by Frank Schnittger
Mon Mar 15th, 2010 at 08:30:58 AM EST
Cardinal Sean Brady
Father Brendan Smyth
, Primate of all Ireland, presided over an investigation into the activities of the paedophile priest Father Brendan Smyth
in 1975 at which the abused children aged 10 and 14 were made to swear an oath of secrecy and not report their abuse to the civil authorities. Fr. Smyth was banned from hearing confessions in the diocese but was moved to other dioceses where he went on to abuse a total of 74 children for another two decades until he was finally brought to book in 1994.
Today, on the national radio, the spokesman for the Catholic Church, Monsignor Dooley, a former professor of Canon Law, argued that Priests are in the same privileged position as lawyers who are not required to report their suspicions that their clients may have committed a crime. A priest is bound by the secrecy of the confessional, he argued, despite the fact that the investigation over which Cardinal Brady presided was not conducted under the seal of the confessional.
But surely, even if you accept that rather dubious point, it is a criminal conspiracy to cover up a crime and to bind others to do so - for which a lawyer, too, would be liable to prosecution? Cardinal Brady, meanwhile, falls back on the old defence that it is unfair to judge people on their actions of 35 years ago by the standards of today - again forgetting that it was the Catholic Church who enforced the standards of 35 years ago, and that it was as much a crime to commit paedophilia and to cover up such crimes 35 years ago as it is today.
Needless to say, no criminal proceedings against Cardinal Brady are impending or expected. Monsignor Dooley argues that it was the Gardai who were at fault for not bringing a prosecution against Father Smyth earlier, despite the fact that it was Cardinal Brady who ensured that vital evidence was withheld from them.
What is even more amazing is that Cardinal Brady feels there is no reason why he should resign even though he has previously said he would resign if it could be shown that his actions or inactions led to more children being abused. Clearly, he feels he can rely on the precedent set by his leader, Pope Benedict, who presided over the cover-up of child abuse during his time as Archbishop of Munich.
Mary Raftery, writing in the Irish Times, argues that the fundamental problem is not the vow of celibacy, but the vow of obedience, and that Path the cardinal must follow is clear
When clerics are shown to have blatantly breached the principles they preach, they must accept the consequences and resign
THERE IS a phenomenon known as a religious conscience. It is an entirely different animal to the consciences which you and I as ordinary people are expected to have and to heed. Both types tell us - at least in theory - what is right and what is wrong. But the religious conscience marches to a different drum.
Its beat fills the ears of most bishops, priests and brothers, and it drowns out other sounds. It tells them that the most important determinants of what is right and what is wrong are the vows or promises which they made on ordination. Follow these, they are told, and you will inherit the kingdom of God.
All very fine, you might say. Surely no vow or promise could include an instruction to cover up the sexual abuse of a child by anyone? Nor be interpreted to prohibit the reporting of a crime to the police?
But strange as it might seem, it is in fact these vows - or at least one of them - which is a key reason why the Catholic Church has at its highest levels become so entangled in the deceitful web it has made to hide and protect the criminals in its midst.
What lies at the heart of the church's failures is not, as many people assume, the vow of celibacy - it is, rather, that of obedience.
And obedience is writ large over the latest scandal to hit the church. Cardinal Seán Brady is at pains in his statement yesterday to emphasise that his involvement in the meetings at which victims of serial child rapist Brendan Smyth were asked to swear an oath of secrecy was "at the direction of bishop McKiernan", his then boss as bishop of Kilmore.
That this concept of obedience has had such a fundamentally corrupting influence on every level of church governance is a reality that priests, nuns and bishops have been slow to realise. But it is now on the point of imploding as a central tenet of a church whose supreme leader, Pope Benedict, has himself become implicated in the cover-up of child sex abuse when he was archbishop of Munich.
As far as Cardinal Brady is concerned, the path he must follow is clear. The Nuremberg "only following orders" defence did not work in 1945, and it should not be permitted to work now. Society has a right to expect that individuals should take responsibility for their own actions.
Ireland has moved on a long way in the past 35 years, but many legacies of the ancien regime remain. For instance the Catholic Church still manages 90% of the primary schools in the country and controls the appointment of Principals and teachers despite the fact that all salaries are paid for by the state out of taxpayers money.
In many parts of the country it is impossible to send your child to a non-religious school. This imprinting of the young is central to the power base of the church which means that the church has maintained management control long after virtually all teachers have become secular, lay, and (oh the horror) non-practising in many instances.
And under the current craven government of Brian Cowen, nothing very much is going to happen about that state of affairs any time soon.