Beggaring Belief

Waterford Today
May 9, 2012

Here we go again. The Roman Catholic Church has gotten itself bogged down in yet another scandal surrounding the issue of child sexual abuse. This time however it is the head of the Church, The Primate of All Ireland Cardinal Brady that is in the firing line. It has emerged that he knew about the actions of perhaps the most notorious of Ireland's paedophiles - they are many to choose from - Fr. Brendan Smyth and effectively he did nothing about it. There have been some, in the Church and outside of it, that have come to his defence. They say that he did as much as he could have done and that effectively there was nothing that he could have done at the time. Also, they point out, he did as much as anyone could and that the whole issue of priests who sexually abused children was handled differently back then and also that there was not as much information on the issue as there is now and that it is not fair to look at things that happened in the past using the standards that we have today. Those arguments might be well and good for some people but just how much water do they really hold? The first point, and perhaps the only point, is, since when did the rape of children become acceptable to those in the church? That is an argument that holds as much to the 1970's as it does today. For all the parsing of the argument you really do have to come back time and again to this point. Since when did child rape become acceptable? Yes, the Church might have held more sway back then but does that mean that it was still o.k. for it's priests to rape children? The answer is obvious. Nothing was done because the Church knew that it could get away with doing nothing. It might have tried to some extent to manage the problem but effectively it did nothing more than move the problem around ensuring that more children were sexually abused while it could hold up a facade to the broader society. It has also been argued that Father Brady, as he was then, could have done nothing. So a 36 year old man who was highly educated, being a canon lawyer, couldn't do anything about someone who was sexually abusing children? Couldn't or wouldn't? It has also been pointed out that at that time Father Brady was part of an organisation that was extremely hierarchical and that trying to work around the rules and regulations would have been impossible. This same argument has been used many, many times in wider historical contexts and it has never been allowed to hold water. The "I was only doing what I was told to do by superiors" line of defence has never been accepted.

So, why should it here in this particular case? If you look back over what Brendan Smyth did you cannot help but be appalled by what he was allowed to get away with. In the case highlighted by the BBC documentary Smyth was effectively allowed to sexually abuse one other boy for a further 8 years and another girl for a further year because the Church thought it was probably in its own best interests to keep quiet about what he was up to. But Smyth was sexually abusing children for years before this particular investigation. He was known by the Church Authorities to be doing this and still no check was placed on him and he certainly wasn't ever reported to the proper authorities. He was even reported by a fellow priest and nothing came of this. He was reported to the head of his order and also to the Papal Nuncio. Unsurprisingly enough they later said they never received the letters. Its interesting then that copies of these letters, sent at the same time, were in the possession of the Gardai. So what should happen to Cardinal Brady? If there is one thing that we are all too well aware of is that the thoughts and feelings of lay people won't be taken into consideration. Its clear that even still the Church is concerned primarily in its own power and position.


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