CARDINAL Sean Brady has suffered a new blow after the majority of priests in his diocese snubbed a meeting organised as a show of support for the embattled leader of the Catholic Church in Ireland.
Just 20 of 150 priests in the Armagh Archdiocese invited to attend a prayer gathering in support of Dr Brady actually showed up -- with many privately voicing concerns about his leadership.
The poor turn-out at the meeting is the most overt response by rank-and-file priests to new allegations surrounding Cardinal Brady's handling of abuse allegations made against notorious paedophile Fr Brendan Smyth.
It follows calls by a number of government ministers for the cardinal to consider his position.
Catholic Church insiders said Dr Brady had been keeping a low profile for the past fortnight after the allegations emerged in a BBC 'This World' documentary.
Despite defending his position in the immediate aftermath of the programme, the cardinal has rarely been seen out in public since and has not been presiding at confirmation ceremonies. Dr Brady had claimed he received a lot of support from within the church to stay on in his role as Primate of All Ireland.
However, the revelation that so few priest attended the prayer meeting suggests that his analysis may not be the correct one.
The BBC documentary revealed how in the mid-1970s the then Fr Brady had been informed by 14-year-old abuse victim Brendan Boland that other children were being abused by Smyth.
Mr Boland gave the names and addresses of other children in danger from Smyth.
But despite being given this information, the then Fr Brady and his superiors did nothing to warn the parents of Smyth's victims.
As well as disquiet over Dr Brady's role in the Smyth affair, other factors also played a part in the poor attendance, according to priests in the diocese.
Priests in Armagh who were contacted complained of low morale.
One said he felt that the poor turnout "was a sign that priests of the diocese are very fed up. Many are just doing their own thing because they think it is rudderless at the top."
A spokesman for Cardinal Brady claimed the poor attendance last Friday week was due to "short notice".