Judgment on the motive behind yesterday’s homily by Cardinal Seán Brady during a Mass at St Patrick’s Cathedral in Armagh will depend largely on one’s view of how senior clergy have already handled the numerous scandals that have dogged the Irish Catholic Church in recent years.
On face value, Dr Brady’s apology, delivered in humble tones, for the Church’s “hopelessly inadequate response” to the issue of clerical sex abuse appeared genuine. Such comments were not out of place for a cleric who is widely acknowledged as a gentle, caring man with little personal vanity or cunning.
Despite having stated he would only resign if asked by Pope Benedict XVI, Dr Brady seemed to adopt a different view yesterday by suggesting his future as Primate of All Ireland would be based on his reflection on hearing the views of abuse victims and others.
But a careful reading of his homily shows that the cardinal may have also deliberately chosen not to make a direct reference to his own position.
Instead, Dr Brady asked aloud: “Does [a new beginning] allow for wounded healers, those who have made mistakes in their past, to have a part in shaping the future?”
One suspects his own answer to that question would be in the affirmative.
However, as the editor of the Irish Catholic newspaper, Garry O’Sullivan, pointed out, the cardinal’s comments about his own past failings were effectively dragged out of him.
Interestingly, Dr Brady’s homily also contained a plea for an end to the drip- feeding of revelations which could be read as an instruction to other bishops to come forward and voluntarily confess to their own role in any past “cover-up” of paedophile priests.
The desire of the Church’s leaders to prevent any further media frenzy over the past failure of senior bishops to put the needs of victims ahead of abusers is understandable. However, Dr Brady’s conversion to openness and truth is undermined by his initial reaction to the controversy surrounding his own involvement with the notorious paedophile priest, Fr Brendan Smyth,
Whether his call for a clerical “glasnost” will be heeded by his fellow bishops remains uncertain as there is a strong view that there has already been enough blood-letting among the Hierarchy following the resignation, last November, of several bishops who had served in the Archdiocese of Dublin.
Certainly, there is enough tension within the Irish Catholic Bishops Conference at the moment in the aftermath of the Murphy report, as evident by the effective silencing of the Archbishop of Dublin, Dr Diarmuid Martin, in recent months.
He has been practically invisible since his return from Rome in February where he and his colleagues met Pope Benedict regarding the Murphy report.
Encouragingly candid and transparent in his comments on the report’s damning findings of a systematic clerical cover-up, Dr Martin’s response has generally been marked by calls for people to be “accountable”, validly interpreted as code for seeking resignation.
His unease at facing questions about the controversy involving Dr Brady when confronted by reporters outside Dublin’s Pro-Cathedral on Wednesday night, hinted strongly at how his views may not coincide with the dominant thinking among other members of the Hierarchy on the way forward for the Irish Catholic Church.
Meanwhile, the Catholic Communications Office – whose director, Martin Long has been closely advising Dr Brady in the past few days – attempted to deflate the ongoing controversy yesterday by pointing out that it had first been reported by the Sunday Mirror back in 1997.
The subtext was clearly to ask what all the fuss is about now.
As for Dr Brady, in an interview last Sunday he defended his own role in meeting victims of Fr Smyth in 1975 and taking particular care to highlight how it had resulted in the priest being removed from hearing confession in the Diocese of Kilmore.
The cardinal’s failure to appreciate how inconsequential and inadequate such an action is viewed by many lay Catholics suggests he may be incapable of leading the Church forward, even, in his own words, as “a wounded healer”.