| 17.3°C Dublin

Cardinal will only step down if told to do so by Pope

The head of the Catholic Church in Ireland, facing calls to resign over revelations that he did not report complaints against a paedophile priest to police, said today that he will only step down if told to by the Pope.

Catholic primate Cardinal Sean Brady defended his role at a 1975 meeting where children abused by sex offender Father Brendan Smyth were asked to take a vow of silence.

For the second day in a row, he resisted calls for his resignation and said that, while he would act differently today if faced with the same situation, he had obeyed church law at the time by reporting his findings to a bishop.

Colm O'Gorman, who founded child abuse support group One In Four, said Dr Brady rose through the ranks in the Catholic Church hierarchy while Smyth continued to rape and abuse children for 18 years.

Asked why he did not see it as a moral obligation to ensure the police were alerted, the Catholic primate said today: "Yes, I knew that these were crimes, but I did not feel that it was my responsibility to denounce the actions of Brendan Smyth to the police." He said he had helped gather evidence for the church to stop Smyth operating as a priest, and that thereafter it was the relevant bishop, plus Smyth's religious order, who had responsibility for the case.

"Now I know with hindsight that I should have done more, but I thought at the time I was doing what I was required to do. Not just that, but most effectively, I can tell you, I acted with great urgency to get that evidence and to produce it and I believed that in doing so I was following the most effective route to have this stopped and that was my main concern and always has been - the safety of children," he said.

Dr Brady claimed that wider society handled child abuse cases differently in the 1970s.

"There was a culture of silence about this, a culture of secrecy, that's the way society dealt with it."

Pressed on the calls for his resignation, he added: "I will only resign if asked by the Holy Father."

Asked if he had reconsidered resigning as a result of criticisms made since his initial refusal to step down yesterday, he said: "Certainly not. I have heard other calls for me to stay. I have been very heartened by those calls, calls of support, to stay and to continue the work of addressing this most difficult problem.

"There are lots of calls here in Armagh, where I serve, in the form of phone calls and emails from priests and people around the country."

The Catholic primate had previously said that bishops who were responsible for managing abuse cases, but who had failed to alert the authorities, should resign.

Today he said: "The fact is that, 35 years ago, I was not a manager, I was recording secretary with no decision-making power, and the question of my resignation... I discharged my responsibilities then, which was to collect evidence... in church investigations, to determine what action the church itself would take against Brendan Smyth. I did that, I acted."

He said that, within three weeks, church authorities withdrew Smyth's rights to act as a priest. The move, however, did not prevent Smyth from targeting further children.

But the Cardinal said: "I played my part, the part I had 35 years ago, as a priest recording secretary to the best of my ability. We are now judging the behaviour of 35 years ago by the standards we set today and I don't think that is fair and it's not applied to other sectors of society."

The Cardinal - then a part-time secretary to the then Bishop of Kilmore, the late Bishop Francis McKiernan - took notes during two meetings with children who he believed had been abused by Smyth.

The senior churchman told BBC Radio Ulster that his actions in 1975 had been part of a process which removed the shamed cleric's licence to act as a priest. He maintained that Smyth's Norbertine order was otherwise responsible for him.

Smyth was at the centre of one of the first paedophile priest scandals to rock the Catholic Church in Ireland.

A seven-month delay in extraditing Smyth to Northern Ireland also collapsed Ireland's Government in November 1994 when the Labour Party withdrew from its coalition with Fianna Fail over claims that a warrant was withheld.

The prolific offender later admitted a litany of sex attacks on about 90 children in the North and South of Ireland over a 40-year period and was jailed - where he died in 1997.

Later, in a separate interview, Cardinal Brady said he was a school teacher at St Patrick's College in Cavan at the time of the interviews and a "very part-time secretary" to the bishop.

Although the evidence was not given to the gardai, the senior churchman said he felt he had carried out his duties.

"Thirty-five years ago we were in a different world. We had no guidance, we were in uncharted territory. Now we have higher standards, thankfully," he said.

"Certainly I would not act in the same way now as I did then.

"I repeat that I was not the manager. I was not bishop then. I did act, that's the most important thing, and acquired the evidence which allowed Bishop McKiernan to act decisively."

The Cardinal told RTE Radio that he passed the information "to the man who had the power to act".

"My focus was on the task I had been given, which was to assist in a canonical investigation, in other words a church investigation," the Cardinal said.

"I felt I did my duty.

"I think it's not fair to judge actions of 35 years ago with the standards we are following today."

The Cardinal said there had been a culture of secrecy and silence in society regarding child abuse at the time, not just in the church.

"Now we act differently and, of course, the first thing we have to do is report to the statutory authorities. We are well aware of that, that this is a crime and that it should be reported and we are not above the law," he said.

PA Media