Irish cardinal refuses to quit amid court case over paedophilia 'cover-up'


Victim sues Irish Catholic church leader Sean Brady over role in Brendan Smyth secret tribunal.

Ireland's most senior Catholic cleric tonight faced down calls to resign after revealing that he was at a secret tribunal where sex abuse victims were made to take an oath of silence.

Cardinal Sean Brady said that he had attended two meetings in 1975 concerning Father Brendan Smyth, a notorious paedophile, where two of Smyth's victims signed an affidavit promising to discuss their claims only with a specified priest.

Brady is now being sued, both as an individual and in his role as Catholic primate of all Ireland, by one of Smyth's female victims who alleges she was abused for five years.

In an affidavit submitted to Dublin's high court, Brady is accused of failing to report the victims' formal signed complaints to the Irish police and of failing to take adequate steps to ensure that Smyth did not continue to assault children.

But the cardinal defended his role in the investigation, stating his actions were part of a process that removed the shamed cleric's licence to act as a priest.

"Frankly I don't believe that this is a resigning matter," Brady said.

The tribunal was held behind closed doors in 1975. Smyth was accused of sexually abusing two 10-year-olds, but the church did not inform the gardai about the allegations at the time. It was only in 1994, after a documentary about Smyth, that the church admitted it had known about his paedophilia and moved him around Ireland, Britain and the US, where he continued to abuse children.

Smyth died in jail 13 years ago, while serving 12 years for 74 sexual assaults on children.

Brady's disclosure heaps further ignominy on the Vatican, which has had a week of damaging stories about the church's treatment of child sex abuse victims and their allegations.

New incidents are reported on an almost daily basis across Europe, as are official investigations into historic allegations, with each development eroding the church's credibility and moral authority.

Not even the pope has escaped the taint of scandal. Last weekend, a Vatican spokesman took the unprecedented step of denying that Benedict was complicit in the cover-up of a sex scandal while he was archbishop of Munich.

Victim support groups in Ireland, which have repeatedly savaged church and state authorities for their conduct, condemned Brady and called for him to resign. The co-founder of Irish Survivors of Child Abuse, Patrick Walsh, said: "The church was more interested in protecting its reputation than anything else. The cardinal needs to examine his conscience about this. He needsto take stock of his position. In 1975 he was just a priest acting as a secretary and he was not the decision maker. But he knew what was going on."

The Catholic Information Office in Ireland confirmed that Brady had been the recording secretary at one meeting and had interviewed the victims at another. The oath, it said, was to "respect the confidentiality of the information process".

Brady had passed the reports "as instructed, and as a matter of urgency" to Bishop [Francis] McKiernan "for his immediate action".

The cardinal's behaviour will do little to reverse the perception that the church does not take the issue of child sex abuse seriously enough, despite Vatican efforts to show that the problem is not solely confined to its institutions nor is it as widespread as people believe.

A front-page article in today's L'Osservatore Romano argued that sexual abuse of minors was "more common amongst lay and married people than among celibate priests" – a reply to one archbishop's view that celibacy may be one of the causes of paedophilia in the priesthood.

The bishop of Alessandria, Giuseppe Versaldi, who wrote the article, said that Pope Benedict was actively leading the "battle" against paedophilia., despite his image as "an academic who is only interested in writing books."

His remarks echo those of the Vatican official charged with investigating sexual abuse allegations, who suggested that many abuse claims were not paedophilia.Monsignor Charles Scicluna, of the Congregation for the Doctrine of the Faith, said of the 3,000 cases referred to his office during a nine-year period, only a tenth were paedophilia "in the truest sense".

Interviewed for the Italian newspaper, Avvenire, he said: "About 60% of the cases chiefly involved sexual attraction towards adolescents of the same sex, another 30% involved heterosexual relations, the remaining 10% were paedophilia in the truest sense of the term, based on sexual attraction towards pre-pubescent children. The cases of priests accused of paedophilia in the true sense have been about 300 in nine years."

The 300 cases were "still too many", but he urged people to recognise that the phenomenon was not as widespread as they believed.

Scicluna said a full trial, "penal or administrative", had occurred in 20% of these cases. Old age often prevented the accused from standing trial, or administrative and disciplinary provisions such as a ban on hearing confession acted as a substitute. Half of the trials ended in dismissal, while the remaining half saw the accused requesting dispensation from the priesthood.

Scicluna insisted that the Vatican had never encouraged a cover-up of child sex abuse, while also admitting that, "perhaps out of a misdirected desire to protect the good name of the institution some bishops were, in practice, too indulgent towards this sad phenomenon".

He added: "I say in practice because, in principle, the condemnation of this kind of crime has always been firm and unequivocal."
Bad week for the Vatican

• George Ratzinger, brother of Pope Benedict XVI, admits slapping choristers and ignoring physical abuse at an elementary school, but denies knowing about sexual abuse allegations at the same school.

• Catholic hierarchy in the Netherlands pledge an independent, external inquiry into abuse at several church-run institutions.

• Austrian priest quits, admitting he abused or molested up to 20 children.

• Archbishop of Vienna says priestly celibacy may be the cause of paedophilia.

• The pope is "distraught" over the sex abuse scandal in Germany. The country's most senior Catholic apologises to victims and church authorities promise to hold an investigation.

• Swiss Catholic church launches inquiry into 60 claims of sex abuse.

• Papal spokesman denounces attempts to implicate the pope in a sex abuse cover-up and rejects accusations of a culture of secrecy.

• An Italian academic compares the secrecy over sex abuse to omerta – the Mafia code of silence – and says more involvement of women in the church might have prevented the scale of the cover-up.

• An Irish bookmaker slashes the odds, from 12 to 1 to 3 to 1, of a papal resignation amid the continuing controversy and a "cascade of bets".

adamonSunday 14 March 2010 - 10:57:41

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