Talking about child abuse and the Catholic clergy, if you don’t follow the majority line, is to take your head in your hands these days. But here goes.
The airwaves and the headlines are presently dominated by the Cardinal Brady affair from 1975. Fr Sean Brady as he then was took notes at a meeting with a young boy who had alleged sexual abuse – and, there are claims Fr Brady also was involved in gathering evidence regarding the case. There are calls from right, left and centre now for him to resign from his position as head of the Catholic Church in Ireland because of this.
OK. I’ll say this three times so no one misses it. Sexual abuse of children is a disgusting, perverted action. For clergy of the Catholic Church to engage in it is shameful beyond words. It is more than understandable that those who suffered in that way should be emotionally wounded for life and they have my full sympathy. (I know those are three different statements but I expect you get my drift.)
That said, let’s consider the facts. Is this a legal matter? That is to say, did Fr Brady in 1975 break the law of the land? If he did, like anyone who breaks the law, he should be brought before the courts, tried and a decision made by a judge and jury as to his guilt or innocence.
I’m not a lawyer but I’m going to assume he hasn’t broken the law of the land, since those most opposed to him don’t highlight any legal charge. If it’s not a legal matter, two things remain – one a question of morality, the other a question of leadership.
Morality first. Did Fr Sean Brady in 1975, by acting as notary and (possibly) gathering evidence on the case, act in an immoral fashion? There’s only one person knows the answer to that, and that’s Sean Brady. We can speculate that he knew this, he should have that, but in terms of his moral guilt, there’s only one question: did he act in accordance with his conscience, or did he act contrary to his conscience? I don’t know the answer to that, you don’t know the answer to that. Only Sean Brady knows the true answer.
The second question is that of leadership. There have been calls on all sides for Cardinal Brady to resign and allow someone else to lead the Catholic Church in Ireland. Many of the people making the calls are non-Catholics, or former Catholics, or even in some cases people who have consistently been hostile to the Catholic Church. It seems to me astonishing that those people should now feel such concern that the Catholic Church is well-led by an appropriate clergyman – i.e., someone other than Brady. Surely who leads the Catholic Church in Ireland is a matter for the Catholic Church in Ireland – and I don’t, repeat don’t mean the Catholic clergy in Ireland. I mean the Catholic Church in Ireland, comprised of all those people who are sincere Catholics. I’ve been casting around for a parallel to the calls from those outside the Catholic Church for a change in leadership and the only one I can think of is the Orange Order’s attitude to residents’ groups. Remember when they used to (they still may) refuse to talk to the groups because they didn’t like the spokesperson the group had identified? Quite rightly, the groups said it was their business who they appointed as their spokesperson. Something similar applies here. It may be that Cardinal Sean Brady is not the best person to lead the Catholic Church in Ireland. It may be that he is. In either case, it’s a matter for members of the Catholic Church to decide, not those who consider it irrelevant, those who once thought it important but no longer do so, or those who detest it.