Sat 25th Oct 2014 | Last updated: Fri 24th Oct 2014 at 18:39pm

Facebook Logo Twitter Logo RSS Logo
Hot Topics

Comment & Blogs

Cardinal Brady now has a coadjutor, and will almost certainly retire early, after a wholly undeserved media witch-hunt, incited by the BBC

He has suffered a profound injustice: and the BBC now has yet another reason to be ashamed of itself

By on Monday, 21 January 2013

Cardinal Seán Brady (PA)

Cardinal Seán Brady (PA)

It has been announced that Mgr Eamon Martin has been appointed Archbishop coadjutor of Armagh. That means that when Cardinal Seán Brady retires, he will succeed him as Primate of all Ireland. Cardinal Brady would have come to his normal retirement age in August 2014, and in theory he could carry on until then. But under the circumstances everyone knows that he will almost certainly retire at some point later this year, finally driven out by the storm of controversy that broke over his head after a BBC documentary last year (in my opinion an utterly scurrilous piece of work) “revealed” that when he was a priest, he had the names and addresses of children abused by the paedophile priest Brendan Smyth, but did not pass them on to the police.

The fact is that it was not his responsibility, nor did he have any authority, to do anything of the kind; nor was it a requirement of the Irish law at the time that he or anyone else should do so. The BBC’s “revelations”, however, led to a media and political furore which greatly weakened the cardinal’s credibility and, inevitably, his moral authority as head of the Irish Church. My own reaction can be summarised in the headline of an article I wrote in this column at the time: “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”.

I had come to hope that I had got it wrong, and that it might be turning out that he was in fact re-establishing his authority: it seems now that he, from the storm’s epicentre, had come to the same conclusion that I and others had from its periphery, and that he had asked the Holy Father for a coadjutor. I cannot let his retirement be announced, however, without one more effort at least to set the record straight: for, already, history is being rewritten. According to today’s Irish Times, for instance, the then Fr Brady actually himself conducted the inquiry into allegations of paedophilia against Fr Brendan Smyth; the Irish Independent simply says he was, as a young priest and canon lawyer, “made aware in the 1970s of abuse by Smyth – but did not inform the police or the abused children’s parents”. The general composite version is that he was in charge of the inquiry and didn’t inform the police of its findings as it was his duty to do: in some versions, this put him in contravention of the Irish law, even though it was only much later that the Irish law was changed to make informing the police a requirement, not simply for the Church but for everyone else (contrary to popular opinion, there was at the time plenty of paedophilia in Irish civil society at large, as there was in our own).

It became generally believed last year that it was because of something the young Fr Brady had actually done, 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. As he said at the time, in reponse to the BBC’s deplorable (but all too successful) essay in character assassination, “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 (my italics). Even my bishop had limited authority over him… As Mgr 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 Cardinal Brady said then (though no one allowed anything he had to say in his own defence to spoil a rattling good witch hunt in full cry) the documentation of the inquiry describes the then Fr Brady 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.

I end now as I ended then, in May last year: “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 [BBC] This World programme, a profound injustice … 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.”

The BBC now has its own paedophile scandals, one of which includes its attempt to blacken the character of Lord MacAlpine — another false accusation which was at least authoritatively denounced in such a way that Lord MacAlpine’s reputation was quickly restored, and a very senior head, that of the BBC director general, duly rolled. That was the MacAlpine affair: this should come to be called the Brady affair, and BBC heads should roll over this one, too. They won’t, of course, it’s too late, and anyway, who cares about justice for Catholic prelates? But would the BBC have attempted the same kind of character assassination today? Would they not now have to be more careful? It’s an interesting question.

  • Mr Grumpy

    With respect, Dr Oddie, you are invoking the Jobsworth’s Charter on Cardinal Brady’s behalf, and that suggests that you have, even now, failed to register how these scandals look to decent people outside the Church.

    Yes, he did his job, and it was the job of others to take the matter further, but that surely can’t be the end of the story. He was one of very few people who were party to the allegations of serious crimes having been committed by Fr Brendan Smyth. Did he follow up on whether any action was being taken by Smyth’s Norbertine superiors? If not, why not? If he did and it was clear that no action was being taken, did he not have a clear moral obligation to go straight to the police himself? I’m not saying I would necessarily have shown up any better in his place, but I don’t have a red hat. Do you earn one by keeping your head down, or by showing decency and courage?

    And please, Dr Oddie, if we expect no more of the Church than that we should be able to say she is no more immoral than the BBC, the Enemy’s victory is complete.

  • teigitur

    I’m afraid I have to agree with you.

  • Dylan Morgan

    He was aware of the abuse committed by Fr. Brendan Smyth, he did nothing about it. He did not go to the law, and therefore he is complicit in the crimes. By saying nothing, covering his own back with his eyes on future high office, he let countless victims, himself and his church down. He should have resigned ages ago. When he retires another unpleasant chapter in the history of this church will close. He will not be missed.

  • maxmarley

    The BBC and RTE in Dublin have become appalling organisations and one is wise to treat all that they report with caution.
    But this scandalous clerical abuse business had to be uncovered and if BBC, flawed as it is, had to do it , so be it. But Cardinal Brady belongs to a clerical culture in the Catholic Church that has sadly diminished the moral authority of our Catholic Church in the west. And this culture thrived on the arrogance of some clerics and the deference of many.Some of us have personal experience of the pain caused to good people whose trust was  betrayed not just by certain clergy but aided and abetted by their professional advisors.They should have been aided and abetted instead by Gospel values from the very beginning and one does not have to be cardinal to understand that.The comment highlights the Fr Smyth case but there were too many Fr Smyths and too many Cardinal Bradys not only in Ireland and elsewhere over too long a period.The resulting fallout in Ireland and elsewhere is plain for many including Cardinal Brady to see.Paedophile priest is now a new bit of alliteration that is being used by the malevolent day and daily to shut down any moral arguments the Catholic Church [ clergy and laity] may use to confront so much evil.In this Year of Faith let the Church of the faithful and their clergy discover the wonderful humility and love of Christ.

  • OldMeena

    It is not a matter of whether he was required By Law to inform the police and other authorities.

    The proper thing to do was to inform them all the same. And never mind the pompous BBC, that ghastly organisation can’t be used as an excuse.

    Did the good person in the form of the Samaritan do what he did because he was obliged to do it by the law?

  • Normken2003

    I would recommend your reading Chris Moore’s “Betrayal of Trust – the Fr. Brendan Smyth affair and the Catholic Church” which deals with Fr. Brady’s role as notary at church meetings held with children abused by Brendan Smyth who had to give an oath of silence before their harrowing accounts were listened to.  It transpires that the Norbertine Order had knowledge of such flagrant abuse by Smyth for 40 years before such details were made public and were guilty of allowing him to continue his heinous crimes unabated at home and abroad during that time.  Fr. Brady by his silence (he had no authority in the matter) became complicit in the abuse and is therefore guilty of covering up a paedophile’s crimes. In lieu of this knowledge he should never have been consecrated a Cardinal nor even as Archbishop of Armagh and All Ireland.

    He wasn’t alone, of course, as Bishop John Magee (of Cloyne and former secretary to Popes Paul V1, John Paul 1 and John Paul 11) and Bishops Donal Herlihy and Brendan Comiskey of Ferns were also implicated in similar cover-ups.  Bishop Magee was forced to resign as a result of a finding in the Cloyne Report that his Diocese failed to report umpteen cases of child abuse to the Irish government despite assurances that they would do so.

    The Ferns Report uncovered 100 cases of abuse involving 21 priests including the notorious Fr. Sean Fortune who was a serial paedophile.  These cases were documented as having been brought to the attention of Cardinal O’Fiaich who apparently did nothing about them.

    If Canon Law truly is the reason these men of high calling acted in the way they did by not naming and shaming such abusers, then it should be scrapped.   Children are a precious gift from God and should be protected by both church and state laws.   It is through them the faith and good citizenship  will be passed on (or not) to future generations   

  • Mr Grumpy

    Indeed. The children were under an oath of silence; all the more reason for Fr Brady to have made full use on their behalf of the fact that he was not.

  • Jonathan West

    The fact is that it was not his responsibility, nor did he have any authority, to do anything of the kind; nor was it a requirement of the Irish law at the time that he or anyone else should do so.

    The Catholic Church does not state 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. Why should the non-reporting of child sex abuse be regarded as an exception – except that (very conveniently) it is something which senior Catholic clergy have done, and of course the rules that they expect everyone else to follow don’t apply to them.

    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.

    And the idea that Brady couldn’t take any action over Smyth because he had no authority over him is laughable. He didn’t need any authority over him in order to pick up the phone and call the police. In just the same way (and please note that I am speaking entirely hypothetically) if I were to learn that you had committed sex crimes against children, the fact that I am not the editor of the CH and therefore not in authority over you should not in any way prevent me from picking up the phone.

    And it is not merely a matter of his failure to pick up the phone at the time. As he rose through the hierarchy, it became obvious that no action had been or would be taken against Smyth by his superiors, and yet he still didn’t pick up the phone. He put his career in the church ahead ahead of the safety of the children of his flock. In the 20 years between Brady knowing about the abuse and Smyth finally being arrested, Brady could have picked up the phone and thereby prevented further abuse.

    He didn’t. What kind of moral authority can he possibly have now? And what moral authority attaches to those who would condone Brady’s inaction? I suggest none at all.

  • Patrickhowes

    I too side with you .The sins of others can never be ours yet the Catholic Church is quite vocal or sued to be about the sin of omission.The mere whiff of child abuse should stir our conscience not to leave one stone unturned.The insititutional arrogance of the Church has been appalling.When was the image of the Church a greater precedence than protecting an innocent child?.How can we stand up and defend the innocent child in the womb and then let him/her be born to suffer the trauma of sexual rape?.We shot what was hitherto impeccable theology to pieces.We held up the family as the ideal way to live our lives yet in some cases it was being corrupted and protected by the very Church that was defending it.I do feel sorry for Cardinal Brady yet at the same time he personifies the general quality of the Catholic Bishop,weak,cowardly and all too willing to act like Pontus Pilate rather than Jesus Christ.I know what I have said is strong and I apologise to Dr Oddie if he feels offended but zero tolerance and a few decades will restore the image of the Church not to mention a few Bishops who once again show the necessary moral leadership

  • OldMeena

    It is astonishing that Catholic apologists, such as Dr Oddie, cannot see this.  


    “It is astonishing that Catholic apologists, such as Dr Oddie, cannot see this.”No it isn’t.   

  • OldMeena

    I note that (according to the people who “liked this”, i.e. Dr Oddies’ post,  above “Add New Comment”)  two, of our normally more enthusiastic than average posters, have their logos – and names – if you roll-over with your mouse.
    (But, as yet, no actual comment)

  • teigitur


  • JabbaPapa

    And the idea that Brady couldn’t take any action over Smyth because he had no authority over him is laughable

    The only thing that’s laughable is your blinkered prejudice.

    It’s not just that he had no authority to take legal action, in fact he had a legal obligation of neutrality and discretion towards the case as a Court functionary.

    If a similar case were to have occurred in the civil Courts, would you be heaping this sort of vile abuse on the stenographer or any other such minor officials involved in it ?

    Your anti-Catholicism is sickening.

    Blame Smyth’s religious superior (who did exactly nothing) as much as you want, blame the gross deficiencies of the Irish Police and the Irish legal system, blame the failures of the Irish dioceses — but don’t blame the innocent and expect to be honoured for doing so.

  • JabbaPapa

    If you had taken the time to read the Murphy Report, you would know that the Irish Police routinely ignored virtually every report of child sex abuse during that whole period.

  • Jonathan West

     It’s not just that he had no authority to take legal action, in fact he had a legal obligation of neutrality and discretion towards the case as a Court functionary.

    This was a criminal matter. Brady had no status with respect to the criminal courts.

    If a similar case were to have occurred in the civil Courts, would you be heaping this sort of vile abuse on the stenographer or any other such minor officials involved in it ?

    That little bit of fiction about Brady being nothing a stenographer is assiduously put about. Leaving that matter aside, the answer is yes – if a court stenographer were aware of child sex crimes being covered up by other officers of the court, then I would expect him or her to bring the matter to the attention of the authorities.

    Brady, supposedly occupying a position of moral leadership, had all the more reason to report the matter. “Do as I say, not as I do” was never a very persuasive slogan.

  • CullenD

    You are missing something, you can’t really know the grip the clergy had over Ireland even well into the 70′s. I can, I was there. Disagreeing with the church was still political suicide for politicians. Doing the same as a civil servant could ruin your career. Even as a normal person, you could lose friends and family.  

    Read about Noel Browne and his “Mother and Child Scheme”. That will give you a good idea of how the church simply would not allow any political interference in anything it considered it’s remit. Even if it cost the lives of children.

    My personal family history is an example of the cost of the church’s arrogance. My father’s older brother died as the family couldn’t afford treatment for TB. A secondary effect was that it led most of my family (in time) to be atheists. After the loss of his eldest child, my grandfather be came quite anti-clerical. Which led to my Father, and some of his siblings, to be agnostics, deists or atheists. Although I cannot speak for my cousins, all of my siblings are atheists. Even so, we are the first generation who can be “out” atheists without any risk…… Other than confusion or bewilderment from some older catholics.

  • CullenD

    As has been pointed out, are you saying that church authorities have only to live up to the same moral standards as a civil, politically controlled group of workers?

    Are you implying that the catholic clergy is just a group of employees, overseen by a CEO, Minister or President called “The Pope”.

  • Elizabeth Essex

    I’m pretty sure if it was a cleric or religious stating they had been assaulted
    to superiors there would have been no confusion. Off the police they
    would have gone, irrespective of whether the police took the case

    The institution’s reputation was simply more important than finding
    the truth, or having some common sense about the potential danger
    to other children. These clerics lost credibility because they deserved

  • JabbaPapa

    This does not justify vilifying then Fr Brady for engaging in an honest attempt to help deal with one of these scandals within the legal limits that were prescribed to him under those particular circumstances.

    The fact that he too was betrayed by the hierarchy and by the Irish Police and legal system at the time only compounds how horrible it is to make a scapegoat out of him individually.

  • JabbaPapa

    This was a criminal matter. Brady had no status with respect to the criminal courts.

    This is not true — he was acting as a secretary in the internal investigation, which required him legally to be neutral as far as that particular case was concerned — including the legal requirement that he had to provide Smyth with a personal presumption of innocence.

    Had those responsible reported Smyth and pursued him in the criminal Courts, if the victim or the family of the victim had done so (but they didn’t), and had the Irish Police done their jobs, and had the Irish Laws not been so pathetically toothless, then he would **possibly** have been called up by the Court as a witness — but this is doubtful, because his work at the hearing constituted witnessing.

    This whole disgusting attack on Cardinal Brady is motivated by hateful anti-Catholicism and by a total and complete ignorance of the most basic rules of Law and by an irrationally motivated desire for revenge and for the expression of religious hatred.

  • JabbaPapa

    The oath of silence in question concerns sins only.

    It does not cover criminal actions — Mark {12:17} So in response, Jesus said to them, “Then render to Caesar, the things that are of Caesar; and to God, the things that are of God.”

    It is of course utterly shameful IF the victims and their families received legal advice suggesting that the oath of silence in the canon laws required them to remain silent in the civil arena concerning any crimes committed — whereas the oath can only require that they must keep silent about any sins committed by others as sins, because defamation is itself a sin ; but going to the Police and filing complaints about crimes that have occurred is not a defamation, nor does it violate that oath of silence.

    None of which then Fr Brady can conceivably be personally responsible for, as he was not a lawyer for the victims nor their representative, nor was he a witness of the crimes, nor did he have any kind of legal authority to involve himself personally with the proceedings once he had accepted the required personal neutrality that his job at the hearing required of him.

    To be perfectly blunt, the parents of the victims are far more guilty of these crimes not having been reported to the Police than this Cardinal that so many of the usual suspects in here have their knives sharpened for.

  • JabbaPapa

    I have no idea how you have come to that extremely irrational interpretation, given that it has exactly NOTHING to do with anything that I have said.

  • teigitur

    With respect Damo, I really don’t think you can blame the Church for your lack of faith. That comes, for whatever reason from within. Of course all our Faiths get battered around in the course of time, by people within as well as outwith the Church. If it is properly grounded and has not fallen on already stoney ground it survives, and may indeed thrive.

  • JabbaPapa

    I’m pretty sure if it was a cleric or religious stating they had been assaulted
    to superiors

    I’m pretty sure that this is just a nasty little remark that is backed up by nothing more solid than personal prejudice.

  • Rondre

    This is what the bishops teach their faithful but of course it doesn’t apply to them.

  • Alba

    It’s not the fact that the then Fr Brady didn’t take the matter further at the time; the problem is, as Mr Grumpy poins out, that the matter was not taken up with the Norbertines later, when they failed to act.

  • liquafruta

    Ask any Irish Catholic what they think of Cardinal Brady’s actions in the clerical abuse scandals – especially in the Fr. Brendan Smith case – and you may not like what you hear.

  • Cestius

    Perhaps if the BBC journalists had spent a little less time writing half-truths and hearsay about what was going on in the Catholic church decades ago, they could have put a little more effort into finding out what was going on under their very noses in the BBC itself. Seems to me they were blinded by their own prejudice against the Catholic Church and assumed that it was a specifically Catholic problem. As a result the Savile business probably went on longer than it should have.

  • Mr Grumpy

    So far there’s been a remarkable absence of anti-Catholic trolls on this thread. The criticisms of Cardinal Brady have come from Catholics, JP. I’m sure I speak for others in saying that I see the de-Catholicisation of Ireland as a devastating tragedy, made worse by the fact that it is largely a self-inflicted wound.

  • Lazarus

    Profound as ever, Meena.

    I suppose that I’m one of those who might be included in your accusation. I haven’t commented because I haven’t got much to say other than, thank you Dr Oddie for your interesting and helpful post. But if you insist….

    Thank you, Dr Oddie, for your interesting and helpful post.


  • JabbaPapa

    It is natural that Catholics have felt a greater sense of betrayal than others over these horrific affairs and cover-ups — and the Murphy Report and other such documents do not provide comfortable reading — but this does not justify tarring the innocent with the same brush as the guilty.

    And the nearly complete lack of public criticism of the incompetence and immobility of the Irish Police over several decades, as well as the inaction of the Irish lawmakers (that continues to this very day !!!) compared to this witch-hunting is very, very blinkered and biased.

    A big reason why there is no massive clerical sex abuse scandal in France is because the laws on the reporting of crimes and the vigilance of the Police were both very robust.

  • Breff

     Precisely. You have confirmed the accuracy of Dr Oddie’s article..

  • Jonathan West

    The presumption of innocence is a very specific thing and simply means that you cn’t be punished for a crime until it has been proved that you did it.

    If the presumption of innocence were as wide as you describe it, then nobody could even be investigated to see if they had committed a crime, because they would have to be presumed innocent because they hadn’t been convicted.

    Of course, Brady isn’t the only priest in Ireland to fail to report abuse to the authorities. that doesn’t make his responsibility any less, it just means that there is plenty of blame to go round. Your claim that Brady is being unjustly vilfied would be more convincing if I had seen you going after other priests who were similarly responsible. But I don’t think you have done that.

    By the way, I’m anti-abuse. That can only be portrayed as anti-catholic if to be pro-catholic is to be pro-abuse. I don’t think you really want to take that position.

  • JabbaPapa

    If the presumption of innocence were as wide as you describe it, then
    nobody could even be investigated to see if they had committed a crime,
    because they would have to be presumed innocent because they hadn’t been

    This is drivel.

  • CullenD

    C’mon Teig, you had fun with the term organic atheist, so you know I don’t “blame anyone for my lack of faith”. In fact that term is pretty laughable to me…. blame? That gives the idea that I am in some way missing something. It’s that lazy “god shaped hole” idea that even the pope misunderstands but repeated uses. 

    Why is it so easy for me to understand the reasons people have for believing in a god and for having faith. But so hard for you to understand why I don’t?

  • CullenD

    I’m not vilifying Brady, I’m pretty indifferent to him. But you do seem to be getting the point.

    “The fact that he too was betrayed by the hierarchy and by the Irish Police and legal system at the time only compounds how horrible it is to make a scapegoat out of him individually.”

    I was pointing out that the hierarchy of the church was far too powerful, and implying that it put it’s reputation above all else. It’s reputation was far more important than the actual lives and suffering of it’s followers, in it’s opinion. 

    It wanted conformity and compulsion, not compassion.

  • CullenD

    Sorry, I should clarify that last paragraph.

    I understand theism.

  • teigitur

     Well indeed thats why your last posting was a little curious. ie. The Church was nasty, made your Grandfather an atheist, that cascaded down the generations to you. Ergo the horrible Church made you a atheist? Have I got it all wrong?

  • teigitur

    I have no conception of a-theism, I will freely admit. Though I know a few  atheists, or so they say.

  • teigitur

    The Church in Ireland was indeed far too powerful, though its easy to see why. After partition( and indeed before) The Church pretty much ran everything, schools, hospitals etc. Indeed healthcare and education would have been far behind what they are today if it was not for the Church, which was really the Irish State for the first few decades of home rule.
     However its also clear that there was huge abuse of that power, something that should never had happened in the Church. Sadly all the good has been lost in the red mist of the various scandals, which I still maintain, do not define the RCC in Ireland or anywhere else.

  • CullenD

    Then why do you keep writing about the behaviour of civil authorities?

  • JabbaPapa

    How can you “live up to” the “standards” of a civil authority that you’re simultaneously denouncing ?

    More pointedly, how can paedophiles end up in prison when those civil authorities do sod all to put them there ?

  • OldMeena

    Of course some in the BBC could have taken the view that there was nothing to worry about with Savile.
    After all he was a Catholic honoured by the Vatican with a Papal Knighthood and an attendee of daily Mass in Leeds cathedral. He was also unmarried and presumably, as a good Catholic, celebrate.

  • JabbaPapa

    “theism” is a made-up concept that has become trendy in recent years, that purports to reduce a vast panorama of religious beliefs and practices into a strawman.

  • OldMeena


  • OldMeena

    “..I haven’t commented because I haven’t got much to say..”
    Yes, I noticed that.

    But it’s not unexpected that you see matters through the same dysfunctional spectacles as Dr Oddie.

  • CullenD

    This is such a limited medium that misunderstandings are inevitable. My Grandfather was anti-clerical, but not an atheist. Some of his children, due to that influence grow up to be of various opinions, but I don’t think any are devout, or even followers. There’s about ten of them, so I lose track. My Da was an agnostic theist for the most part, but he now admits that that was the only acceptable, risk-free stance he could take. 

    As to my brothers and sisters? I wouldn’t claim causality, but it is pretty unusual to have all four siblings, born in the 70′s and early 80′s, educated in catholic schools, having a catholic mother, steeped in catholic heritage and culture, grow up to be atheists.
    (Or in my case to have never been persuaded to believe in any god) 

  • OldMeena

    “It [the RC Church] wanted conformity and compulsion..”

    You left out “money”.

  • OldMeena

    It’s exactly what you said.