I’ve never been keen on a feeding frenzy and there will always be something deeply ironic about Martin McGuinness, despite his peacetime record, calling for anyone to resign, not least a cardinal who despite the facts which the BBC augmented only slightly this week, is still respected and warmly liked by many.
It must be acknowledged that since the 2010 revelations, many, perhaps most Catholics – and plenty of non-Catholics too – appear to have forgiven Cardinal Brady as a genuinely good man. But is that not the measure of the personal part of his tragedy? Precisely because he is a leader of a church which represents a supposed Higher Authority, is it fair on him now to rely on a level of public support when it comes to “considering his position?”
Ssome of the arguments quoted in Mick’s post including Malachi’s are unsettling for a non-Catholic. These too readliy accept the parameters of church law and authority. What’s the problem with that you may ask: the Cardinal is the head of a church establishment and not a State? But whether you regard canon or state law as superior is otiose: obligations under State law are imperative and are now explicitly recognised as such by the Church – if only just and only recently .
Even if his defence in the BBC documentary was given insufficient weight in the programme itself,( see inset in the Irish Times report) was it acceptable to lean so strongly on the observance of church law and procedure, categories which have been so comprehensively discredited? There was something almost extra-terrestrial about that part of defence (repeated I think from the 2010 news archive), when he said that Brendan Smyth had been “suspended from hearing confessions” – as if that could conceivably be an adequate response. This legalism however conscientiously held, has surely been a core weakness of the Church’s position all along.
Even accepting his own context, a church “ notary” may not be a member of the Inquisition but he has to be a person in ecclesiastical authority and not a mere stenographer. And what “guidelines“ were needed in 1975 or at any other time to denounce, report personally or at least follow up the evidence, of a priest inserting a body part into a child? Fr Brady also took evidence alone from Belfast children without apparent follow up or obvious public consequences for more than a decade later: these may have been the instances that finally led to Smyth’s extradition, trial and imprisonment. This was also an event, remember, that played a great part in bringing down the Reynolds led coalition.
Will the cardinal again be reprieved or will his junior but arguably still culpable role in massive scandal return to haunt him once more, when perhaps some other missing detail is exposed? This surely is the salient factor now. His resignation may be a harsh verdict on his entire pastoral career. But as a verdict on the Church he heads as well as on himself after his latest defence, it would not be unjust.
Former BBC journalist and manager in Belfast, Manchester and London, Editor Spolight; Political Editor BBC NI; Current Affairs Commissioning editor BBC Radio 4; Editor Political and Parliamentary Programmes, BBC Westminster; former London Editor Belfast Telegraph. Hon Senior Research Fellow, The Constitution Unit, Univ Coll. London