In the latest and most shocking cover-up yet in the long litany of priest paedophile scandals in a demoralised Irish Catholic Church, Cardinal Sean Brady is determined to stay on as Archbishop of Armagh and Primate of All Ireland — and to use the civil law to do so.
The 70-year-old cardinal is clinging on to high ecclesiastical office as he contests a legal action against him personally and as leader of the Irish church in Dublin’s High Court.
The action is being taken by a female victim of Ireland's most notorious clerical child abuser, the late Fr Brendan Smyth.
Now an adult, she is suing the cardinal who gagged her from informing the police 35 years ago that Smyth brutalised and sexually abused her between 1970 and 1975.
The legal case against the cardinal is that in 1975 — when he was secretary to the Bishop of Kilmore — he solemnly imposed secrecy under Canon Law on the then 14-year-old girl and an altar boy who was another of at least 20 victims of Smyth.
Smyth was a Norbertine monk whose abbey of Kilnacrott is in the Cavan diocese.
Brady, then a 36-year-old priest, was no country bumpkin.
He was a college professor with a doctorate in Canon Law from the esteemed Lateran University in Rome.
He was directly involved in enforcing secrecy on and the intimidation of Smyth's child victims.
The embattled Brady's principal defence is that he was acting under instructions as the secretary of his boss, the then Bishop of Kilmore, the late Francis McKiernan.
This is known as the ‘Nuremberg Defence', which tries to disclaim responsibility for one's actions by appealing to a defence that one was carrying out the orders of a superior — in the case of Cardinal Brady, his ecclesiastical superior.
It is associated with arguments of Nazi war criminals who pleaded that their part in the Holocaust against the Jews during the Second World War was carried out on the orders of their Fuhrer, Adolf Hitler.
But as Catholic activist Brendan Butler points out, Article IV of the Principles of Nuremberg, adopted by the UN International Law commission in 1950, outlawed this now discredited defence.
It is discredited everywhere except in the Universal Church, which |continues to operate under its secretive and medieval system of Canon Law, which makes victims of priest rapes swear confidentiality under the pain of excommunication.
It is an argument which the High Court of a national jurisdiction, whose government has signed up to the UN principles, will be obliged to throw out as inadmissible.
If Cardinal Brady's defence is rejected by the High Court, as surely it must be under UN and current Irish law, he could face a criminal prosecution that would land him in jail as Ireland's first felon ‘Prince of the Church'.
In the meantime, Cardinal Brady has launched a news management offensive to portray his conduct as meritorious in the culture of the time, claiming that within three weeks of the submission of his report on the victims whose credibility he endorsed, Bishop McKiernan acted “immediately” to withdraw Fr Smyth's faculty of hearing confessions because he was a danger to children.
However, such a sanction had limited effect as Fr Smyth owed obedience to his abbot Kevin Smith who, as Chris Moore first revealed in his 1995 book ‘Betrayal of Trust', allowed Smyth to continue offending in Belfast and in American dioceses.
Moore’s book also highlighted the ineffectual handling of the Smyth |affair by both the late Bishop McKiernan, a historian who relied heavily on Brady as a confidante and Canon Law adviser, and the late Cardinal Cahal Daly, who was Bishop of Down and Connor in the 1980s. It was not until 1990 that Daly reported Smyth to the Royal Ulster Constabulary, which was already gathering mounting evidence against the pervert monk.
Cardinal Brady's assertions that |he was not the diocese's “designated person” to report Smyth to the |gardai is puzzling indeed, as this is a position which has evolved in more recent church child protection guidelines, which up to 1995 were ignored by Cardinal Desmond in the Dublin Archdiocese.
No-one doubts that Cardinal Brady has done an enormous amount of good in drawing up and improving the guidelines and that he would like to stay on to see this process through, especially after the publication of Pope Benedict's Lenten Letter.
Sean Brady said last December that if he found himself in a situation where he was aware that any failure to act had allowed or meant that other children were abused, he would resign.
That moment has come.
John Cooney is the Irish Independent religious affairs correspondent