibre would be driven by their own conscience, their own self-esteem  and their own sense of justice to make sure that the lay authorities not only became aware but that they acted.  Even if such a man were to be hounded out of the priesthood as a result.
    I seem to recall that Christ had something to say on the subject.

  • JessicaHof

    Having followed this on the DT pages and been horrified by some of the primitive anti- Catholicism there, I still think that I agree with Jonathan West’s excellent comments here. The Cardinal should have done more than he did. Whatever the circumstances of those times, a Catholic priest would have known that this sin was also a crime, and should have followed it up. Whatever the reasons for his not doing so (and I make no comment on them as I don’t know them) his moral authority now is shot to pieces. The Church in Ireland needs firm leadership now, and if His Holiness thinks the Cardinal is the man to provide it, someone needs to tell him that he isn’t. Ireland deserves better.

    The parallel with the Rochdale business is telling. People seem to be allowed to smear all Catholics for the crimes of a few, but. OT even to mention the Muslim angle. The best thing surely is never to tar the many, in any community, for the crimes of a few?

    The great good your Church does in the world is being forgotten because of this, and that should not be.

  • Laurencemann

    In England and Wales, a person who intimidates a witness, and making them swear a solemn lifetime oath of secrecy is pretty intimidating, may have committed the offence of perverting the course of justice. And doing any act which might impede the apprehension of a criminal is to put yourself in the position of an accessory, punishable in the same way, and to the same degree as the criminal. 

    I cannot speak as to Irish Law, but in 1975, the Offences against the Person Act 1861 was still good law, as was, and is much of the common law. 

    Whilst the then Father Brady might have felt unable to challenge his superiors’ failure to act, which, however it might reflect upon his moral courage, is a sin of omission rather than commission; his decision to gag witnesses rather than to encourage them to report the matter to the Gardai was despicable.

    The law of the land is not contrary to the message of scripture here: “And you will know the truth, and the truth will set you free.”  

    Concealment of the truth has created a dark prison, which Cardinal Brady has lurked in for 35 years. 

  • Laurencemann

    The six evil men you refer to are starting long prison sentences. Their crimes were not covered up by those who knew of them. Justice is being done. The abuse cases in Ireland were not wrong because those who participated in them were Catholics, they were wrong because they were wrong. The reason the church is condemned for what it did and failed to do is that it was wrong to remain silent, to deny the truth, and in the case of Cardinal Brady, to muzzle witnesses. The reason they did this, I suggest is because the abusing priests were Catholics, and they did not want the inconvenience and damage to the reputation of the Church which would arise from the truth being known. So sadly, being Catholic is central to this story. And even now, when the truth has emerged, the institution of the Church in the form its leadership, is in denial. Can you find a Muslim, or even someone lacking faith altogether who would act as apologists for those sentenced today in Liverpool?

  • Ian Williams

    In the case of Cardinal Brady the storm is entirely deserved.  This is no witch hunt.  It is past time, for God’s sake, for the man to go.

  • buckingham88

     If things are so clear legally,why not have this bishop charged with an offence and have everyone, the police, the churchmen and the person abused put in the witness box and cross examined under oath? Otherwise the presumption of innocence applies.
     Or you could continue this trial by blog media.
    But to digress, yesterday a large media organisation with 33 percent of the TV audience and a catastrophic bottom line covered two ‘Catholic ‘ events in Australia.
    One was an interview with the wife of a priest that just left his parish.In the late bulletin they covered a knife attack on a girl in a Brisbane Catholic school.’Catholic’ sells.
     If you ever consider that there may be an immanent God of Justice it is appropriate to rememember two things; to paraphrase scripture,
     “judge not lest you be judged” and the other from a comment made to me about a client that died during a major trial..’Well, he just went to a higher juristiction’.

  • buckingham88


  • JabbaPapa

    This is not a witch hunt.

    This is, VERY clearly, a witch hunt.

    If Cardinal Brady were guilty of any actual crimes, or could realistically be accused of such, you can be sure that in the current climate, he would have been arrested and charged.

    Instead, he is being publicly demonised by means of a vicious, international, anti-Catholic hate campaign.

  • daclamat

    The pig-headed attitude of Brady shows that he hasn’t changed his mind-set in 36 years. He didn’t see why he should do what he ought to have done then; he doesn’t see why he do what everyone expects him to do today. What terrifies me is that hierarchies are patting themselves on the back thinking that that they are doing everything possible to prevent abuse in the future.  In forty years time the truth will out about the success of these measures.  On balance, little has changed.  Mentalities are the same: damage limitation is the primary consideration. Paedophiles will always find ways to dupe their fellow priests, superiors and the people at large.  They will be admired, and at the first whiff of something untoward they will be moved on.  I shall of course be long gone, no longer around to say “I told you so!”. It’s sixty five years since I was abused. Redress? Compensation?
    Why on earth does Brady  have to write to “the Holy Father for permission take early retirement (at the spritely age of 72?)”. If he has any guts and sense of conscience, he will quietly walk away, and leave it to the people he is betraying to say what kind of person they need to replace him.  Acts of the Apostles gives some clear guidelines: a mature man, respected by his community, who has brought  up his family and remained faithful to his wife…..Wishful thinking? The Holy Spirit didn’t seem to think so.

  • daclamat

    It’s precisely because jabberwocky attitudes are taking up too much pew space that Brady and his ilk can continue to strut their stuff instead of being fitted out for a mill-stone.

  • gabriel_syme

    Their crimes were not covered up by those who knew of them.

    Thats is demonstrably false. 

    Police knew a decade a ago (2002) that abuse as happening and did not act through fears of racism.

    This allowed other cases of abuse to occur, for a whole decade.

    The abuse cases in Ireland were not wrong because those who participated in them were Catholics, they were wrong because they were wrong.

    Correct.  No-one is saying otherwise.  My point related to the blatant double standards in reporting by the media and in perception by the public.

    On the telegraph currently, you can go on and post literally what ever you like about Catholics and abuse.  But not one article about asian abuse has allowed any comments to be posted whatsoever.

    It is very clear there is one rule for Catholics, and a different rule for everyone else.

    So sadly, being Catholic is central to this story

    Being asian is central to the current manchester case.  But both the press and the police are officially pretending othwerwise, despite asian community leaders themselves having openly identified the racial element to the cases. 

    I am only asking for an even hand to be applied, one way or the other.

    Thats not unreasonable, is it?

    Can you find a Muslim, or even someone lacking faith altogether who would act as apologists for those sentenced today in Liverpool?

    Yes, both the Courts and Polcie have made official statements denying there was any element of race involved in the selection of victims – which is a blatant lie.

    Both the Police and Courts are apologists for these crimes, as they seek to hide the true, hideous nature of them.

    You are so hugely blinkered, it is scary!

  • gabriel_syme

    , I don’t expect the Primate of all Ireland to be perfect and beyond reproach but my goodness I expect him to uphold basic human standards of decency

    Brady wasnt Primate of All Ireland in 1975, he was part of a 3 man investigation team, which did its job to the letter and passed on information for others to act. on.

  • Jonathan West

    Nobody is saying that Brady has committed a crime. It wasn’t at the time a crime not to report child sex abuse (though that is now changing in Ireland).

    But the Catholic Church does not claim that anything that’s not actually illegal is OK. Consider for instance divorce, remarriage, extra-marital sex, contraception and abortion, all of which are legal, but that doesn’t prevent the church’s stance from being strongly against all these things.

    Not reporting child abuse was legal, but that doesn’t make it right. I see no reason why Brady should not be held to the kind of standard the church expects of everybody else. Nobody is suggesting he ought to be thrown into jail, rather they are suggesting he ought to resign.

  • Andrew Brennan

    I don’t think the media is over-reporting the abuse crisis in the Catholic Church; if they are it’s a result of the Catholic Church under-reporting cases of abuse in the Catholic Church for decades. 

  • JabbaPapa

    It is extremely unlikely that Pope Benedict XVI would accept his resignation, and he is bound by his clerical vows to obey the Pontiff.

    Of course, we are all of us bound by our baptism vows (or our confirmation ones) to ultimately the same order of obedience, except that such as yourself seem hell-bound to deny this Grace.

  • JabbaPapa

    I am unlikely to be insulted by references comparing me to Lewis Carroll’s BRILLIANT poem in the ETERNAL Alice, nor the BRILLIANT film by the Flying Circus.

  • daclamat

    Insulting? Jabberwocky is brillant nonsense; your mimsy in the borogroves is enough to make the mome raths outgrabe.
    Is your Flying circus Baron von Richtofen’s or Monty Python’s? The latter is hardly suitable for a devout Catholic. Aren’t you afraid of God getting quite irate? I forebear to mention Carroll’s dubious interest in little girls

  • Fitzy103

    Witch hunt – kind of ironic that. It was Brady’s ilk that were responsible for those – quite often seeing innocent women drowned or burnt at the stake. But sure, we dont like to talk about these sort of things eh. Do as we say, not as we do…..

    Jabba, its a slightly pointless debate whether or not its a witch hunt, given we havent even defined what constitutes a witch hunt. To try and derail the debate (which let me remind you again was the failure to report CHILD RAPE) in this fashion and to try and portray Brady as the victim somehow is ludicris.

    To hide behind poor legislation is to take the the same line that politicians or bankers have done on expenses etc (it wasn’t illegal), and to say that i was simply following orders hasnt washed since Nuremberg.

    Let me ask you one question. Forget the law of the day. Morally, was he right to turn a blind eye to this?

  • Lindi

    So why are we not able to comment on the sexual abuse of underage girls in Rochdale ?

  • Lindi

    ‘The parallel with the Rochdale business is telling……’  Absolutely , as I commented , there seems to be no way of making a comment on this site or the Daily Telegraph’s site !

  • Lindi

    Agree and take note , we cannot comment on the Rochdale case on the Catholic Herald’s site or that of the Daily Telegraph !

  • Laurencemann

    The evidence suggests that in 2009, the police concluded that the key witness was insufficiently credible.  Their view was overruled by a Muslim Chief Prosecutor. As it happens, the witness was credible, and the case was won. The defendants were not part of a powerful hierarchy which acted to suppress the facts. Time and time again, Catholic priests who abused (and it must be said that they were a tiny minority of priests, everyone knows that), were protected by inaction, and in this case, the deliberate silencing of witnesses.
    Are you saying that because the police have played down any suggestion that these crimes were racially motivated, this somehow exonerates Cardinal Brady, as if so, that’s weird.

    Sadly, it is the case that in general Muslim children have tighter family links and are less likely to be hanging around on street corners drinking and taking drugs, and are therefore less likely to have been selected as victims by these people than white children. There is a racial element to these crimes, but as the police say, that does not make a racial motive.  

    The Catholic priests who abused children did not select Anglicans or Jews, because they were not available; but that does not mean that their abuse was predicated upon religious bias, does it?

    All in all, the introduction of this timely diversion serves no purpose, and should not deflect people from considering whether, in all the circumstances, steps should be taken to demonstrate once and for all, that the conspiracy to conceal these terrible crimes was completely wrong.

  • Laurencemann

    I do not ask to judge, but I do ask that others do. These terrible events do not support the concept of an immanent deity.  There was no justice for children abused, sometimes inside Churches. 

    The reason why the Catholic Church is getting such a negative press over this is that the circumstances are really quite disgraceful.  I hold no brief for News International, and it is painful to say this, but their senior staff have been more accepting of blame and censure for what went on in their organisation, than the senior clergy of the Catholic Church have, despite the fact that both the quantum and degree of the child abuse scandal is many orders higher than that of the phone-hacking scandal.

  • buckingham88

     You miss my points.If you want to nail Brady then if he is to be judged it should be in a court of law, not here.
    The child abuse by churchmen and the cover up is a scandal, but we all have worked that one out.If he was charged he would have no case to answer, in my humble opinion.
    As for the News Limited problems in England, although their competitors in Australia have tried to link it all up with News Limited in Australia they have failed.The networks I alluded to are not under News control.
     As for the deity, I was appealing to your better judgement if you happened to believe in a personal God of justice.But in any event if there is a God that entity exists independent of us or our actions.

  • daclamat

    I agree with you.Is Oddie jumping on the BNP bandwago? Innuendo is a coward’s argument.

  • JessicaHof

    Given the rabid anti Catholicism there, the DT may have feared racist outbursts. I fail to understand why some people have to condemn the whole Church for the crimes of a few. the Church does great work in the world, and it all gets overlooked because of some criminals.

  • JabbaPapa

    Snicker snack

  • Lancashire lad

    Crimen sollecitationis refers to the procedures for dealing with cases where a priest is alleged to have solicited sexual favours from a penitent in the confessional. It has nothing to do with this case. You have misunderstood the procedures.
    Cardinal Brady has said that as he understood it, the oath of secrecy referred only to the duration of the investigation, and was to prevent collusion between witnesses. Had Brendan Boland and the other child been able to talk about there experiences, then Fr Smyth could have appealed against any church penalty and had it cancelled, because proper procedure had not been followed.
    Obviously this wasn’t made sufficiently clear to Brendan Boland, because he was under the impression that the secrecy was permanent. The Church is now much clearer that the canonical processes do no preclude someone going to the police or the gardai. Basically, back in the 70′s, church procedures were not really fit for purpose.

    It was primarily Bishop MacKiernan’s and the Abbot of Kilnacrott’s responsibility to tell the gardai. You don’t get justice for the innocent by pillorying a man whose involvement in the whole affair was marginal.
    It was a very balanced article by Bill Oddie. I think this is a witchhunt against Cardinal Brady, when most of the blame lies upon Smyth and his protectors in the Norbertine order, who facilitated his paedophile activities.

  • John B

    I believe the problem here is not  what one particular priest did or not do 37 years ago. It is rather the continuing attitude amongst  some clergy and  bishops that they are  a holy elite  whose overwhelming  concern seems to be to protect that status whatever the cost in  damage to the  reputation of the insitution and more importantly the Faith  and trust of the laity.  It seems to me that  we now need to address that and recognise that all  members of the church are truly equal in the sight of God and should be treated as such.   Perhaps we should  do away with as many distinctions  between laity and clergy as possible and radically reform the hierarchial structure of the Church 

  • W Oddie

    The decision was taken, not by me, not to have comments under my piece: I think probably wisely in view of the danger precisely of hate-filled BNP type comments. And you can hardly dismiss my piece as ‘innuendo’: it surely says what needs to be said

  • Burt

    Mr Oddie I completely agree with you. The Cardinals situation is irretrievable. As soon as I viewed the BBC documentary ‘This World – The Shame of the Catholic Church’, revealing his role investigating the abuse committed by that monster Brendan Smith, it was clear to me that Cardinal Brady has no option but to resign.
    This morning on Radio 4, the outrageous openly gay Irish priest, Brendan Lynch, was on ‘Midweek’ and given a platform to spout his distorted bizarre views. He needs to be not only ‘defrocked’, but indeed excommunicated. How can the Cardinal go ahead and do those, to me obvious actions required, with the lack of credibility he surely now has.

  • Moira

    If these men truly understood the implications of abuse on a life they’d not need to be asked to resign. Clearly they don’t and are still a danger because of it. They just don’t get it. I speak from experience. I wish I had the luxury to ‘retire’ from all of it. But we live with it to our graves. Has not turned me against the Catholic Faith. I am here because of it. Wish no harm on anyone but they must learn how serious this is. Not all survive. Would any of you like to think, believe, know you had anything to do with the death of an innocent ? That’s the bottom line – the reality that needs facing.