| 7.3°C Dublin

Padraig O'Morain: Why it's time for the old Church regime to say sorry - and go

It is quite extraordinary that, after nearly three decades of revelations about clerical abuse, the crisis brought about by the handling of this issue is still deepening.

Those who are tired of hearing victims' calls for resignations should bear in mind that neither we nor they know the whole story -- even after all this time.

That this is so is due to the same culture of secrecy that produced cover-ups, the transfer of abusing priests from parish to parish and continuing opportunities for these men to abuse.

That culture of secrecy now threatens to bring down Cardinal Sean Brady. On the one hand, the Cardinal, then a priest, did his duty in producing a report that resulted in having the paedophile Fr Brendan Smyth removed from pastoral duties.

However, he also did his duty by the Church in participating in a system in which two children took oaths of secrecy about the investigation.

That happened in 1975. Fr Smyth was then able to go on abusing children, not as a diocesan priest but as a member of the Norbertine order, until 1993.

The Church's culture of secrecy facilitated Smyth in committing these crimes. That culture of secrecy deprived the civil authorities of the information which would have enabled them to act again Smyth.

The rule was: what happens in the Church stays in the Church.

It has proven to be a rule that facilitated great evil and that is destroying the Church it was designed to protect.

I believe Cardinal Brady to be a decent man who was a cog in the wheel of Church secrecy in 1975 when he was involved in the canonical inquiry into Fr Smyth. I also believe his efforts to combat child abuse within the Church are sincere.

Why then should he consider his position as Cardinal? I think there are two reasons.

First, the Church is implicated at so many levels in the culture that facilitated abuse that a sea-change is needed in its personnel.

Pope Benedict himself has now been implicated in culture. When he was Archibishop of Munich in the 1980s, a priest who had been suspected of child abuse was transferred to a new position and abused more children.

The then Cardinal Ratzinger did not know about the transfer, according to the archdiocese, but nonetheless he was part of that culture.

And when he moved to the Vatican it could be argued that he upheld that culture.

It is arguable that those involved in this culture of secrecy, from the Pope down, should now step aside and make away for a radically different hierarchy.

I don't say this because I have a particular interest in the Church -- I haven't -- but because I think it is right for the sake of those thousands of powerless children whose abuse was facilitated by the Church that should have protected them.

Today's hierarchical church is dying. The question is whether it can muster up dignity in the manner of its going.

The second reason to suggest that Cardinal Brady should consider his position is that he failed to make a full public disclosure of his role in the Fr Smyth investigation until it came out last week.

He was a cog in the wheel back in 1975, though he was becoming an increasingly important cog if he was involved in the carrying out of secret investigations on behalf of the diocese.

But surely he should have told us all this as part of his efforts to bring about a new relationship between the Church and the people, especially those who were abused?

As I said above, I have no doubt that Cardinal Brady is a decent and sincere man -- but frankly it is time for the old regime to leave the stage as the ultimate act of contrition to the countless children who suffered clerical abuse not only over decades, but probably over centuries.