Conscience was not always a cardinal virtue for Brady

WHERE was Cardinal Sean Brady’s conscience when he helped hush-up the crimes of a child rapist?

It is a timely question, because he is now lecturing us on what our consciences should lead us to do.

The statement he issued with the three other Catholic archbishops, in response to government plans to legislate for the X-Case ruling, is big on the concept of conscience — it is a shame the cardinal’s own conscience was lacking when he had abuse victims sign secrecy agreements, instead of speaking out and saving other children from being raped.

Regarding the X-Case legislation, the archbishops’ statement says: “On a decision of such fundamental moral importance, every public representative is entitled to complete respect for the freedom of conscience. No one has the right to force or coerce someone to act against their conscience. Respect for this right is the very foundation of a free, civilised and democratic society.”

The dictionary definition of the word ‘conscience’ is: “The awareness of a moral or ethical aspect to one’s conduct, together with the urge to prefer right over wrong.”

In 1975, Cardinal Brady was part of team of clerics that interviewed a 14-year-old boy who had been abused for two years by the paedophile, Fr Brendan Smyth.

The boy told the panel about other victims of Smyth, yet he was sworn to secrecy.

One of the other victims was interviewed by Brady. The boy’s parents were never told about the interview, nor about the abuse he suffered.

Smyth went on to rape children again, and again, and again. Cardinal Brady did not inform the gardaí, nor child welfare agencies. He wanted to silence the victims.

The cardinal was not an impressionable novice priest; he was a 35-year-old lawyer.

A fellow priest close to the process informed parents — presumably acting on his conscience.

That man left the priesthood, while Brady washed his hands of the victims and rose to the top of an institution tainted with moral corruption.

When Brady’s role in the scandal emerged earlier this year, he ignored all calls, within and without the Church, to resign.

Now Brady is telling the rest of us about the importance of conscience and doing the right thing.

The archbishops’ statement, and the extreme language it deploys, will probably aid the pro-choice cause.

It brings a complex argument down to the crass and simplistic by stating: “The unavoidable choice that now faces all our public representatives is: will I choose to defend and vindicate the equal right to life of a mother and the child in her womb, in all circumstances, or will I choose to license the direct and intentional killing of the innocent baby in the womb?”

That is not the choice at all. TDs and senators will not be asked ‘vote yes for killing babies’. They will be asked to give women the right to seek a termination when there is substantial risk to the mother’s life.

The fact that neither the archbishops, nor anyone else, has yet seen the legislation makes their stance even more absurd and obtuse.

We know the legislation will allow terminations when there is suicidal risk to the mother, as that is included in the X-Case judgement, but it is still unlikely women will be able seek a termination even when they are the victims of rape or incest, unless they are suicidal.

The aggressive and misleading language used by the anti-choice side plays into the hands of those seeking to liberalise the law.

The revolting opportunism of a prominent anti-abortion campaigner, who accused the Government of “double think” for commiserating over the school massacre in Connecticut while planning to bring in legislation on abortion, is a case in point.

Where the archbishops’ statement is correct is in its call for a free vote in the Dáil on the X-Case.

This is always the custom at Westminster when issues such as abortion, or the restoration of the death penalty, are debated. There is nothing to be feared from a similar situation in the Oireachtas.

However, as Communications Minister Pat Rabbitte has said, there is plenty to fear in a “diktat” from the bishops.

Public opinion is way ahead of the timidity of our lawmakers, and light years away from the rigid dominance the Catholic Church wants to re-impose on Irish society.

Demanding a free choice on moral issues for TDs is an interesting move by a Catholic Church seeped in dogma and rigidity.

But most Irish Catholics already pick and choose what they want from the Church, and what they are prepared to give back — enjoying the solidarity and comfort of its faith, yet, in many cases, also rejecting its harsh teachings against sex outside of marriage, divorce, contraception and the extension of marriage rights to same sex couples.

Abortion is also on that list, and even after the expected X-Case legislation goes through the Oireachtas, Ireland will still have one of the most restrictive regimes in Europe.

And as Justice Minister Alan Shatter — hardly Mr Radical Liberal Feminist — has said, women remain second-class citizens in this so-called Republic, as they lack rights over their own bodies.

We still do not know all the facts regarding how Savita Halappanavar died.

We do know her husband’s version of events, in which he says her repeated requests for a termination she thought would save her life were turned down, because she was told Ireland “is a Catholic country”.

Who, with any conscience, would want to live in such a “Catholic country”, where women are allowed to die needlessly and the crimes of child rapists are hushed up, so that they can rape again, and again, and again?

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