I’ve just come off the phone from talking on the Stephen Nolan Show about clerical sexual abuse of children. Dear God, but I’m weary of listening to and talking about this topic. The latest flare-up of air-time is the statement from Cardinal Sean Brady that he doesn’t plan to retire and will have a coadjudtor bishop working alongside him in the coming years.
That seems to me a pretty clear signal that he’ll withdraw gradually from his duties as cardinal, thus showing that decisions within the Catholic Church are made by its members rather than public agitation, and at the same time soothing the fevered nerves of those who’d have not only Brady resigning tomorrow but the Pope as well.
I made two points on air about the Brady decision. One, except he was possessed of extraordinary insight, Brady acted within the thinking of the time ( the 1970s). Around that time it was OK to take a child and beat him with a leather strap on the hands, sometimes as hard as the teacher felt was appropriate, and no one or very few thought it was child abuse. That’s how things were then. Likewise Brady I assume acted within the thinking of his time with regard to charges of sexual abuse. They were kept confidential (a different matter from saying the children ‘were forced to make a vow of secrecy’) and they were seen as near to incredible. The second point I made was that the whole matter revolves around Cardinal Brady’s conscience. Only he knows whether he acted in good faith, whether he discharged his duties then knowing they were not enough and that he should have stepped outside the structures and informed the civil authorities. Only he knows, and it’s a bit presumptuous for abuse victim Marie Collins (no relation) to declare that if Cardinal Brady’s conscience told him he was acting in a moral fashion, it was wrong. It also shows a shaky grasp of the connection between conscience and morality. If Cardinal Brady had acted against his conscience, no matter what the circumstances, he would have been morally guilty. I presume Ms Collins and no on else would argue that the cardinal acted wrongly because he acted morally.
Would the cardinal's resignation make a difference? Hard to say but certainly not to the recurrence of clerical child abuse. The Catholic Church in Ireland now has structures of accountability and protection in place that mean your child is probably safer in the company of a Catholic priest than with a member of any other profession in Ireland. Sean Brady's staying or going will make no difference to that - except your aim is not child protection but a clerical head on a plate.