Belfast Telegraph

North-South divide helps Brady cling on

While in the Republic of Ireland calls for Cardinal Brady to quit have been deafening, here opinion is muted. Henry McDonald wonders why

In Dublin, the city's evening newspaper screams for Cardinal Sean Brady's head. In Belfast, the SDLP issues limp statements expressing concern, but falling far short of demanding his resignation.

Such are the contrasts between how Catholics in the south regard their flawed hierarchy and the way their northern counterparts continue to show deference towards the men in the red hats.

Hours after Darragh McIntyre's forensic expose of the 1975 deal which silenced one clerical sex-abuse victim and doomed other children to the perverted exploitation of Brendan Smyth, the Evening Herald did not mince its words.

'Shame on you' ran the headline, with a picture of the Irish Catholic primate accompanying it. The paper blasted the cardinal for failing as a priest and supposed note-taker in the 1975 deal to tell parents, or police, about the list of other young victims abused by Smyth.

A day later, the Herald ran a devastating critique of Cardinal Brady by none other than the editor of the influential Irish Catholic, Garry O'Sullivan, who accused the cardinal of demonstrating no "emotion or human sentiment for victims". O'Sullivan charged that it was Brady's obedience which blinded him to his moral obligation to children under threat from such a predator as Smyth.

For the editor of a Catholic publication to say enough is enough and that it was time, in his words, to "hang up the hat" is highly significant.

The sentiments expressed by O'Sullivan and the Herald chime with the general feeling of the southern populace (the vast majority of whom are still Catholics, albeit of the a la carte variety) when it comes to the Church's high command.

They pick and choose those aspects of their faith they hold dear; they eschew, or ignore, doctrinaire strictures on issues such as contraception or divorce. In many ways, the Catholics of southern Ireland are more Protestant in their approach to their hierarchy these days; they are more sceptical, questioning and position their morality in the realm of individual conscience.

One of the most outspoken voices in Dublin against the way the Church mishandled and covered up the abuse scandals is Andrew Madden. Madden documented his own years of abuse at the hands of a north Dublin priest in his book Altar Boy.

Reacting to McIntyre's BBC documentary, Madden made an interesting point, which illuminates the differences between Catholics north and south when it comes to their clerical leaders.

Madden said that Brady remained in place because he had "friends in Armagh". It was pointed that he mentioned Armagh, because it was clear he was alluding to the fact that, north of the border, there has been far less outrage over the abuse scandals compared to the Republic.

Indeed, at the time Brendan Smyth was first exposed as a serial paedophile by Chris Moore's groundbreaking UTV documentary, the response among a lot of the media in Northern Ireland was muted, to say the least.

Among friends, relatives, neighbours and acquaintances in the Catholic community, there was a common refrain that the deluge of scandals after Moore's programme were over the top, a liberal conspiracy, or an exaggeration.

Many rushed to the hierarchy's defence, portraying the volume of anger in the south as near-treachery.

Even this week, the SDLP issued two statements, one from their party leader, Alasdair McDonnell, and the other from Conall McDevitt, which fell far short of calling for Brady to retire in the light of the latest expose.

The reticence among northern Catholicism to join the chorus calling for Brady to leave his position relates back to partition.

For decades, the Catholics acted as a phalanx; they huddled together, feeling under siege as a minority trapped in a state created against their wishes.

They endured often horrendous abuse by unionist politicians and various Protestant firebrands. They felt their faith was treated with contempt and hostility. Such hostility from outside engendered defensiveness and loyalty to the leading figures in their religion.

Mainstream unionism, in its quest to secularise and become more appealing, has shaken off its Cromwellian-crusading hostility to Catholicism. The Union is no longer portrayed as being inexplicably linked to Protestantism.

In these changed times, the Catholics of the north should feel less defensive about the faith of their fathers and behave more like their southern brothers and sisters, who no longer doff the cap to cardinals and bishops.

Meanwhile, if you want to measure exactly how far the Republic has moved on from the caricature of 'Home Rule' equalling 'Rome Rule', check out Thursday's Evening Herald.

Tucked inside, amid the denunciations of Brady and the demands that he steps down, was a free supplement, The Dubliner.

On its cover was a naked young blonde man advertising the magazine's special Gay Issue, complete with ads for gay bars and a photo of lesbian Big Brother star Anna Nolan dressed as a nun.

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