Northern Ireland

Cardinal Brady: Political leaders and Vatican at odds

Cardinal Sean Brady
Image caption Cardinal Brady was a priest in County Cavan at the time of the investigation

Senior politicians have intensified pressure on the head of the Roman Catholic Church in Ireland, Cardinal Sean Brady, to resign over a paedophile priest scandal in the 1970s.

But the Vatican - where the key decisions on his future will be made - has its own reasons for wanting him to stay.

Meanwhile, the row could overshadow the Church's International Eucharistic Congress, due to take part in Ireland next month.

Three out of the four main parties in the Republic of Ireland and the Northern Irish Deputy First Minister Martin McGuinness have called on Cardinal Brady to consider his position.

It follows this week's BBC documentary accusing the cardinal of failing to act on allegations of abuse that he discovered as part of an investigation as a young priest.

It was already known that, in 1975, Cardinal Brady interviewed children who had been abused, and told them to keep silent about it, but did not himself inform the civil authorities.

The documentary revealed that one of those two children - Brendan Boland, who was then 14 - gave the then Fr Brady the names and addresses of other children who had been abused, information the priest failed to pass on to the parents or the police.

The assaults were carried out by Fr Brendan Smyth who went on to abuse several children for a further 15 years after the investigation, and attacked the sister and four cousins of one of the children interviewed by Fr Brady.

Fr Smyth was eventually sent to jail for 12 years for dozens of offences carried out over decades.

Cardinal Brady has refused to step down, accusing the documentary of exaggerating his role. He said he had been present simply to take notes, and that he had reported to more senior clergy whom he expected to take appropriate action.

However, his explanation has not stopped a succession of Irish politicians placing him under unprecedented pressure to leave his post.

The Irish Deputy Prime Minister, Eamon Gilmore, said: "It is my own personal view that anybody who did not deal with the scale of the abuse that we have seen in this case should not hold a position of authority."

The leader of the opposition Fianna Fail party, Micheal Martin, said Cardinal Brady should consider his position, given the enormity of the issues involved.

Education Minister Ruairi Quinn said Cardinal Brady had "failed spectacularly to protect children".

In Northern Ireland, Martin McGuinness said the Irish Catholic Church was now in a "very grave situation" and the cardinal "should reflect on the wisdom of his position".

Exalted status

The outspoken criticism of the country's most senior Roman Catholic cleric indicates a profound shift in public attitudes toward the Church that has taken place during the last few years.

The Republic's history has been marked by an extraordinarily close relationship with the Roman Catholic Church, but a series of government sponsored reports has revealed the huge scale of historic sexual abuse by priests routinely covered up by the Church's hierarchy.

Image caption Scandals of sexual abuse by clergy have cast a long shadow over the Roman Catholic Church

Just as the official failure to investigate clergy during the decades of priestly abuse reflect what was traditionally the exalted status of the Church, the outspoken attacks on it now reveal the abrupt ending of deference towards it.

Its prestige and authority have been severely damaged, with attendance falling and a widespread public rejection of important elements of Catholic teaching.

A Vatican report into the abuse scandal acknowledged widespread "dissent" from Catholic orthodoxy.

It complained that people were now content to establish their own moral code, rather than accepting the absolute right and wrong laid down by the Church.

More than 800 Roman Catholic clergy - around a fifth of the total in Ireland - have joined the Association of Catholic Priests, many of them calling for an end to compulsory celibacy for clergy, and the ordination of women priests.

But despite the pressure on Cardinal Brady, the decision about his future will be made largely in Rome.

Sacred calling

The Vatican has its own reasons for wanting him to stay. It will not want to set a precedent for external pressure affecting important decisions within the Church.

Few decisions are as important as the choice of who should serve as a bishop or archbishop - appointments that the Church regards as a vocation, a sacred calling.

The assumption has been that bishops who are responsible for mistakes in their dioceses should take responsibility for putting them right, rather than retiring from the scene.

Also, there are other senior clergy around the world who have come under scrutiny for their role in the abuse scandal, and Cardinal Brady's resignation might be seen as risking a domino effect.

One senior Vatican official has already indicated support for Cardinal Brady, and the actions he took as a young priest working in an intensely hierarchical organisation.

Its senior prosecutor, Monsignor Charles Scicluna, said the then Fr Brady "did what he should have done - he forwarded all the information to the people that had the power to act".

He added that Cardinal Brady was important to the future of the Church, insisting: "You need to have leaders who have learned the hard way and are determined to protect children."

But many rank-and-file Catholics believe the Cardinal is less a spur to reconciliation than an obstacle to it, and that however unfair it might be to make an example of Cardinal Brady, his removal is essential to healing the hurt and damage done by abusing priests

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

Focal point

This four-yearly event is formally a celebration of the Mass - the re-enactment of Jesus' last supper and the Church's most important ritual - 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.

Pope Benedict might have attended it himself, had not the Irish prime minister, Enda Kenny, angrily attacked the Vatican's record on sex abuse, beginning a diplomatic dispute with the Holy See.

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

However, if Cardinal Brady remains the focal point of criticism and controversy, that too could blight the event.

Meanwhile, the Association of Catholic Priests is to hold a meeting on Monday, in part to discuss the Vatican's efforts to "silence" its dissent from some Church teaching.

The vulnerability of Cardinal Brady will serve only to embolden them.

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