02 May 2012

The Shame of Cardinal Brady?

Well, having had a heads-up that it'd be on, and knowing that I'd be called upon to talk about it on the radio this morning, I watched the BBC's This World documentary, The Shame of the Catholic Church, last night. About abuse in Donegal's diocese of Raphoe, perhaps the most remote part of the country, and about how the Brendan Smyth investigation in the diocese of Kilmore was handled in 1975, it was a powerful piece of television.

I watched it with lips pursed, stomach churning, and eyes narrowed and at times tear-clouded; I can't imagine anyone else watching it without feeling upset, furious, even betrayed. I’m still distraught over it.

I know an enormous amount about abuse in Ireland, knowing quite a few abuse survivors extremely well, and having read several books, hundreds of articles, and all the national and a few international reports on the subject, and even so it was agonising to witness the suffering etched on the faces of Brendan Boland and so many others as they told their tales of the horrendous abuse they suffered at the hands of Eugene Greene and Brendan Smyth.

It was, in its weird way, inspirational too. Whenever I hear abuse survivors coming forth to talk of what was done to them, I'm always struck by their courage.

In the aftermath of last year's Cloyne Report, Archbishop Neary of Tuam preached the Reek Sunday homily on Croagh Patrick, in which he said:
'A woman asked me last week when it would all end. The honest answer is that it will not end until every survivor has told their story and until every victim is facilitated in embarking on their journey to real healing, where true dignity is accorded.'
In that sense, I have to say that I'm glad the BBC has made this documentary. It's afforded some people – some terribly, grievously, shamefully wounded people – the opportunity to tell their stories, and to be heard by millions. I only hope that doing so will help them in some measure towards healing, and will help others tell their stories too.

That said, I have serious misgivings about the programme itself, which even while watching it and despite by general sense of disgust at what had happened, I thought was deeply misleading. Of course, Cardinal Brady's recently-issued statement  seems to suggest it was rather more than that.

It was, when you get down to it, two wholly separate documentaries – one on Greene and Raphoe, one on Smyth and Cardinal Brady's role in his investigation – bound together by some commentary, notably by Colm Tóibín, whose book The Sign of the Cross, taking him across Catholic Europe and deep into himself, is something well worth the readings.

The commentary gave the wholly false impression that the Catholic Church in Ireland is a monolith, whereas the reality – as I said yesterday – is that it's more like a loose network of 184 separate organisations, all in communion with each other but with nobody in charge and nothing remotely resembling a chain of command. This isn't a trivial point, because it's utterly crucial to understanding how the abuse phenomenon happened

As Ian Elliott, the Protestant Head of the Church's child protection agency said in 2007,
 'The task of organizing and motivating the whole Church to adopt and implement a single approach to any issue should not be underestimated. Authority is structured in such a way as to allow independence. No one person in Ireland can direct and require the various constituent parts of the Church to act or to follow one particular course of action. This simple fact helps to explain why it has been so difficult to implement a single strategy in the past or to apply across the whole Church the valuable lessons learnt from painful experiences.'
You'd not think, to watch the programme, that one of the people responsible in 1996 for having herded those 184 cats in such a way that the Irish Church collectively adopted the most stringent child protection procedures in the land was the then Coadjutor Archbishop of Armagh, Seán Brady. Granted, the groundwork must have been done by others, but I don’t think we can dismiss his contribution.

These are crucial errors of omission, but there were other errors too – clear factual errors. Notably the programme claimed that when it became news in 2010 that the then Father Brady had been involved in 1975 in an internal abuse investigation about the late Father Brendan Smyth, it was argued that Brady had just been an innocent notetaker. This enabled the programme to wheel out Father Tom Doyle O.P. to argue that this is nonsense, and that the transcripts of the investigation show that Brady was an investigator, even though, by Brady's own account, the transcripts explicitly identify him as a notary.

Now, leaving aside how the story originally broke in 1997, being reported on 10 August of that year in the Sunday Mirror, it simply wasn't argued in 2010 that Brady had merely been a passive notary. As my own account of the matter on my 18 March 2010 blogpost shows, it was widely recognised and never disputed that he'd participated in interviews, taken oaths, and presented findings as well as taking notes:
'Over the weekend it turned out that the current Irish cardinal, Sean Brady, had learned of Smyth's actions back in 1975. An ordinary priest at the time, Brady was a schoolteacher who had been trained in canon law. In this capacity in March and April 1975 he interviewed two teenage boys who had reported Smythe's behaviour, taking notes on the interviews and administering oaths that required the boys to confirm the truthfulness of their statements and to guarantee that they would preserve the confidentiality of the interview process.

Father Brady, as he then was, passed on his findings to his bishop, who made his decision – that Smyth's priestly faculties should be withdrawn and that he should receive psychiatric help – which he passed on to the superior of Smyth's order, the Norbertines. The Norbetines, as we know, utterly failed to enforce the order restricting his priestly role, simply moving him from place to place, and we all know what horrors ensued.'

Other than hearing the stories of the victims themselves, which stood as powerful witnesses to their extraordinary courage, the only new thing in the programme was the fact that during the first interview, that of Brendan Boland, the then Father Brady was given the names and addresses of possible victims. Of course, these would have been passed on to his superior, Bishop Francis McKiernan, but neither McKiernan nor Brendan Smyth's order, the Norbertines, acted to protect these people, with the terrible consequences we all know.

I think it's hugely unfair to blame Brady for not having contacted the families of those children directly, and for not having reported the matter to the police. That might sound crazy, but think of this: nobody, I hope, would ever accuse Brendan Boland's parents for having covered up or facilitated Smyth's abuse by not reporting it to the police. The reality is that the Bolands trusted Bishop McKiernan to handle the matter properly, and the then Father Brady did exactly the same thing.

Brady, in short, was as innocent as Brendan Boland’s parents, and I think his own account of what’s happened is well worth reading. He corrects what appears to be some serious errors in the programme.

I think the teenage Brendan Boland acted heroically in coming forward as he did. And I think he was horribly let down – even betrayed – by some in the Church, to some degree by the late Bishop McKiernan but most especially by Brendan Smyth's superiors in the Norbertine order. I don't think, however, that he – or Smyth's other victims – were betrayed by the then Father Brady.

I'd go further, in fact: I think Brady himself was betrayed, as he interviewed the boys, believed them, passed on his findings to his superior, and trusted in good faith that matters would be handled properly. And they weren't. It’s hardly surprising that he says he was horrified when he learned decades later that his findings had ultimately fallen on deaf or uncaring ears.

That said, and I hate to say it, but I'm not convinced that Cardinal Brady really can carry on as the nearest thing the Church in Ireland has to a man at the top. Unfair it may be, but he's fatally tainted by his connection with the Smyth affair, such that it persistently undermines him. I'd not say that he should resign – that's for him, of course – but I'm just not convinced he can be the leader we need right now.

He's already effectively asked to be sidelined, of course, having requested that the Pope appoint either an assistant bishop or, depending on who you ask, a Coadjutor Archbishop – a regent, if you like – such that he could slip off the scene, and I'm not surprised. Although he's done a good job in pulling the Church's disparate elements together to implement common guidelines far tougher than those of the State, it's looked to me as though his confidence has been shot ever since this story was revived a couple of years ago.

I'm just not sure he can be the man to lead a renewal of the Irish Church. And that, I think, is yet another tragedy.


Catholicus said...

I have argued previously that, painful though it may be, parents bear some responsibility by not reporting matters to the police. By going to bishops they contributed to the notion that it could he dealt with internally. But in this case, I think Sean Brady is not the same as parents - they only knew about their son - Brady knew about five children. He passed the matter on and then he left it and forgot about it for twenty years. But irrespective of his guilt or innocence his continuing in office now is doing immense damage to the Church.

DarkAvatar said...

I like your shrewd analysis of the situation. It is truly a tragedy of epic proportions that has the hall marks of a much more deeper struggle not just in the Church, but within humanity. How it plays out is up to Him. It makes you wonder though; if it were not for the hope of eternal life, the whole purpose of human existence would be truly tragic.

franky said...

patsy has some fair questions;
Why was he, a priest of Kilmore diocese, asked to take part in an inquiry in Dundalk, which is in the Armagh archdiocese? Why was any diocese involved at all, as Fr Brendan Smyth was a priest of the Norbertine congregation and, to confuse things even more, his abuse of Brendan Boland was first reported to Dominican priest Fr McShane?

Why did the Dundalk inquiry take place in premises owned by the Dominican congregation as opposed to property of the Armagh archdiocese? Was this in accord with canon law where jurisdiction between religious congregations and diocesan clergy were concerned? Was the then Catholic primate Cardinal William Conway informed that such a child abuse inquiry was or had taken place in his archdiocese?
Did anyone tell the bishop of Down and Connor diocese, William Philbin, at the time?

at the end of the day the defence "I was only following orders", the "CDF agrees with me that i acted appropriately" arent very strong although there is an intersting piece also saying the Vatican dont want him to resign cos the damage it might do :s

Fr Levi said...

thanks for this - I would have to say it is about the fairest & most balanced consideration of this sad story that I have read.

Anonymous said...

It is rather curious that McGarry states categorically (http://www.irishtimes.com/newspaper/opinion/2012/0503/1224315510225.html) that "Neither of the other two priests who attended that inquiry with Brendan Boland in 1975 – the now retired archdeacon Francis Donnelly nor Dominican priest Fr Oliver McShane – were expert in canon law." Fr (now Monsignor) Donnelly, was in fact a DCL at the time and later became one of the most senior canon lawyers in Ireland (associate judge of the National Appeals Tribunal). An older man than Cardinal Brady, he would have been the senior priest involved with the Boland inquiry, appointed by Cardinal Conway. Obviously it suits McGarry and co. to play up the role of the then Fr Brady, but it shows a remarkable lack of curiosity about the truth. Fr Donnelly would, I think, have taken a very hard line with a child abuser, so that wouldn't fit the narrative either. I can only suppose that the Cardinal has chosen not to highlight this in order to spare an elderly priest the media attention.

Anonymous said...

Long time since you last wrote! i hope you are well