Tears and handshakes mark show of support
THERE were lots of tears and lots of handshakes -- tears during the sermon and then, afterwards, supportive handshakes that were strong enough to crack bones.
Clutching a silver crozier in one hand, Cardinal Sean Brady greeted every single Mass-goer as they left the ancient Armagh seat of the Catholic church yesterday.
It was a show of calculated defiance after days of silence and a sign that he may yet resist the almost overwhelming pressure to resign.
It was also a show of support on home ground. No dissent here.
"All you need is our prayers," said one woman as she grabbed the Primate of All Ireland's hands.
"Far be it from me to judge what he should do or not do. But it's a sad situation the Catholic Church finds itself in," said a man as the cardinal stood smiling in the doorway.
Nearby, a woman stood silently, tears rolling down her face. She stared at Dr Brady, evidently wondering if he would be there for the next St Patrick's Day Mass.
Cardinal Brady had compared himself to St Patrick and reminded those present that Ireland's patron saint had confessed: "I, Patrick, a sinner and the least of all the faithful."
Some said it was the sermon of his life, rich in words and symbolism to assuage the fury over his role in the Fr Brendan Smyth case.
"Pray for the church, pray for me," he had concluded.
He admitted the official church response so far to all abuse victims had been "hopelessly inadequate" and he apologised "with all my heart" for any failures on his part.
When he had finished after eight minutes, a round of applause cascaded through the pews of St Patrick's in an act of congregational appreciation so loud that it must have been heard in Dublin.
But while he admitted to being "ashamed" and had not always upheld the values he believed in, he also used some Tiger Woods-style ham acting to add a whiff of wounded outrage to his sermon.
Allowing the words to slowly roll across his tongue for maximum effect, he told his congregation that a painful episode from his past had come before him, events from "th-ir-ty...fi-ve years a-g-o".
The key passage centred on the idea of new beginnings for the church in Ireland as Dr Brady threw out a plea to stay in the job that he has held since 1997.
Despite his mistakes, he could still be part of a new church.
"Does it allow for wounded healers, those who have made mistakes in their past, to have a part in shaping the future?" he asked rhetorically.
Those who are busy trying to shape Dr Brady's future were much in evidence yesterday and their presence suggested that the morning's skilfully crafted sermon was not all the primate's own work.
After Mass and the blessing of the shamrock, Dr Brady came back outside and said a few words.
Not that he wanted to -- it was just that most of the media had missed his sermon, having been originally told it was starting at noon, not 10am.
To his left was the church's media handler, Martin Long. To his right stood Fr Tim Bartlett, his special advisor and a powerful backroom figure in Armagh.
The primate admitted that he was under pressure to go.
"But there is also pressure to stay," he shot back after the inevitable resignation question had been tossed at him.
As he spoke, his aides tried to edit proceedings, interrupting some questioners and whispering suggested answers into Dr Brady's ear. Not quite the perfect show of free speech.
He repeated his defence that back in 1975 he had followed orders and had been merely a small cog in a big wheel.
"I acted within the limit of my powers" he insisted.
Why did he not speak up?
"I was simply a notary, recording the facts and taking them to my bishop."
"Dealing with the past is never easy for individuals, society or the church but it has to be done, the future has to be faced."
Then he was gone, back to the sanctuary of nearby Archbishop's House to gauge how his sermon had been received elsewhere.