One of the saddest sights this week has been watching Cardinal Sean Brady trying to defend the indefensible. He is a good man caught up in a public struggle for the soul of the Irish Catholic Church, and he is now well out of his depth.
Two years ago when the story broke about his involvement in a secret meeting with a young victim of the paedophile Brendan Smyth, I was one of the few commentators to suggest publicly that Cardinal Brady should resign.
Even then it was obvious to me that the game was up, and afterwards a number of prominent people told me privately that they agreed with my view.
However, Cardinal Brady chose to struggle on, in an attempt to spearhead reforms as a “wounded healer”. He has tried to do so with dignity and courage, and his many friends inside and outside the Catholic Church wince for this decent human being who became the wrong man in the wrong place at the wrong time.
The latest important revelations in the BBC’s This World programme have put further pressure on Cardinal Brady, and his involvement in the Brendan Smyth scandal is symbolic of the Catholic Church’s failure to deal properly with the cancer of clerical child sex abuse.
Cardinal Brady has chosen to stay on and to fight his corner. This does not surprise me. Whatever he may feel personally, you can be sure that the Vatican is watching every move.
Even if the cardinal decides to hand in his resignation, I doubt if the Vatican will accept it just now. Sean Brady is a high profile scapegoat for an institutional failure that goes right to the top.
Of course he should have done much more in 1975 when he discovered that young people were being abused. However, he was no better and no worse than his peers in a system where no-one had the courage to by-pass the Catholic Church and go straight to the police and the children’s parents.
Lest any one is tempted to take a holier-than-thou attitude, we all have known of situations where it was better not to sacrifice a career by making a stand and to push the problem up the line.
When Sean Brady’s superiors failed to put pressure on the relevant church authorities in 1975, the problem got much worse, and now that church is deservedly reaping the whirlwind.
My guess is that Cardinal Brady, now 72, will be kept in post until after the important International Eucharistic Congress in Dublin next month, and that sooner rather than later he will retire, or be retired.
However, the cardinal is under immense pressure and his position seems precarious but whether Sean Brady goes or stays in the short term is beside the point. The major problem is that the Catholic Church in Ireland has badly lost its way and has betrayed its people.
By trying to censor a popular and perceptive priest like Fr Brian D’Arcy and others in the Republic, the Vatican is showing that autocracy still rules all. But did any one really expect a hardliner like Cardinal Ratzinger to become a ‘liberal’ Pope Benedict overnight?
However, the most damning indictment this week was the Irish Church’s claim that in 1975 there were no church or state guidelines about dealing with allegations of child abuse. That is a total cop-out, from an institution which is supposed to base its existence on the teachings of Christ, who is quoted in St Matthew’s Gospel with this devastating judgment:
“Whoso shall offend one of these little ones who believe in me, it were better for him that a millstone were hanged about his neck, and that he were drowned in the depth of the sea.”
That really says it all.