For evil to succeed it is only necessary that good men either do nothing or that they get the victims of evil to sign vows of silence promising never to reveal details of the terrible abuse they suffered.
Over 30 years ago when senior clerics in the Catholic Church in Ireland — including the man who would go on to become its leader, Cardinal Sean Brady — swore to silence the young victims of the monstrous Fr Brendan Smyth, they may well have assured themselves that this was the right thing to do.
And that it would be the end of the matter. They were operating under Canon Law and will have told themselves that there was no need therefore to involve the law of the land.
For the sake of the Church, best that the scandal was kept in-|house
Good men? Undoubtedly. Misguided? Absolutely. We know that, because we have the benefit of hindsight. And because we know what happened next.
Brendan Smyth was moved around within the Church. But as we all now know, he went on to abuse other young victims and to destroy other lives.
He was not the only one either.
The sheer scale of the scandal which has engulfed the Catholic Church worldwide in recent years is truly staggering.
From America to Australia, from South America to Europe. In recent weeks there have been similar reports from Italy and the Netherlands. And now even the Pope’s homeland, Germany, has been making headlines.
But on this St Patrick’s Day, it is the church in Ireland which is the focus of global attention.
And the questions not just of what mistakes were made within the Catholic Church in Ireland in the past — but crucially what must now be done to put it right. The ultimate victims in this story are of course, the victims of the abuse.
A good friend of mine is one of them. She is a young woman who has survived an appalling start in life — and the most horrific abuse — to go on and build a real future for herself and her family.
She is utterly magnificent. And only occasionally does she allow herself to be swept back to thinking about the horror of her childhood. Inevitably she was forced to relive that again this week. I imagine the same has been true for most victims.
Where does all this end?
There is no doubt that the secondary victims of the rogue priests include the Church itself and the vast overwhelming majority of the good men and women who serve within it. The decent majority have been stained by the crimes of an evil minority.
And one knock-on effect of that is that, understandably enough, many within the Church now feel defensive and angry about how its reputation has been tarnished.
It is even reported that, within the Vatican, some now argue that the current scandal is something that has been whipped up entirely by anti-Church forces.
This is delusional in the |extreme. And dangerous.
Pretending there isn’t a problem isn’t going to make it go away.
Brendan Smyth was the ultimate evidence of that. The horrors of the past must be confronted and the details of who did what must be laid bare.
Covering up evil didn’t work in the past. And it’s not going to work now. The men who were party to that cover-up may have done it for what they believed were the best of reasons.
They may not be bad men themselves. But for the sake of their Church and for the sake of the victims of Church abuse, they must now take responsibility for the fall-out from their actions. And that applies right up to the top.