The scandal of clerical child abuse in Ireland has shown the Catholic Church up for what it really is – a self-serving organisation that views its own laws and members as being above the laws of the countries in which it operates. The fact that bishops, archbishops and cardinals actively hid instances of child abuse from the authorities in Ireland for most of the 20th Century, moving paedophiles from parish to parish illustrates the contempt they have for civil law and the wellbeing of the children in their care. The reputation of the Catholic church was their prime concern, canon law taking precedence over the law of the State.
A few of these paedophile priests eventually found themselves before the courts, most didn’t – thanks to the connivance of their superiors. As more of these stories have come to light, the people of Ireland have gradually woken up to the fact that the organisation to which they entrusted the welfare and education of their children was in fact harbouring and protecting child abusers. The deference shown to clerics – which is now gradually, thankfully, disappearing – supported a culture whereby priests could not be brought to account for their crimes.
The obstinate denial to accept responsibility for their actions is best characterised by the recent behaviour of Cardinal Sean Brady, who is facing calls for his resignation. In 1975, Brady was involved in a church investigation into allegations of child abuse concerning a Fr. Brendan Smyth. Brady forced the children bringing allegations of abuse against Smyth to sign sworn statements preventing them from discussing the matter with anyone outside of the church. That in itself is an absolute abuse of power.
Furthermore, Brady neglected to take this information to the police, and his inaction permitted Smyth to continue abusing children. Brady has asked for people to realise that he would behave differently now, as if somehow child abuse in the 1970s was less serious than it is now. or was it because the he didn’t understand the sexual abuse of minors was wrong?
Last December, Brady stated that he would resign if he thought that any action he had taken in the past had resulted in harm to a child. Yet he still refuses to resign. Again, I have to ask: does his failure to bring a paedophile priest to the attention of the civil authorities not constitute reckless endangerment of the welfare of children? Smith wasn’t jailed until almost 20 years had passed – how many children suffered needlessly in this period? How much pain could have avoided?
From the BBC:
On Tuesday, the Catholic Church in Ireland released more details about why Cardinal Brady asked the two victims, aged 10 and 14, to sign secrecy agreements. The church said two boys were asked to sign oaths “to avoid potential collusion” in evidence-gathering. It added this would ensure that the complaints could “withstand challenge.”
The church statement does not explain why either Cardinal Brady or his superiors at the time did not share their information with the police. Critics of the cardinal have accused him of colluding with clerical child sexual abuse and pressuring victims to remain silent.
The Rape Crisis Network Ireland (RCNI) said Cardinal Brady’s position had become untenable. “Cardinal Brady is personally implicated in collusion with clerical child sexual abuse,” RCNI director Fiona Neary said.
“In recent public statements regarding clerical child abuse he did not make public his role in pressuring and bullying victims to remain silent. He did not make public his own failures to disclosure a known abuser to civil authorities.
“Sexual abuse that could have been prevented was not, and Brendan Smyth continued to abuse children.”
The opposition Irish Labour party added to the pressure on Cardinal Brady by calling for the police to investigate his role. The party’s spokeswoman on social and family affairs, Roisin Shortall, said the cardinal was “hopelessly compromised by what had emerged”.
“I believe that there should be a Garda (Irish police) investigation to determine whether or not the failure to report Fr Smyth’s crimes to the civil authorities was, itself, a criminal offence,” she said.
“I am advised that the administering of an oath requiring these children not to disclose the abuse to anyone else may also have constituted an offence.”
Brady should listen to the voices of those who were left to unimaginable suffering due to his inaction. From today’s Irish Times:
A woman who was first abused by Smyth in 1974 – the year before the investigation took place – and who was abused until 1979 said the “right thing” would be for Cardinal Brady to resign.
The woman, who wished to be identified only as “Samantha”, is now married and lives in the northeast.
“I was 13 when it began in 1974 and it went on for five years. If he had done something, my life could have been so different. The next four years of torture and hell was completely avoidable, and wouldn’t have happened if he had done what he was supposed to do and protect children,” she told The Irish Times .
She said she would like to speak to Cardinal Brady “face to face” to find out whether he believed he had done the wrong thing. But she remarked: “I would not sit in a room with that man knowing he allowed me to be raped and abused by his inactions . . .
“Seán Brady asked a 14-year-old to sign a form of secrecy – that’s what all abusers do . . . to ask a child to sign [up to secrecy] is to collude in what Smyth had been doing.
“I think those who protect abusers are worse than the abusers,” she added.
Sam Adair, who was abused by Smyth between 1974 and 1979, said Cardinal Brady had no option but to resign. “The fact of the matter is that this man knew that children were being sexually abused in 1975 and he was ushered in to have them silent, and had this in writing and in pledges to him, so he therefore facilitated the sexual abuse of children right throughout Northern Ireland, and I’m sure across the South of Ireland, so there’s just nowhere else for Cardinal Brady to go but to resign.”
The Irish Government, demonstrating the traditional governmental stance of obsequious deference to the church, has refused to intervene. Brian Cowen, the Taoiseach said it was important that the State and the Church effectively minded their own business:
“The Church has its own issues to deal with as an institution and they should be dealt with in that context.”
I beg to differ. We’re talking about crimes against children. We’re talking about how men wilfully broke state law, the law the government is supposed to uphold. Brady took it upon himself to withhold information about child abuse, permitting an abuser to continue his attacks on children. If that’s not reason for the government to get involved, what is?
Forget Church inquiries into what happened, or ceremonial ‘defrocking’ of priests. It’s time for the machinery of the State to engage and demand of Brady the same it would of any private citizen. That is, obeying the law of the land. If Brady wants to hold another state’s laws – the Vatican’s – as superior to Ireland’s, can I add my voice to the thousands calling for him to resign. And then stand before a court of law and defend his disgusting behaviour.
The Pope is coming to the UK this year and that Vatican have announced he’s going to address the great moral issues of the day. I would suggest that the Pope gets his own house in order before telling the rest of us how to behave.