The head of the Catholic Church in Ireland remained under intense pressure to step down tonight despite apologising for not alerting gardaí about a paedophile priest.
Victims of clerical sexual abuse continued to call for Cardinal Sean Brady’s resignation for his role in a meeting 35 years ago where two children abused by Father Brendan Smyth were asked to take a vow of silence as part of an internal church investigation.
The primate told a congregation in St Patrick’s Cathedral in Armagh – where he said Mass to celebrate the feast day of Ireland’s patron saint – he would take a period of time to reflect on his future.
But those affected by abuse said he needed to go now.
Andrew Madden, who in 1995 became the first person in Ireland to go public with an abuse lawsuit against the church, dismissed the cardinal’s remarks.
“The notion of careful reflection is nonsense – he’s had 35 years to reflect on what he did then,” Mr Madden said.
“He’s either going to go or he’s not going to go and if he doesn’t the Catholic Church can’t pretend to be serious in any way about the issue of child protection and about reaching out to people who have been abused.”
Another abuse survivor and campaigner, Christine Buckley, said: “I still think that Cardinal Brady should do the honourable thing and resign.
“The apology, while it’s welcome, isn’t enough at this stage. He’s head of the Catholic Church in Ireland and he’s shown no leadership in this regard because he knew about this for 35 years.”
After the controversial meeting in 1975, senior clergymen removed Smyth from some priestly duties and recommended psychiatric treatment.
But critics have said the failure to notify gardaí at the time allowed the paedophile to carry out a further 18-year reign of terror against children.
Addressing parishioners inside St Patrick’s Cathedral, Cardinal Brady said sorry to those who felt let down.
“This week a painful episode from my own past has come before me. I have listened to reaction from people to my role in events 35 years ago,” he said.
“I want to say to anyone who has been hurt by any failure on my part that I apologise to you with all my heart. I also apologise to all those who feel I have let them down. Looking back, I am ashamed that I have not always upheld the values that I profess and believe in.”
Dr Brady added: “Be certain that I will be reflecting carefully as we enter into Holy Week, Easter and Pentecost.
“I will use this time to pray, to reflect on the word of God and to discern the will of the Holy Spirit. I will reflect on what I have heard from those who have been hurt by abuse.”
The cardinal has so far rejected calls for his resignation since his role in the 1975 investigation emerged at the weekend, insisting he would only step down if told to by the Pope.
His apology came as Pope Benedict prepares to sign a pastoral letter to Irish Catholics on the recent child abuse scandals which have rocked the church in Ireland.
The pontiff told his weekly general audience today he would sign the letter on Friday, expressing hopes that the efforts to address the sex abuse scandals in Ireland would help with the process of “repentance, healing and renewal”.
He said the Irish church had been “severely shaken” and said he was “deeply concerned”.
But Irish victims groups have already questioned the Pope’s moral authority on the issue as scandals surfaced involving sex abuse in the church in his native Germany.
Cardinal Brady was a part-time secretary to then bishop of Kilmore, the late Francis McKiernan, at the time of contentious episode and took notes during two meetings with children aged 14 and 15, whom he believed had been abused by Smyth.
Smyth was at the centre of one of the first paedophile priest scandals to rock the Catholic Church in Ireland.
A seven-month delay in extraditing the paedophile to the North also toppled the Irish Government in November 1994 when the Labour Party withdrew from its coalition with Fianna Fáil over claims that a warrant was withheld.
The repeat offender later admitted a litany of sex attacks on about 90 children in the north and south of Ireland over a 40-year period and was jailed. He died in prison in 1997.
Victims who were raped and abused by Smyth after 1975 have said they could have been spared their ordeal if the church leaders had notified police at the first opportunity.
Northern Ireland Deputy First Minister Martin McGuinness has said he believes Dr Brady should consider his position, while the environment minister John Gormley said: “I suppose in many ways it is a case of evil triumphing while a good man stood back.”
Dr Brady, who was applauded by most of the congregation of several hundred people today, said: “Ireland and its people have much to be proud of. Yet every land and its people have moments of shame.
“Dealing with the failures of our past, as a country, as a church, or as an individual, is never easy. Our struggle to heal the wounds of decades of violence, injury and painful memory in Northern Ireland are more than ample evidence of this.
“There is always tension between the possibilities we aspire to and our wounded memories and past mistakes.”
The cardinal added: “These are momentous times for the church in Ireland. I believe the two years leading up to the 50th International Eucharistic Congress in Dublin will be among the most critical for us since the time of St Patrick.
“I deeply believe that God is calling us to a new beginning, to a time of Patrician energy, reform and renewal.”
Dr Brady, who also carried out traditional duties such as blessing shamrock today, added: “We must humbly continue to deal with the enormity of the hurt caused by abuse of children by some clergy and religious and the hopelessly inadequate response to that abuse in the past.
“I believe the period up to the Eucharistic Congress has to involve a sincere, wholehearted and truthful acknowledgement of our sinfulness. Like St Patrick, like St Peter, we as bishops, successors of the apostles in the Irish Church today, must acknowledge our failings.
“The integrity of our witness to the gospel challenges us to own up to and take responsibility for any mismanagement or cover-up of child abuse. For the sake of survivors, for the sake of all the Catholic faithful, as well as the religious and priests of this country, we have to stop the drip, drip, drip of revelations of failure.
“The Lord is calling us to a new beginning. None of us knows where that new beginning will lead.
“Does it allow for wounded healers, those who have made mistakes in their past to have a part in shaping the future? This is a time for deep prayer and much reflection.”