I can say that with confidence that my best friends are more qualified to be primates of the Irish Catholic Church than Cardinal Seán Brady. They aren’t Catholics; they aren’t Irish and they’re liable to show up to Mass with raging hangovers but at least they’ve got moral courage…
Cardinal Brady is resisting demands that he step down after allegations in a television programme this week that he failed to inform parents and police about a list of children who were being sexually abused by one of Ireland’s most notorious paedophile priests.
The leader of Ireland’s Catholics has refused to accept he should resign his position despite the scandal over a 1975 deal between a young boy abused by Father Brendan Smyth and the church which ensured the young victim’s silence for decades. The BBC investigation alleged that the victim gave Brady, who was a note-taker at the meeting where the deal was made, a list of names and addresses of children he said Smyth was abusing. However, according to the BBC programme, Brady, who was then a priest, did not inform the children’s parents or the police.
The allegations were, in fact, more serious than that. Cardinal Brady is said to have interviewed other children as well as the courageous witness, and not only did he fail to report their claims to the appropriate officials, he asked them to sign documents that swore them to secrecy. One victim of the depraved Father Smyth alleges that he and his sister faced two and seven years of abuse respectively after he’d met the Cardinal. Brady’s inaction, then, seems to have facilitated child abuse. And the Church, with this man at the helm, is supposed to be a moral authority? As I said, I’m not a Catholic, but while charges of such gravity go unacknowledged I’d prefer to trust the ethical wisdom of Lady Gaga.
For those of us intrigued by subterfuge the question is how Brady and his colleagues might have been inspired to hold their tongues. The case that it reminds me of is that of Jerry Sandusky, the football coach at Pennsylvania State University, who spent years molesting children despite the fact that his employers and workmates knew of his proclivities. It’s clear that people have a rather undignified tendency towards prizing the good of their institutions above their own goals and values; because, perhaps, they don’t feel they’re of value without the institutions. Thus, stratagems requiring the complicity of many needn’t demand a unanimity of intent but malice from a certain proportion and moral cowardice from the rest. I hope it’s possible to retain anarchistic inclinations within social orders; reminding us that while the latter are inevitable our belonging to them must not take utter precedence above our independent values.