Irish cardinal slams BBC for distorting role in abuse case

Cardinal Sean B. Brady of Armagh, Ireland.
Cardinal Sean B. Brady of Armagh, Ireland.


Cardinal Sean B. Brady of Armagh, Ireland has denounced a BBC documentary on clerical abuse, saying he does not deserve blame for the results of a decades-old investigation in which he played a subordinate role.

“In the course of the program a number of claims were made which overstate and seriously misrepresent my role in a Church inquiry in 1975,” said Cardinal Brady, in response to a May 1 installment of “This World” entitled “The Shame of the Catholic Church.”

Cardinal Brady, who was not ordained as a bishop until 1995, issued a statement offering several clarifications about his role in the investigation of Norbertine priest Father Brendan Smyth, described in the BBC program.

Parts of the documentary, he said, gave viewers the impression “that because of the office I hold in the Church today I somehow had the power to stop Brendan Smyth in 1975.” But Cardinal Brady, who was not yet a bishop, had “absolutely no authority” over him.

The offending priest was not removed from ministry by his religious superiors, and went on to commit further abuse.

“Even my bishop had limited authority over him,” the cardinal recalled. “The only people who had authority within the Church to stop Brendan Smyth from having contact with children were his abbot in the monastery in Kilnacrott and his religious superiors in the Norbertine Order.”

“In fact, I was shocked, appalled and outraged when I first discovered in the mid 1990s that Brendan Smyth had gone on to abuse others.”

Cardinal Brady said he “assumed and trusted” that his bishop's presentation of evidence to the Norbertine superiors would prompt to them to act “decisively.”

“With others, I feel betrayed that those who had the authority in the Church to stop Brendan Smyth failed to act on the evidence I gave them. However, I also accept that I was part of an unhelpful culture of deference and silence in society, and the Church, which thankfully is now a thing of the past.”

Monsignor Charles Scicluna, a top official in charge of abuse cases at the Vatican, has confirmed this evaluation of the case in an interview with Irish broadcaster RTE. Fr. Smyth's order, he said, failed to take action on the basis of evidence recorded by the future cardinal and presented by his bishop.

Six weeks before the broadcast of “The Shame of the Catholic Church,” Msgr. Scicluna told the BBC that the future primate “acted promptly and with determination to ensure the allegations … were believed and acted upon by his superiors” in 1975. But the program made no note of this statement.

Cardinal Brady says he, too, had tried to draw the filmmakers' attention to other facts subsequently omitted from their program, regarding his role and responsibilities in the abuse inquiry.

“To suggest, as the program does, that I led the investigation … is seriously misleading and untrue,” the cardinal said. Rather, he was asked by his bishop “to assist others who were more senior to me in this inquiry process on a one-off basis only.”

In the case of abuse victim Brendan Boland, a key interview subject in the BBC program, the future cardinal's role was that of a “notary or note-taker.” To suggest that he played a larger role in gathering evidence from Boland “is false and misleading,” Cardinal Brady said.

“Acting promptly and with the specific purpose of corroborating the evidence provided by Mr. Boland, thereby strengthening the case against Brendan Smyth, I subsequently interviewed one of the children identified by Mr. Boland who lived in my home diocese of Kilmore,” he recalled.

“That I conducted this interview on my own is already on the public record. This provided prompt corroboration of the evidence given by Mr. Boland.”

Cardinal Brady noted that in 1975, “no State or Church guidelines existed in the Republic of Ireland to assist those responding to an allegation of abuse against a minor.” And even by today's standards, he said, the primary responsibility would not have been his.

“According to the State guidelines in place in the Republic of Ireland today, the person who first receives and records the details of an allegation of child abuse in an organization … is not the person who has responsibility within that organization for reporting the matter to the civil authorities.”

“This responsibility belongs to the ‘Designated Person’ appointed by the organization and trained to assume that role. In 1975, I would not have been the ‘Designated Person’ according to today’s guidelines.”

In his response to the BBC, Cardinal Brady affirmed his support for the Irish Church's current policy of reporting abuse claims to the civil authorities. But he rejected the suggestion that he should resign, and accused the BBC program of seeking to “deliberately exaggerate and misrepresent” his past actions.

“The program suggested that no response to their questions had been provided before the program was completed,” he pointed out. “In fact a comprehensive response had been provided to the program six weeks in advance and only days after the ‘door-stepping’ interview with me in Limerick.”

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