Catholic Church leadership in denial mode: Martin McGuinness

The Catholic primate of all Ireland says he will not resign as Church leader despite revelations in the BBC's This World show. Footage courtesy of RTE

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Northern Ireland Deputy First Minister Martin McGuinness has said the Vatican must "move out of denial mode" over the issue of child sexual abuse.

Mr McGuinness was commenting after a BBC documentary accused Cardinal Sean Brady of failing to act when alerted to abuse allegations as a young priest.

The programme focused on a 14-year-old boy who had been sexually abused by a paedophile priest, Fr Brendan Smyth.

Mr McGuinness urged the all-Ireland primate to "do the right thing".

"Here we had an habitual child rapist, Fr Brendan Smyth, who was allowed free rein within the Catholic Church and within the community to destroy the lives of children," he said.

"We hear that three well educated men, some of whom were canon lawyers, sat in the room with one of these children and then decided that enough for them was to report it to their superiors and not ask in the weeks and months and years ahead what happened to that man.

"I just have to say it's incredible."

He said on a recent event at the Vatican he had been appalled by the attitude to sexual abuse displayed by a senior cleric.

"I also think there's a huge responsibility on Rome and on the leadership of the Catholic Church to take a grip of this situation and move out of the denial mode that they appear to be in," he said.

Earlier, one of Ireland's leading theologians has said Cardinal Brady should resign as Catholic primate of all-Ireland.

Fr Vincent Twomey, a former Professor at Maynooth College, told RTE that Cardinal Brady has lost his moral authority.

Cardinal Brady is accused of failing to do enough when alerted to abuse allegations when he was a priest.

Meanwhile, a Catholic Church spokesman has rejected reports that the cardinal wanted to step down in 2010.

"No such offer of resignation was made," he said.

There is a lot at stake for the Vatican, with the important International Eucharistic Congress due to take place in Ireland early next month.

This four-yearly event is formally a celebration of the mass ...and in particular what Roman Catholics believe is the "real presence" of Jesus in the blessed bread and wine shared by the congregation.

But it is also a huge convention, bringing Roman Catholics together from across the world for worship and discussion - on this occasion on the 50th anniversary of the inauguration of the Second Vatican Council which made profound reforms in the Church.

The loss of the Church's leader so close to the event could overshadow the Congress.

On Tuesday, a BBC documentary revealed that in 1975, a 14-year-old boy who had been sexually abused by a paedophile priest, Fr Brendan Smyth, gave the then Fr Brady the names and addresses of other children who had been abused.

It said Fr Brady did not pass on the details to the police or parents.

On Friday, Helen McGonigle, an American lawyer, who is a victim of Brendan Smyth, also said Cardinal Brady should resign.

She said she was "outraged" by the cardinal's reaction and said she felt for Brendan Smyth's victims.

She said she knew the cardinal was standing by his statement that he had "acted and recorded the information and passed it on".

"But the analogy I draw is you see a burning building with children inside and you say that you have called your boss and you have told them," she added.

"There are children inside a burning building and then you see that no-one is coming to rescue the children in the burning building why don't you call the fire department and the police?"

Investigation

On Thursday, Police Service of Northern Ireland Assistant Chief Constable George Hamilton said detectives would look at the documentary to assess whether it should be included in their investigation into institutional abuse.

"For the last number of months there has been an investigation ongoing under an operation called Operation Charwell into alleged institutional abuse and this is really the context in which we will examine the material that was made available through the BBC documentary," he said.

"Before we launch into an investigation or make knee-jerk responses to that, we will take an objective, evidence-based assessment of the material that was in that programme."

Meanwhile, on Friday, Fr Gerard Cusack, abbot of the Norbertine Order at Kilnacrott Abbey in County Cavan, of which Father Brendan Smyth was a member, said he felt Cardinal Brady should not resign.

"I think it is a difficult decision for Cardinal Brady, I would be supporting him in his efforts to continue," he told Northern Sound radio.

"I think he should hold on.

"I think he has moral authority, he has called himself a wounded healer in the past and he is."

Fr Cusack, who was not abbot at Kilnacrott Abbey when Brendan Smyth was there, said the order was "gravely sorry" for what had happened.

He also said it was endeavouring to help with counselling and was prepared to meet anybody.

Fr Cusack said the order had "helped a lot of people with out-of-court settlements".

The abbot said Brendan Smyth was "a difficult man".

"It is only now we can see how he was grooming victims, little did we know he was abusing these people," he said.

"Very few people were aware of the cunning nature of people with this disease, it is a real affliction."

Fr Cusack said that Brendan Smyth had been taken to a number of psychiatrists on the island of Ireland for treatment.

"Every effort was made to get the best professional treatment for Brendan Smyth," he said.

"We did our best, but our best was not good enough."

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