Resigned not to resign

A recent BBC program focused on the Catholic Church’s handling of sexual abuse claims led to calls for Catholic primate Séan Brady’s resignation. He claims that the allegations made in the program The Shame of the Catholic Church were “seriously misleading and untrue.”

The program suggested that Brady covered up cases of sexual abuse:

According to the programme, which was broadcast on BBC Nothern Ireland last night, a Catholic Church inquiry team that included the then Fr Brady failed to pass on allegations of abuse to parents of some of the vicims of the paedophile priest Fr Brendan Smyth in 1975.

Brendan Boland from Co Louth, who was abused by Smyth as a 12-year-old, claimed that information he gave on to the inquiry team was not forwarded on to gardaí.

Dr Brady, who served as a notary for the inquiry team, said today the programme makers had overstated the part he played. “It is my view that the ‘This World’ programme has set out to deliberately exaggerate and misrepresent my role in these events,” he said in a statement this afternoon.

Brady went on to state:

The commentary in the programme and much of the coverage of my role in this inquiry gives the impression that I was the only person who knew of the allegations against Brendan Smyth at that time and that because of the office I hold in the Church today I somehow had the power to stop Brendan Smyth in 1975.

He also stated that neither he or his bishop had any authority over Smyth; only Smyth’s abbot could prevent Smyth from having contact with children.

That may well be true, but it does appear that Brady made no effort to inform the authorities. Even if he had no clerical power over Smyth, nothing stopped him from picking up a phone and calling the police.

As Colm O’Gorman, director of rights watchdog Amnesty International in Ireland, put it:

Cardinal Brady is offering the classic excuse of the Nazi death camp guard: I was only following orders. This is coming from an institution that is supposed to stand for love, truth and justice.

It is not a good enough excuse to say you were not the one power or that you already did your part. As a member of the Church, one has a responsibility to protect the Church’s flock, especially the most vulnerable. If you know that someone preyed on kids, you should do everything in your power to protect those kids, including calling the police.

Time and time again we see that the true scandal here is not just that scores of children were abused or that scores of abusers were allowed to continue to abuse, but also that the bureaucracy of the Catholic Church that makes it all possible. The bureaucracy essentially makes no one responsible because everyone can point to someone else and say, “They were in charge, not me!”

Cardinal Brady may not resign, but his reaction tells us a lot about how these things happen: everyone is worried about saving their own skin when they should have been worried about the children being abused.

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