Sean Brady says abuse kept secret to save church’s ‘good name’

Former Catholic primate faced criticism over role in meeting Smyth victims

Cardinal Sean Brady, who retired last year, arrives at Banbridge Court on Thursday to give evidence in The Historical Institutional Abuse Inquiry. Photograph: Colm Lenaghan/Pacemaker

Cardinal Sean Brady, who retired last year, arrives at Banbridge Court on Thursday to give evidence in The Historical Institutional Abuse Inquiry. Photograph: Colm Lenaghan/Pacemaker

 

Clerics involved in investigating child sex abuse were bound to secrecy so the Catholic church’s “good name” could be protected, Cardinal Sean Brady has claimed.

Sean Brady, who retired on reaching the age of 75 as Archbiship of Armagh and Primate of All Ireland last year, was giving evidence to the Historical Abuse Inquiry (HIA) in Banbridge, Co Down.

He said: “These were unspeakable crimes.

“There was a confidentiality resting upon us too.”

The senior cleric faced fierce criticism after it emerged he had attended meetings where two teenage victims of paedophile priest Father Brendan Smyth were sworn to secrecy in 1975.

Never handed over

Their evidence was never handed over to police, allowing the west Belfast churchman to continue abusing children before he was finally jailed in 1994.

He added: “There was a shroud of secrecy and confidentiality with a view not to destroying the good name of the church.

“The scandal that somebody who was ordained to serve people should so abuse the trust for their own pleasure was appalling and it was.

“To offset that, the scandal was kept a secret — very, very secret.

“Everybody involved would be bound to secrecy too.”

The evidence from Smyth’s victims was never handed over to police, allowing the west Belfast churchman to continue abusing children before he was finally jailed in 1994.

On reflection, the Cardinal conceded the secret church inquisition would have been intimidating for a 14-year-old and that some of the 30 questions posed were “inappropriate”.

He said he was motivated by an anxiety to stop the sex offender but acknowledged that little or no consideration was given to the impact on the victims — instead the focus was on the offending priest.

The Cardinal said: “I have reflected a lot on this. The reasons for such an inquiry would be to assess the impact of the scandal — the scandal being the unspeakable crime being committed against a minor — was to see how that affected their (Smyth’s) own life, a life of faith and morals.”

Retired judge Sir Anthony Hart is leading the HIA inquiry, one of the UK’s largest inquiries into physical, sexual and emotional harm to children at homes run by the church, state and voluntary organisations.

Systematic failings

One week was set aside to deal with the activities of Smyth and to examine whether systemic failings allowed him to get away with his crimes for so long.

The serial child molester frequented Catholic residential homes and groomed children in family settings after befriending their parents.

Instead of reporting him to the civic authorities Smyth was moved between parishes, countries and even continents where he continued to target children. The only sanctions imposed were temporary bans on hearing confessions and celebrating mass.

Although he has publicly apologised for the church’s mishandling of the sexual deviant, Cardinal Brady has defended his own role in the 1975 internal investigation claiming that, as a priest he had no authority over Smyth.

On Wednesday the inquiry heard that gardaí in Dublin knew about Smyth’s paedophilia as far back as 1973.

Fr William Fitzgerald, head of the Norbertine order to which Smyth belonged, also told the panel that the west Belfast priest’s poisonous legacy had effectively ruined them.

Earlier it was revealed Smyth had told a doctor in 1994 that the number of victims he sexually assaulted could run into the hundreds.

Smyth’s abuse has already been described by a number of witnesses who have previously given evidence to the inquiry.

This week’s module has been concentrating on an examination of what opportunities there were to prevent him carrying out the abuse of children and whether any action, or inaction, amounted to systemic failings.

The inquiry was formally established in January 2013 by the Northern Ireland Executive.

PA