Analysis

Thursday 10 July 2014

John Cooney: Brady's plea signals his determination to stay

John Cooney

Published 18/03/2010|05:00

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Cardinal Sean Brady shakes hands with a member of his congregation after St Patrick's Day Mass yesterday in St Patrick's Cathedral, Armagh

To applause from the packed congregation in St Patrick's Cathedral, Cardinal Brady asked for time to 'reflect' on his position

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'YOU are on the right road," the President of Ireland Mary McAleese told Archbishop of Dublin Diarmuid Martin on the steps of Dublin's Pro-Cathedral ahead of yesterday's St Patrick's Day Mass.

These six words of encouragement from the Head of State to the Archbishop of Dublin and Primate of Ireland was a sotto voce but warm-hearted and enthusiastic approval of Dr Martin's call for the full truth of the scale of clerical child abuse to come out.

This was a highly significant overnight intervention by Archbishop Martin in the raging controversy over the future of Cardinal Sean Brady, following the shocking disclosure of his part in the cover-up of notorious paedophile priest Brendan Smyth.

For the past four days, Cardinal Brady has engaged in a public relations battle to survive as Archbishop of Armagh and Primate of All Ireland after it was revealed he played a central role in a canonical inquiry into Smyth's abuse of two children who were sworn to secrecy.

While refusing either to back the embattled cardinal or call for his resignation, the archbishop counselled that His Eminence should "be accountable".

However, the notable shift in Archbishop Martin's position was his comment that while he still questioned if a nationwide investigation into clerical sex abuse was the best way to spend resources to improve child protection, Murphy Commission inquiries into all 26 dioceses in the Irish church might be necessary in the wake of the Brady bombshell -- indeed, "the only way for the truth to emerge".

It was this 'vote of confidence' in Archbishop Martin's compass that was being conveyed in their brief private exchange by the most theologically literate and committed reform Catholic to hold the office of president since its creation in the 1937 Constitution.

It provides a tantalising insight into what historians have called "the intimate relations" between Church and State -- God and Caesar -- that have permeated and corroded the Catholicising of Irish politics, religion, society and culture since the foundation of the State in 1921.

In this instance, the McAleese-Martin rapport is a positive mutual recognition of the morally imperative need for root and branch cleansing of the corruption which for decades enabled an arrogant and authoritarian clerical elite to harbour paedophile clerics and cover-up their heinous crimes to protect the power of the institutional church at the expense of the abused children.

As archbishop Martin escorted the President and her husband, Martin McAleese, into the Pro-Cathedral, a carefully-choreographed media counter-operation was being launched by Cardinal Brady in Armagh, Pope Benedict XVI in Rome and Smyth's Norbertine Order at Kilnacrott Abbey in Cavan.

In an emotional homily, the primate apologised for letting down victims of clerical abuse, confessed to his shame that he had not always upheld the values he professed.

Echoing Archbishop Martin, Cardinal Brady agreed on the need for accountability in the church's mismanagement of the scandals and agreed on the need to stop the "drip, drip revelations of failure".

To applause from the packed congregation in St Patrick's Cathedral -- the primatial See of St Patrick -- Cardinal Brady asked for time to "reflect" on his position after speaking with priests, religious, the faithful, victims of clerical abuse and with loved ones over the Easter period.

This call for breathing space was interpreted by some as the cardinal's edging towards resignation after Easter which falls on April 4. An important momentum for the cardinal to step down came from the North's First Deputy Minister, Martin McGuinness, an intervention that weakened the cardinal's defence.

However, Cardinal Brady's powerful plea for "a wounded healer" to be allowed "a new beginning", a bridgehead towards making the church a safe environment for children, was a clear signal of his determination to stay in office.

The key passage in his homily was that his period of reflection with the Holy Spirit would cover not only Holy Week and Easter but would extend to Pentecost. This was a subtle timing which, for those unfamiliar with the major dates in the church's liturgical calendar, comes 48 to 50 days after Easter. This year it falls on May 23.

Meanwhile, in Rome, Pope Benedict said he would sign his Lenten Letter to the Catholics of Ireland tomorrow. Calling on the church to repent, heal and renew, the letter will be closely watched in Germany, Holland, Austria and the US.

This news was quickly followed by the first apology to the cardinal from Smyth's religious order, the Norbertines, from its abbey of Kilnacrott, taking some heat away from the cardinal with its admission that psychiatric treatment was ineffectual in Smyth's case and that such a serial paedophile could only be dealt with by the criminal law.

Thus, 'the wounded healer' has bought himself a three-month reprieve in which he has the support of his clergy and flock -- and the 'Irish Catholic' newspaper -- and is now appealing to a wider middle ground for support.

But he has still to win over the four out of five people polled in both the Republic and the North who want him to go because he frustrated the police in preventing Smyth from perpetrating a further 18-year devastation of innocent children.

The public response to Pope Benedict's letter could be decisive in saving or damning 'the wounded healer'.

Irish Independent

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