Cardinal Sean Brady and Sex Abuse: Have we lost our capacity to be shocked?

image What will be the next headline when it comes to the Irish Catholic Church? We have now learned that in 1975, a then 36-year-old priest, and now Cardinal Sean Brady, was involved in ‘covering up’ sexual abuse by the infamous priest Brendan Smyth. This is serious: Brady is the archbishop of Armagh and primate of All Ireland, the highest ranking Catholic cleric on the island.

Abuse campaigner Colm O’Gorman has called on Cardinal Brady to resign, and we can expect other voices to join this chorus in the coming days.

Brady’s actions back in 1975 illustrate what BBC presenter William Crawley calls on his blog, ‘the culture of secrecy.’ Brady says that there were no guidelines for dealing with abuse investigations at the time, and he was heeding his bishop’s orders.

Brady has also said ‘I did not help abuse cover-up,’ and that he would not be resigning.

Justine McCarthy’s report in the Sunday Times also reveals that Brady and two others are now being sued over the incidents around the oaths of secrecy,

“The cardinal is being sued both in his personal capacity, as a priest who took part in the canonical tribunal, and as the primate. The other two defendants are Gerard Cusack, prior of the Norbertines, Smyth’s order, and Leo O’Reilly, bishop of Kilmore, the diocese where Smyth was based.”

Commenting on abuse campaigner Colm O’Gorman’s blog, Michael Nugent, the chair of Atheist Ireland, says:

This revelation is shocking (or more accurately, it should be shocking).

Nugent is getting at something here. I am once again saddened, disappointed, even angry at this latest story. But shocked? Not really.

I wonder if others living in Ireland are losing their capacity to be shocked by the scale and severity of the abuse that has not only taken place, but has been swept under the carpet, by the Catholic Church both here and abroad.

Once we lose our capacity to be shocked, what will follow? Will people stop feeling the anger, the sadness, the disappointment – and give up on the church (at least in its current form) for good?

I hope not. We need people – those who consider themselves followers of Christ and those who don’t – (including atheists like Nugent), to keep asking questions:

  • Why didn’t anyone stop to question the ethics and morality of inducing young, pre-teen victims of Smyth’s abuse to sign an oath saying that they would not talk about the investigation?

Keeping the kids quiet was clearly in the interests of the institutional church.

  • But why didn’t anyone ask how damaging and bewildering this oath would be to the victims – victims who approached the church authorities, naively expecting to receive justice?

If we don’t keep on asking questions, it will be all too easy for the culture of secrecy to remain intact.

Last month, after the Pope’s meetings with the Irish bishops, Cardinal Brady said,

"There have been failures in our leadership. The only way we will regain credibility will be through our humiliation."

Lent, he added, was

"a time of penance, and we must begin with ourselves and have a change of heart."

Irish Catholics will be watching to see how – in light of these latest revelations – Cardinal Brady puts this in to practice.

4 thoughts on “Cardinal Sean Brady and Sex Abuse: Have we lost our capacity to be shocked?”

  1. Not at all. People are shocked and horrified that he will not resign. But his resignation on its own resolves nothing. He acted in accordance with the rules of the Church.

    Perhaps he should give himself up at the nearest Garda Barracks.

  2. I am sure that some people are indeed shocked that Cardinal Brady will not resign, although latest reports show that pressure is mounting on him. The continuing revelations and Church-reactions on clerical child abuse continue to dismay me. Hearing about the current scandals affecting the Catholic Church still prompts a reaction in me, but I am no longer shocked.

    I first sensed this change of mood after listening to an edition of the Radio Ulster “Sunday Sequence” programme some weeks ago, where a studio audience and panel discussed the crisis. The programme provided a forum for the events and debates of the previous few months to be evaluated, and conclusions were drawn. Yet in spite of the prestige of the panel – which included a Catholic Bishop, moral theologian Fr Vincent Twomey, and prominent campaigner Marie Collins – and the skills of the programme’s presenter, very little significant new information came to light, which is unusual for a programme which so often sets the agenda and enjoys an influence way beyond Northern Ireland.

    There is no blame to be directed here; the lack of new information isn’t the fault of “Sunday Sequence”, but a look at the wider narrative of the abuse scandals in Ireland shows a tendency to include one or more of the following themes:
    1. Accounts of children’s abuse under the auspices of the Catholic Church.
    2. Claims of cover-up by the institutional church, non-cooperation with (or of) state authorities such as the Garda Siochána.
    3. Admissions by the Church at various levels that abuse took place, including condemnation of child abuse.
    4. Demands by journalists, commentators and campaigners (including clergy and abuse survivors) for further action from the Catholic Church, including structural reform and resignations.

    There is still overlap, and the four themes are by no means complete or definitive. Theme 3 has arisen as a response to 1 and 2. Theme 4 has followed on from 1, 2 and 3, yet has been the predominant theme in coverage and discussion of the abuse crisis for some months. The recent “Sunday Sequence” programme cited above dealt mostly on themes 3 and 4, particularly theme 4.

    Does this mean that there is nothing left to say about the abuse scandals? Definitely not: people will continue to come forward and new stories of abuse and neglect will come to light. These stories deserve to be acknowledged and followed up in the appropriate manner. The resignations of the 4 bishops and the death of Cardinal Cahal Daly in December 2009 marked a change in momentum and pace of events for the issue since the publication of the Murphy report.

    As a consequence of earlier events, I believe that a further change since the beginning of 2010 – and one reason why people are less shocked – is that many people have made up their mind about the Catholic Church. Whether it’s active rejection of the Church altogether, a defensive position, or a demand for change in the Church, new stories and comment in the media now have less power to inform people’s views, be it strengthening resolve or changing minds, because the Catholic Church has so far managed to avoid further major action resulting in change. Resignations of various figures have yet to show that the church has visibly removed its clericalist “culture of secrecy”.

    In order to avoid having the Church “sweep the issue under the carpet” and its hierarchy avoid justice, I believe it is now imperative for clergy and lay people – not just Catholics – to join abuse survivors and campaigners to repeat the message loud and clear that the Church has to change and cannot go on as it continues to.

  3. From far across The Pond, and across a continent, I for one am still shocked, but not as much as I would have been ten years ago.

    What shocks and angers me now is a situation much closer to (my) home: The appointment of a new coadjutor bishop to Santa Rosa, California who has a very spotty history (to be charitable) of responding properly to pedophilia and similar sexual aberrations. Bishop Robert F. Vasa has been promoted to Santa Rosa from Baker, Oregon, a largely rural and very small diocese in eastern Oregon.

    That this has happened more than ten years into the pedophilia scandal is simply unbelievable. How could it happen? Well, Bishop Vasa is a known “conservative”, so one supposes that his cause was championed by some other older, more senior conservative member(s) of the American hierarchy. That cause was taken up by Archbp. Pietro Sambi, the current Apostolic Nuncio to the US. Touted as a “senior Vatican diplomat”, he nonetheless seems incapable of conducting proper due diligence.

    To clearly understand the situation, one needs to know that the Santa Rosa diocese has had a sad history of both financial and sexual shenanigans for more than 30 years. Why would anyone in his right mind even consider, much less recommend, a person like Bp. Vasa to such a post? Of course, the nuncio’s recommendation had to be approved in Rome, ultimately by the Pope himself. This tells us a lot about their sensitivity and perhaps about their agenda: More of the same.

    Sadly, there’s more. Bishop Vasa is on record as bellieving in a “young earth”, i.e., he rejects evolution and, presumably, modern biblical scholarship. He has also imposed “loyalty oaths” on lay persons who wish to serve (in the Baker diocese) as lectors, eucharistic ministers, catechists, and perhaps, janitors. His “oath” is accessible in various sites on the web, and leans heavily toward the Catechism of the Catholic Church with an emphasis on conservative theological opinions about sex and the magisterium. Very light on the Gospels or the Nicene Creed, however.

    It is an absolute outrage.

  4. The Pope should resign because he was as bad as Bishop Brady (how do I still call him a Bishop)?…then the rest that stood idly by would come tumbling down as well. The “Rock” of the Church’s ledge still has too many repulsive folk that were a part of the hush brigade for that covered the churches back & respectability, rather than do the right thing. Now they should all come clean for we know who they are & know the truth now that was the silence they didn’t let on for so long. And what about when they give out communion & confession & marry a couple etc; how does that tie in when their complicity is more (mortal) sin. I say the sacraments, until they clear out the bad eggs from the church are all null & void. There!

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