18 March 2010

Should Cardinal Brady Resign?

I know. It's been ages, yet again. I keep wanting to post, but I'm insanely busy, and most of the things I want to write about are things that I'd legally compromise if I discussed them here, or things that I'd probably get screamed at if I expressed my thoughts on.

Still, I'm going to use this today to get my thoughts in order on the whole furore about Cardinal Sean Brady, the Archbishop of Armagh, and thus the head of the Catholic Church in Ireland. The story, if you don't know it, and which broke in a rather muddy way over the weekend, is as follows.

The Story in Brief
Brendan Smyth was probably one of the two most notorious child molesters ever to have disgraced the Irish priesthood. Ordained a priest in the 1950s, he abused children almost from the offing, and the bungling of attempts to bring him to justice in the 1990s led to the collapse of a government. He eventually died in prison while serving a seven-year sentence for his crimes.

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he then was, passed on his findings to his bishop, who made his decision -- that Smyth's priestly faculties should be withdrawn and that he should receive psychiatric help -- which he passed on to the superior of Smyth's order, the Norbertines.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.

Response to the Story
Now, this all came to light over the weekend, or thirteen years ago for people who were paying attention, and did so in a garbled form. Early reports suggested that the interviewees were children of 10 and 14, and that one was a girl, rather than, as per the Cardinal's statement and as everyone now seems to accept, that they two were boys of 14 and 15. Reporting hasn't been clear on the nature of the oath, either -- what exactly did it require, how was it phrased, and what obligations were there on the boys to sign it?

Despite this, and despite support for the Cardinal at mass in Armagh this Sunday, plenty of people have, understandably, been calling for the Cardinal's head.

Some, such as the Guardian's Andrew Brown have said it would be best if he stepped down as head of the Irish Church, as a public repudiation of the old ways. As someone who doesn't have a personal axe to grind against the Catholic Church in Ireland, I think his opinion is worth listening to on this, unlike, say, that of Vincent Browne at the Irish Times, given Browne's longstanding hatred of the Irish Church. Despite the vast amount of good work he's done over the years, Browne's comments on this issue look to me as him using abused children as a political football, and he's not been alone in doing this in the Irish Times over recent months. Others such as Colm O'Gorman have responding in a likewise predictable fashion, but it's hard not to raise an eyebrow when Martin McGuinness, of all people, holds anyone to account for their actions -- or inaction -- decades ago.

What is the Problem?
It's worth trying to isolate the problem here. The issues seem to come down to two key questions. In administering an oath of secrecy to the two victims, did Sean Brady somehow pervert the course of justice? Did Sean Brady, in knowing of Smyth's behaviour but in not reporting it to the Guards, effectively allow that behaviour to continue?

I don't think he did, on either count.

The Oath
It was only today that the Irish Independent bothered to ask what exactly the oath was that the teenagers were required to sign, and unsurprisingly the Independent pointed to Crimen Solicitationis, a 1960s Vatican document that basically restates a 1920s one.

The article doesn't quote the whole oath, by any means, or how it works in the context of the investigation that would have taken place, and indeed it looks as though the oath as quoted would have been taken by the investigators rather than the denouncers, but even so you can get a good idea at how it was to work by looking at sections 11, 12, and 13 of this ropey translation. The only oath I can see, for what it's worth, is to be found in formula A of the appendix, and the oath of secrecy for denouncers is mentioned but not detailed in formula E.

For what it's worth, though, even the oath for investigators doesn't seem to block the investigators from reporting crimes to the police -- it makes specific exceptions for those matters which can be legally made public.

So, was this oath an attempt to pervert the course of justice? I don't think we can be dogmatic on this without access to the wording, and the claims of the Independent aside, we don't have it. However, allowing for the fact that the Church says that the purpose of the oath was to maintain the confidentiality and integrity of the investigation process, that the oath for investigators -- even badly translated -- does not require them to maintain secrecy about things which could be legitimately made public, and that an accurate translation of Crimen Solicitationis reveals that oaths concern confidentiality about the trial itself rather than about the subject matter of the trial, I really don't see that it can be argued that the oath was designed to stop the two boys from going to the police if they saw fit.

Vincent Browne is wrong, I'm sure of this. Section 17 of the Offenses Against the State Act only comes into play when someone administers an oath to promote, assist, or conceal the commission of a crime. There's not a jot of evidence to suggest that the oath was intended to prevent the teenagers from reporting to the Guards what had happened, and, of course, it's significant that the boys' parents, who I presume were already familiar with the allegations, don't appear to have been required to sign any oaths at all.

What then of Father Brady's silence in the years after he took these depositions?

Section 5.36 of the Murphy Report notes that misprison of felony is an offense in common law. It occurs when a person knows a felony has been committed but conceals it from the authorities. The Cardinal might, on the face of it, be guilty of this, although you'd have to concede that all he knew was that a felony had been alleged.

More broadly, I would say is this concerning his failure to report the allegations to the Guards. Abuse cases are nasty things that pollute people even loosely connected with them. Was the Cardinal guilty because he didn't go to the police? Maybe. But if he was, what of the victims' parents? Didn't they know too? And yet, did they go to the police? If they didn't, don't they too share in the guilt, possibly to a greater degree than the Cardinal? What of the victims themselves? In not reporting it to the state authorities, even years later, as adults, didn't they somehow allow Smyth to keep going in his vicious, wicked career?

Irish Brehon law used to have a thing called a 'crime of eye'. It meant that if you knew a crime had been committed, or believed a crime was being committed, and you didn't act to stop the crime or to punish the perpetrator, you shared in his guilt. In cases like this, a little knowledge is a poisonous and polluting thing.

The early victims of Brendan Smyth aren't responsible for what he did to children years later. They told their parents -- or some of them did -- and they told Smyth's superiors. The boys' parents likewise told Smyth's superiors. Maybe they should have told the Guards, but I've been assured by a friend in the Guards -- when discussing the pattern in the Murphy Report of Dublin parents going to the ecclesiastical authorities rather than the civil ones -- that complaining to the priest's bishop was a reasonable way of discharging of their responsibility.

So what of Father Brady, then? He took the evidence and passed it on to his superior, who made the decision. The abused children and their parents clearly regarded this as a matter for the bishop -- not the police -- to deal with, and he evidently took the same line. I don't see that you can fault him any more than you can fault them.

The bishop's decision, which was to bar Smyth from acting as a diocesan priest, to report the matter to Smyth's order, and to advise psychiatric involvement, may well strike us as hopelessly inadequate, but it doesn't seem unusual for the time. Indeed, section 1.81 of the Murphy Report is particularly enlightening on this point:
One of the aims of the Archdiocese and the religious orders was not to punish the priest but to help him towards recovery or rehabilitation. The Commission considers this to be reasonable provided he is not at liberty to commit other abuses.
Smyth's bishop, then, seems to have taken a decision that would have been seen as utterly reasonable and responsible at the time. Unfortunately, it was up to Smyth's order to enforce this decision, and it is pretty clear that the Norbertines were utterly culpable in this regard. As Breda O'Brien pointed out in the Irish Times recently, repeating a point made by the Presbyterian head of the Irish Church's child-protection agency, there are 184 parts to the Irish Church, and in reality nobody is in charge.

Should Father Brady, as he was then, have personally challenged the bishop's decision, reasonable though it would have been seen as being in the context of the time, and should he have made a point of ensuring that it was being properly enforced? Should he have spent the decades after he'd taken the evidence in trying to find out whether Brendan Smyth was indeed being kept locked away from children? Truth be told, we don't even know if he was told of the bishop's decision, or whether he simply collected the evidence, signed his own oath of secrecy, and then returned to the school where he trained the football teams and taught Latin, Commerce, French, and Religion, before heading off to Rome in 1980, only returning to Ireland in 1993, a few months before Smyth was finally arrested.

No, the Cardinal shouldn't have to resign, and he shouldn't be blamed for what happened. He's tainted, sure, but it's hard to find anyone who knows anything of an abuse case who isn't. Look at the SAVI report from 2002. Aside from finding that one out of every 250 Irish adults had been abused as a child by a clergyman, it found that almost one 1 in 4 Irish adults had been abused by somebody else. How many of us know somebody who was abused? How many of us know abusers? And how many of us do nothing about it?

The Church failed disgraceful in how it dealt with abuse among its clergy in the past, such that thousands of Irish children were abused by priests and next to nothing was done about it. At least, however, the Church is doing something about it now, such that it has child-protection measures better than any other organisation in the land, and monitoring systems of convicted and suspected abusers that, though still imperfect and difficult to enforce, are far superior than the non-existent measures the State is taking. Granted, policies are only as good as the people who have the job of implementing them, but all the Church's steps towards becoming the safest place in the land for children have been taken with Sean Brady as Archbishop of Armagh and Primate of All Ireland.
The problem of child abuse in Ireland is far bigger than the Catholic Church. Thousands of Irish people were abused by priests, but hundreds upon hundreds of thousands of other Irish children were abused too. Child abuse is a national scourge. We need to deal with it now, and to direct our resources above all to where the problems are now. If we don't do that, we'll fail yet another generation of Irish children.We've failed too many already.


Joe said...

Re 'I really don't see that it can be argued that the oath was designed to stop the two boys from going to the police if they saw fit.' I think it is unlikely the boys aged 14 and 15 would have understood what they were and were not allowed not talk about.

Rob Fuller said...

I think from reading the available information it seems fair to say that Fr. Seán Brady had no intention to cover-up clerical child abuse.

The fact remains that he was aware of some crimes committed by Brendan Smyth, who was a clear danger to children/teens, and that he apparently didn't bring this to the attention of the civil authority. In hindsight I think there is little or no question that the steps taken by the Church were hopelessly inadequate. Brendan Smyth continued to rape and abuse children even in the years before Seán Brady headed off to Rome in 1980.

I agree that as a young priest who was not in a position of authority, we cannot place the burden of blame on Seán Brady.

Still I think it is worth acknowledging that had the matter been brought to the attention of the appropriate civil authorities, then *maybe* some further abuse could have been prevented.

We, the Church, the "people of God" are called to protect the weak and the innocent. That didn't happen for the ongoing victims of the paedophile priest Brendan Smyth.

I don't think Cardinal Seán Brady's resignation is the right answer.

In his St. Patrick's day homily he said, "I want to say to anyone who has been hurt by any failure on my part that I apologise to you with all my heart."

Some of Brendan Smyth's victims in the years after '75 are asking for more -I could be wrong, but I think it is- an unambiguous direct apology to them for the suffering caused "by what I failed to do".