Cardinal Sean Brady, Roman Catholic Primate of All Ireland, should resign today. Last December he told RTE that he would resign if a child had been abused as a result of a failure on his part.
He has now admitted that he attended meetings in 1975 at which teenage victims of the paedophile priest Father Brendan Smyth were sworn to silence about the crimes committed against them.
At the time Cardinal Brady was a priest, and was investigating the complaints in his capacity as Secretary to the Bishop of Kilmore. Brady now says that he believed the victims were telling the truth but was only following orders from his Bishop in how he dealt with them. The Cardinal’s office said yesterday:
“In 1975, Fr Sean Brady, as he then was, was the part-time secretary to the then Bishop of Kilmore, the late Bishop Francis McKiernan. At the direction of Bishop McKiernan, Fr Brady attended two meetings: in the Dundalk meeting Fr Brady acted as recording secretary for the process involved and in the Ballyjamesduff meeting he asked the questions and recorded the answers given. At those meetings the complainants signed undertakings, on oath, to respect the confidentiality of the information gathering process. As instructed, and as a matter of urgency, Fr Brady passed both reports to Bishop McKiernan for his immediate action.”
As it happens, Bishop McKiernan’s “immediate action” was to report the matter to Smyth’s Abbott and withdraw Smyth’s right to hear confessions, but not to tell the police about the crimes that he was aware of. Cardinal Brady’s statement last December, which ironically was made when he was putting pressure on the Bishop of Limerick to resign over similar allegations, was:
“I would remember that child sex abuse is a very serious crime and very grave and if I found myself in a situation where I was aware that my failure to act had allowed or meant that other children were abused, well then, I think I would resign.”
Well, that is exactly the position Cardinal Brady now finds himself in. Father Brendan Smyth continued to sexually abuse children for almost two decades after those meetings with Brady. Cardinal Brady is now (and has for many years been) aware that his failure to act allowed or meant that other children were abused by one of Ireland’s most notorious paedophile priests.
Decades of sexually abusing children
It is not surprising that the then Father Brady believed the victims of Smyth’s crimes were telling the truth. Father Brendan Smyth had been sexually abusing children from at least the late 1950s. Whenever he faced complaints, the Church moved him to another diocese or another country. He was sent to and sent back from dioceses in Scotland, Wales, Rhode Island, North Dakota and various parts of Ireland.
A Father Bruno Mulvehill later told UTV’s Counterpoint show that father Smyth’s tendencies were common knowledge within his order in the 1960s. Father Mulvehill once found a decree from the Vatican in Smyth’s room, warning that Smyth was not to be left alone with children. And Father Mulvehill had written in 1974 to the Bishop of Kilmore (on whose behalf Father Brady met Smyth’s victims in 1975) saying:
“Ever since 1964 I have known that a member of the community, Father Brendan Smyth, is misbehaving: he is molesting children who attend bingo sessions. Two of them who are superficially known to me have told me of their troubles. I have brought the matter to the attention of the abbot but to no avail.”
The Bishop later denied receiving this letter, but admitted that he had known about Smyth’s behaviour since 1975. He said he had investigated the matter, substantiated the complaints, reported the matter to Smyth’s Abbott, and withdrawn Smyth’s right to hear confessions, but had not told the police.
Because of this lack of action by both the then Father Brady and his then Bishop, it took another two decades, until 1994, before the Belfast Crown Court jailed Smyth for four years after he pleaded guilty to sexually abusing children for more than three decades between 1964 and 1988. The children included both boys and girls, and were aged between eight and fourteen.
Two examples of Smyth’s horrific behaviour: he repeatedly abused one orphan girl for five years between 1972 and 1977, until she ran away from the home. When she was returned, she was moved to another home in the country, and Smyth came to see her there. And in one convent school, where Smyth had no function, he would call and ask for one of the girls to be sent to him in a private room. The girl would be brought from her class and Smyth would sexually abuse her. He was banned from the convent when one of the girls complained, but was back doing the same thing in the same convent ten years later.
In 1996, the Irish Director of Public Prosecutions told Smyth’s solicitor that his client would face another sixty charges of sexual abuse of children in the Republic of Ireland when he finished his jail term in Northern Ireland. In fact, Smyth was to plead guilty to another 74 charges of assaults in the Republic over a 35-year period to 1993. He had assaulted children in a hotel, a cinema, a convent and other venues in nine different counties.
Father Smyth died of a heart attack in prison in August 1997. The following Sunday, a number of people walked out of a mass in Sligo when their local priest, Father Sean Page, included Smyth in in his prayers for the dead. Father Page said that what Smyth had done was serious, but it was a matter between him and God.
Untrue statements by Church spokespersons
As an aside, after Smyth was jailed in 1994, two Catholic Church spokespersons made untrue statements to the media. The head of the Catholic Press Office, Jim Cantwell, told the Irish Times that the then Primate of All Ireland, Cardinal Cahal Daly, had no intention of resigning:
“In the case of father Brendan Smyth, the Cardinal was only ever aware of one complaint and with regard to that he took the appropriate action by drawing the matter to the attention of his Superior, Father Kevin Smith, who gave assurances about Father Brendan Smyth”.
Yet, on the UTV Counterpoint programme that followed the case, journalist Chris Moore produced a letter from Cardinal Daly to the family of one of Smyth’s victims:
“There have been complaints about this priest before, and once I had to speak to the superior about him. It would seem that there has been no improvement. I shall speak to the superior again.”
And after the head of the Norbertines (Father Smyth’s Order) in Ireland resigned, the Dutch Abbot General of the Order, Father Marcel Van de Ven, met in Rome with Cardinal Daly.
The Abbot General denied that the meeting had happened, and only admitted it after a spokesperson for Cardinal Daly said it had. Van de Ven claimed that he had not lied because the church protocol was that he should not speak before the Cardinal did.
He said he had since rang the Cardinal and asked if it was known that they had met, and the Cardinal had said it was known, so he (the Abbot General) could now confirm it. “I hope you do not consider that as a lie,” he added.
Ireland’s most notorious paedophile priest
The behavior over the coming days of Cardinal Daly’s successor, Cardinal Sean Brady, should be viewed in the context of all of the above.
Brady may have spent several years working in Rome after his meeting with Father Smyth in 1975, but he could not have been unaware of the ongoing crimes of Father Smyth. Smyth’s arrest and conviction followed a delay in processing an extradition warrant from the Republic of Ireland to Northern Ireland, and the scandal led to the collapse of the Irish Government. Father Brendan Smyth was at the time by far the most notorious paedophile priest in Ireland.
Combine that with the fact that his crimes against were common knowledge within the church for decades, and it is inconceivable that Cardinal Brady could have been unaware of what had happened since his 1975 meeting. Cardinal Brady should arguably have resigned in either 1975 or 1994. He certainly should resign today.
Sources (subscription required)
- Priest sentenced to jail for four years for abusing children, Irish Times, 25 June 1994
- Tracing Father Brendan’s 40 Years of child abuse, Irish Times, 8 October 1994
- Abbot General changes statement on meeting with Dr Daly, Irish Times, 24 October 1994
- Bishop says he was informed of complaints about Smyth in 1975, Irish Times, 24 October 1995
- Paedophile priest affirms guilty pleas to 74 charges, Irish Times, 23 April 1997