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:
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.