With just a month to go until the 50th International Eucharistic Congress in Dublin, Irish Catholics are again reeling following further revelations of Church mishandling of abuse allegations.
The Eucharistic Congress—which is expected to attract some 80,000 pilgrims—will be the largest religious event since the memorable visit of Blessed Pope John Paul II in 1979. Hopes that the June 10-17 celebration of faith could be a launching pad for a renewal of the Irish Church have been dealt a blow, however, by fresh criticism of the Primate of All Ireland, Cardinal Sean Brady.
Cardinal Brady has come under renewed pressure to resign after a documentary aired by the BBC in early May revealed that in 1975 he had the names and addresses of children allegedly molested by notorious priest abuser Father Brendan Smyth, but did not tell their parents or the civil authorities.
Then-Father Brady—a trained canon lawyer—had been part of a canonical process instigated against Father Smyth. A teenage boy who had been sexually abused by Father Smyth gave the names and addresses of other victims to Cardinal Brady, who at that time was a 36-year-old priest.
Brady passed the allegations on to his superiors but did not inform the police or the children’s parents. Father Smyth continued to sexually assault one of the boys for a year after that. He also abused the boy’s sister for seven years, and four of his cousins, up until 1988.
An apology—and calls for resignation
Responding to the fresh revelations, Cardinal Brady said, “I felt betrayed that those who had the authority in the Church to stop Brendan Smyth failed to act on the evidence I gave them,” insisting that it was up to his superior at the time, Bishop Francis McKiernan of Kilmore, to act. However, the cardinal said he accepted that “I was part of an unhelpful culture of deference and silence in society, and the Church, which thankfully is now a thing of the past.”
Brady went on to point out that in 1975, “no state or Church guidelines existed in the Republic of Ireland to assist those responding to an allegation of abuse against a minor.”
“No training was given to priests, teachers, police officers, or others who worked regularly with children about how to respond appropriately should such allegations be made,” he said.
The impact of the documentary was clear—and immediate. All major Irish newspapers dedicated their front pages to reporting the new information about Cardinal Brady. Radio and television programs were abuzz with the revelations, with many people—Catholics and non-Catholics alike—calling on the cardinal to go.
It’s not the first time that there has been a clamor for Cardinal Brady’s resignation. When it first emerged in 2010 that he had information about Father Smyth’s abuse that he withheld from the civil authorities in 1975, his position seemed untenable. The cardinal took a long period of reflection in 2010 during which many, including many bishops, suspected he would decide to quit. He surprised many, however, when he announced in May 2010 that he would not be resigning but had asked Pope Benedict “for additional support for my work.” He confirmed that he requested support “at an episcopal level,” leading many to believe he was effectively asking the Holy Father to appoint a coadjutor bishop with right of succession. The cardinal didn’t elaborate at the time, only adding that “it’s not yet clarified if it’s a coadjutor or auxiliary [bishop].”
He has resolutely insisted that he will not resign amid the fresh controversy, although—in what could be construed as an admission that he will have to resign sooner rather than later—Cardinal Brady told reporters on May 7 that he hoped the Holy Father would “quickly” appoint a coadjutor.
Responding to calls for his resignation, Cardinal Brady said that he has “listened to reaction from people to my role in events 35 years ago.”
“I want to say to anyone who has been hurt by any failure on my part that I apologize to you with all my heart. I also apologize to all those who feel I have let them down,” he said.
The cardinal continued, “Looking back I am ashamed that I have not always upheld the values that I profess and believe in.”
“Healing will not begin while Cardinal Brady remains”
But, while abuse survivors have welcomed the apology, the man who told Cardinal Brady about his abuse in 1975 remains determined that the cardinal should go.
Brendan Boland was abused for two years by Father Smyth, starting when Boland was 12. He said he thought that telling then-Father Brady of his experiences would prevent further cases. But Father Smyth went on to abuse dozens more victims.
Boland said he gave the cardinal’s apology careful consideration for 24 hours before accepting it. But, he said, abuse victims can only heal if Cardinal Brady resigns.
“I wish to acknowledge and thank Cardinal Sean Brady for the public apology tendered by him to me and all abuse victims. I have sought this for a long time,” he said. “I also note, and again acknowledge, the offer of a private apology as expressed last November in the course of settlement negotiations in my case.”
“I hope that I may yet find the strength to meet personally with him,” Boland continued. “I note that Cardinal Brady has now acknowledged that the information I gave him regarding other children being abused or at risk of abuse should have been passed on to their parents in 1975.”
He added that “if the right thing had been done by Father (now Cardinal) Brady, and Bishop McKiernan, the unspeakable abuse of the other children I had sought to save would not have happened. Both Cardinal Brady and I will have to live with our guilt in that regard.”
“I know that my healing, and I fear the healing of many other abuse victims, will not begin while Cardinal Brady remains as Primate of the Catholic Church in Ireland,” he said.
Abuse survivors and senior politicians have joined Boland in calling for the cardinal to go. Even his fellow bishops have been less-than-heartfelt in their support. When asked about the cardinal’s position, the country’s second-most-senior Churchman, Archbishop Diarmuid Martin of Dublin, said “I’ve never called for anybody’s resignation, I’ve never done that. Everybody has to make their own decisions.”
Auxiliary Bishop of Down and Connor Donal McKeown said that he believed Cardinal Brady’s “ability to offer leadership in the Church has been severely damaged.” When asked what advice he would give to the Primate, Bishop McKeown said he would offer that advice to the cardinal in private.
One man not content to keep his advice private is influential theologian Father Vincent Twomey, SVD. As well as being a respected theologian and former seminary professor, Father Twomey is a member of the “Ratzinger Schulerkreis,” the circle of about three dozen former doctoral students of Pope Benedict who meet annually with the Pontiff.
Reacting to the latest revelations about the cardinal, Father Twomey told Irish state broadcaster RTÉ that the Primate has lost the confidence of his flock after failing to report Father Smyth’s abuse to the authorities.
Father Twomey said that there are issues which the Church must address about Cardinal Brady’s failure to alert parents.
“For the good of the Church, it is really tragic, but I’m afraid I am of the opinion that he should resign,” Father Twomey said.
Just one member of the Irish hierarchy, Bishop Colm O’Reilly of Aradgh & Clonmacnois, has been willing to publicly back Cardinal Brady’s position. He told reporters that he would be “very saddened” if the Primate is forced to resign.
“At the present time, I would be full of regret if he weren’t to lead the Bishops’ Conference in June [at the Eucharistic Congress], as he has given such high-quality leadership to the Church,” said Bishop O’Reilly.
However, like Bishop McKeown, Bishop O’Reilly conceded the present storm was likely to have a negative impact on the Church’s credibility.
“Certainly, all these things chip away and that’s regrettable,” he said.
Pressure has also come from senior politicians such as Northern Ireland’s Deputy First Minister Martin McGuinness, who said he felt the cardinal ought to resign for his past failings.
Some commentators have taken issue with the credentials of certain politicians to offer advice; in a veiled reference to McGuinness’ paramilitary past as a leader of the terrorist organization the Provisional Irish Republican Army, Bishop McKeown wrote on his Facebook page that “there are many of our leaders whose lives show that, just because you have a past, doesn’t mean that you don’t have a future.”
“It’s hard to take criticism of Cardinal Brady from many people who during the Troubles were involved in state bodies, paramilitary bodies or who shared platforms with those organizations, who did huge damage to children and their families,” the bishop said.
Brady remains in office, but cuts back his schedule
Cardinal Brady, who is 72, said on May 7 he intended to remain as primate “until I’m 75, or unless the Holy See indicated it didn’t want me to stay.”
He said there was absolutely no indication from the Vatican that it wants him to resign.
But while Cardinal Brady continues in office, his enthusiasm for the role remains unclear. He had been due to administer the sacrament of confirmation in a number of parishes across his Armagh archdiocese last week. However, his auxiliary, Bishop Gerard Clifford, turned up in his place without explanation.
When contacted by Catholic World Report last week about the confirmations, a spokesman for Cardinal Brady said, “I don’t have information on Cardinal Brady’s confirmation schedule.” When questioned as to whether the cardinal was unable to attend due to ill health, the spokesman added, “His health is fine.”
While there is a clear divergence among Irish Catholics about whether the cardinal should stay or go, there is broad consensus that the controversy is—at the very least—a distraction from the up-coming Eucharistic Congress. While hopes that Pope Benedict XVI would travel to Dublin for the event faded earlier this year, Archbishop Martin had billed the event as a “unique opportunity for renewal.” No one is in any doubt that the Church in Ireland, bowed by scandal and creeping secularism, has a piercing need for renewal.
The controversy around Cardinal Brady is a painful reminder of Pope Benedict XVI’s observation in his 2010 “Letter to the Catholics of Ireland” that the abuse scandals “have obscured the light of the Gospel to a degree that not even centuries of persecution succeeded in doing.”