It seemed incredible in 1994 that the cover-up involving the paedophile activities of Fr Brendan Smyth had been going on for 19 years by the time it brought down the government of Albert Reynolds.
More than 17 years have passed and the public is presented with another facet of the cover-up, in which the safety of children was recklessly endangered by Church leaders who were more concerned about protecting their own institution from scandal than protecting vulnerable members of its flock.
For more than 37 years, Church figures have been passing the buck, and now it has come the full circle and has landed back on the desk of Cardinal Seán Brady. The latest controversy has been sparked by Tuesday night’s BBC documentary, This World: The Shame of the Catholic Church.
The programme provided details of the testimony of Brendan Boland, who was abused as an 11-year-old altar boy by Fr Brendan Smyth. The abuse went on for a couple of years before he reported it to a priest, who informed his parents and the Church authorities.
Dr Francis McKiernan, the Bishop of Kilmore, assigned Fr Seán Brady and two other priests to investigate the allegations. Brendan Boland provided them with the names and addresses of one boy from Belfast, whom he witnessed being sexually abused by Smyth, and a friend from Cavan who had told him that Smyth had abused him.
At the end of his questioning, Brendan Boland was handed a Bible and instructed to swear an oath of secrecy that “I will speak to no one about this meeting, only to authorised priests”. He signed this oath, and it was countersigned by Fr Seán (now Cardinal) Brady.
The documentary disclosed that Brendan Smyth continued to abuse the boy in Belfast and abused the boy’s sister for a further seven years, along with a number of his cousins up to 1988. This was more than a dozen years after Brendan Boland had blown the whistle on Smyth.
“I did what I thought was most effective in stopping this terrible abuse by referring to the man who had the power to curb the movement of Brendan Smyth,” Cardinal Brady told RTÉ yesterday. Clearly, he did not do enough. “I didn’t have the awareness I now have of the impact that that behaviour was having on those children, but I did assiduously gather the notes and brought these to the attention of Bishop McKiernan.”
No effort was made to inform the police, even in Co Cavan where Smyth was based. Why?
It has been obvious for years that the actions taken were totally inadequate. As a 14-year-old, Brendan Boland understood the implications of the abuse. As an ordained priest and a teacher, surely Fr Brady should have understood the implications, and if he did not, it brings his overall judgment into question.
This scandal is primarily about the betrayal of innocent children who were disgracefully exposed to clerical paedophile abuse by the ineptitude and inaction of Church authorities. Paedophile scandals involving Irish religious figures have rocked other countries such as Australia, Canada, the US, and Britain.
This is the year of the Eucharistic Congress, and people may well ask what there is to celebrate? Of course, there are many achievements that the Church should be able to celebrate, but these will be under a cloud until the clerical paedophile scandals are dealt with convincingly.
Church leaders must accept responsibility for the betrayal not only of the young innocents but also of the Church itself, along with the thousands of idealistic young men and women who went to serve in the missions — to spread the Gospel, to treat the sick, and to educate the underprivileged. They do magnificent work, but this had been spoiled by the manner in which Church authorities covered up, and even facilitated, abuse in their midst.
“I was in a culture of deference and maybe unhelpful silence,” Cardinal Brady explained in his RTÉ interview. Surely he should not think it was necessary to qualify the silence as “maybe” being unhelpful. Indeed, a culture of unhealthy silence persists.
It seems that Church authorities are essentially gagging priests from addressing their consciences publicly. In recent weeks, we have seen hundreds of fervent Catholics protesting outside the Papal Nunciature in Dublin against the silencing of priests such as Fr Brian D’Arcy, Fr Tony Flannery, Fr Gerry Moloney, Fr Seán Fagan, and Fr Owen O’Sullivan. Too many Catholics have been silent for too long in the face of outrageous and unchristian behaviour.
Cardinal Brady’s position is no longer tenable. He should resign now.
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