The Vatican has miserably failed the victims of child sex abuse within the Catholic Church, Martin McGuinness has claimed.
Amid continuing calls for Irish Primate Cardinal Seán Brady to resign over his involvement in a controversial Church probe that did not stop notorious paedophile priest Brendan Smyth’s reign of abuse, Stormont’s Deputy First Minister today shifted focus to Rome’s attitude to historic clerical sex crimes.
“The issue of Cardinal Brady’s position in all of this is important for a lot of people but of more importance to me is the attitude that pertains in the Vatican and I believe that the major failing that exists in the Catholic Church resides in the Vatican,” said the Sinn Féin politician.
Mr McGuinness hit out at how Rome had approached previous inquiries into abuse scandals and warned the Catholic authorities that if they failed to co-operate with a forthcoming investigation into institutional abuse in Northern Ireland they would be compelled to do so.
He also noted calls from Dublin Archbishop Diarmuid Martin for an independent inquiry specifically on the Smyth case. The sex attacker, who died in 1997, was able to continue to abuse children for almost two decades after concerns were first raised with the Church in the 1970s.
The Sinn Féin MP and MLA claimed recent attempts by the Vatican to censure progressive priests was an attempt to deflect attention from its failings on abuse.
Yesterday Cardinal Brady apologised to one of Smyth’s victims.
Brendan Boland was among those targeted by the predatory sex attacker in 1975.
But the primate said he had no intention of resigning, despite pressure from those who believe the then relatively junior cleric did not do enough once allegations about Smyth were raised with him.
Mr McGuinness has urged the cardinal to reflect on his position, but during Assembly question time he said he was more concerned with the attitude of the Vatican to sex abuse.
“What is of more importance (than Cardinal Brady’s future) is the attitude of the Catholic Church in the Vatican and how it has miserably failed the victims of child sex abuse,” he said.
A BBC documentary last week uncovered revelations about the internal Church investigation into Smyth in 1975.
Cardinal Brady, then a 36-year-old priest, was involved in the interview with Mr Boland, then a teenage boy, when he outlined Smyth’s crimes and gave the names of other children who were at risk from the paedophile.
The cleric passed the allegations to his superiors but did not inform police or the children’s parents.
Dr Brady has said he now realised that the parents of children who were being abused by Smyth should have been told of the allegations.
Mr McGuinness, who said he was a practising Catholic who loved his church, expressed hope that the hierarchy would fully co-operate with the future inquiry into historic institutional abuse in the North.
But he warned: “In order to guard against anyone not fully co-operating with the inquiry we will ensure that the inquiry has full power to compel people and documents.”
Commenting on recent action taken by the Church to censure outspoken liberal clerics, among them the high-profile Co Fermanagh author and journalist Fr Brian D’Arcy, Mr McGuinness accused the Church of trying to silence progressive priests and deflect attention away from Church failings.
He said there had also been an effort to silence politicians.
“We have no intention whatsoever of being silenced,” he added.
Mr McGuinness said he had first-hand experience of the Vatican’s failings and recalled an encounter with a senior cleric in Rome when he attended the elevation ceremony of Cardinal Brady.
“I was speaking to a Monsignor who railed against the people of Boston who he said ran Cardinal Bernard Law out of Boston over his failure to confront child abuse in his diocese,” he said. “So I know where the problem resides.”
Addressing the Assembly, Mr McGuinness supported calls from Archbishop Martin, whom he described as a “colossus”, for an inquiry into the Smyth case.
“He is someone who understands absolutely what is going on and what is required to put it right and of course he has called for the establishment of a commission of inquiry north and south into the Father Brendan Smyth case to establish exactly what was the role of the churches and the bishops and indeed the statutory agencies, agencies like the Garda in the south and the RUC (Royal Ulster Constabulary) in the north.
“So that is something that we have to take on board because I think that the way in which the trail of destruction which it appears lasted from well before 1975 right through to the early 1990s raises all sorts of questions as to how this monster was handled by the Church.”
Mr McGuinness said he was particularly appalled that Smyth’s powers to take confession and mass were restored to him nine years after the 1975 probe.
“This was an absolutely atrocious, diabolical decision which undoubtedly left many, many more young people open to the prey of this serial and habitual rapist,” he said.