I’VE been asked a lot during the last week whether I think Cardinal Brady should resign.
My instinctive answer has been yes, because I really don’t believe any renewal of the Church’s moral authority in Ireland is possible under his leadership.
Moral authority is a force for good. Not when it is exercised through power and oppressiveness, but when it is based on compassion and some degree of understanding. A society in transition, that is searching for values, needs to be able to turn to authority figures that have earned respect.
It’s that type and level of moral authority that needs to be renewed, and that is beyond the capacity of Cardinal Brady to deliver. That’s why, any time I’ve been asked, I have said he should go.
A number of people have made the point to me, in a variety of ways, that since I’m not a member of the cardinal’s flock I have no right to express a view anyway. I understand that reaction. But it’s a fact that everyone who lives in Ireland, for good or ill, is affected by everything the Church does or fails to do. Even as taxpayers we help to shoulder the burden of the Church’s failures.
But whether or not he resigns, it is really important that the defence he has offered should not be allowed to stand without critical analysis.
I’ve been waiting, for instance, to hear Cardinal Brady say “I thought I was following best practice, but I realise how wrong I was”. But even today, that recognition is beyond him. Instead, he continues to rely on the assertion that he was following “best practice”. And both he and a variety of apologists have continued to make the case that the culture of the time was different.
We can all argue till we’re blue in the face that cultural taboos existed then that made it acceptable for Cardinal Brady to act the way he did. I happen to believe that other reactions were possible, even back then. In a couple of interviews last week I referred to some personal experience of abuse to make the point that I was able to rely on the belief and support of my father, and he was able to act.
I wanted to make no other point in those interviews. Over many years I have been inspired by the courage and selflessness of people who have grappled with the pain of abuse compounded by the fact that they had nowhere to turn and no-one to believe them. Anyone who had someone to put an arm around them was luckier. But without the courage and sacrifice of people like Christine Buckley and Marie Collins we would still not be dealing with taboos as we need to.
But apart from culture, I honestly believe that it really is dangerous to allow anyone to believe that best practice was or is being followed. Look, for example, at the statement issued on behalf of Cardinal Brady in reaction to the harrowing BBC programme last week. Here’s one of the first paragraphs attributed to the cardinal’s spokesperson: “Even today, in the State’s own guidelines for responding to allegations of abuse against children, it is the “Designated Person” in the organisation who has responsibility for reporting the matter to the civil authorities, not the person who first receives or notes the details of the allegation, as Fr Brady did in 1975.
Even according to today’s State and Church guidelines, Fr Brady would not be the person with responsibility for making a report to the civil authorities. That responsibility at the time rested with the only people who had the authority to stop Brendan Smyth, namely the abbot of his monastery in Kilnacrott, to whom Bishop Francis MacKiernan reported the evidence collected by Fr Brady.”
In one sense, that’s half of the core of the cardinal’s defence. There might, he argues, have been no best practice then, but there is now. And he acted in accordance with today’s best practice, never mind the culture of the past.
Several of my colleagues in Barnardos and elsewhere have reminded me of the fundamental untruth of this. The State’s guidelines are clear, simple and straightforward. They’re contained in a document called Children First, and that’s available in all sorts of places. For anyone who’s interested, they’re accompanied (on the HSE website, for instance) by a handbook and a set of frequently asked questions.
They are perfectly clear, even precise. Anyone who has a concern about a child should take that concern to the HSE or the Garda Siochána. That’s clear from the Guidelines, the Handbook and the Frequently asked questions document. Yes, professionals should first discuss their concerns with designated persons, but they should and must ensure that a report is made to the proper authorities.
And what if it isn’t? The guidelines are entirely explicit — page 16, section 3.8: “3.8.1 In those cases where an organisation decides not to report concerns to the HSE or An Garda Síochána, the individual employee or volunteer who raised the concern should be given a clear written statement of the reasons why the organisation is not taking such action. The employee or volunteer should be advised that if they remain concerned about the situation they are free as individuals to consult with, or report to, the HSE or An Garda Síochána.”
In other words, the defence behind which the cardinal hides has no substance. It is entirely wrong to suggest that only a designated person has responsibility.
Even if it were otherwise, I don’t believe anyone who has experience of child protection, then or now, would regard the way in which the interview with a frightened 14-year-old boy was conducted was acceptable. I’m not going to repeat here some of the questions he was asked (while Father Brady, as he then was) was busy taking notes. And, of course, they were asked while the boy’s father was refused permission to sit with his son.
But they were not the kind of questions anyone would ask if (a) they instinctively believed the boy, and (b) they wanted to protect him. In fact, they were precisely the sort of questions designed to make the victim of abuse feel guilty. The line of questioning followed was utterly shameful.
And finally, Cardinal Brady made the boy swear an oath that he would never tell anyone about his abuse except another priest. How can anyone argue that that is consistent with good practice? In fact, do you know what? Article 17 (1) (d) of the Offences Against the State Act 1939 makes it a crime to administer an oath to anyone that prevents that person reporting a crime. That was the law then, and it’s the law still. Forcing anyone to take such an oath is a crime punishable by a prison sentence of up to two years.
I’ve read commentary these past few days saying that it’s the Church that’s at fault and not the priest, and that there’s a difference between then and now. I’m afraid I don’t buy it. Renewal can only begin when responsibility is taken. And only Cardinal Brady can take responsibility for his actions.
© Irish Examiner Ltd. All rights reserved