Cardinal Sean Brady has decided to stay on as the head of the Catholic Church in Ireland. Brady has been ‘reflecting’ on his position for the past two months. The controversy around his position was sparked when it was revealed that in 1975 he was involved in a situation in which clerics asked two teenagers to keep secret their abuse at the hands of Fr Brendan Smyth.
Brady’s decision has prompted the inevitable back and forth of naysayers and supporters on radio phone in shows and in the blogosphere. Brady himself claims that ‘People want me to stay.’
But abuse victims dispute this, as Maeve Lewis of One in Four told the Irish Times,
While Cardinal Brady states he has consulted with survivors, he certainly has not listened to what they have said. Survivors who are in contact with One in Four are very clear that they need senior Catholic churchmen to be accountable for what they have done, and to resign."
Dublin abuse victim Marie Collins, speaking on RTE’s Frontline, said,
"Nothing is changing in the church. The attitudes are still the same despite the words we are getting,
"I met with him six weeks ago. He gave no indication whatsoever that he felt any remorse or regret, or even grasped that he’d done anything wrong in the Brendan Smyth case, that he’d left an abuser free for 18 years to continue abusing."
Brady’s announcement came on the heels of a report by the National Board for Safeguarding Children in the Catholic Church in Ireland (NBSC), which indicated that child protection standards in the Catholic Church have improved dramatically.
The report singled out the Christian Brothers for particular praise for their progress in setting up a mandatory reporting policy. As Patsy McGarry writes in the Irish Times,
Quite a turnaround, and a welcome one, for a congregation which had been denying any abuse had taken place in its institutions five days before publication of the Ryan report on May 20th last year.
Perhaps Brady’s decision should be seen in light of this rather positive report, heralding as it does evidence of some much-needed change. That said, the report noted that some dioceses were not yet up to the expected standards (Killala, Clonfert, and Ossory).
In his own defence of his decision, Brady indicated that he feels he is up to the task of moving the Catholic Church forward in its safeguarding of children,
“Because I want to maintain the momentum towards better child safeguarding and not alone that, also the momentum towards renewal of the faith, which is essential here and a big challenge.”
appoint a new bishop to his archdiocese to assist him "in addressing the vital work of healing, repentance and renewal, including engagement with survivors of abuse, as well as the many other challenges and opportunities which confront the Diocese of Armagh and the Church in Ireland at this time".
So for the Catholics of Ireland and other interested observers who are wondering why Brady has decided to stay, it seems to be because he believes he can provide the leadership needed to protect children and renew the church. He says he believes the Catholics of Ireland have confidence in him.
But I was intrigued by a comment from Collins in the Frontline interview, where she said,
It’s up to the Catholics of Ireland to decide if they want Cardinal Brady to continue being at the top of the church in this country with his history.
People know the truth, they know he is not taking responsibility, he is not being accountable. He doesn’t see any need to step down. It’s up to laity to decide if that’s the church they want in the future, if they want the old guard there.
What does Collins mean when she says it’s up to the laity, the Catholics of Ireland? In a very real and technical sense it’s not – the Catholic Church is not a democracy in which people can vote for or against their leaders. So, what options does that leave the faithful?
- Will the Catholics of Ireland who are dissatisfied with Brady’s decision attempt to forge a new expression of Christianity outside the Irish Catholic Church’s existing structures?
- Will they try to work with the ‘old guard’ for reconciliation between clergy and lay?
- Or will they simply vote with their feet and desert their church?