Focus must now turn to Brady's role in inquiry


ANALYSIS:It is not the case that a canon lawyer and church notary in such an inquiry played only a minor or purely administrative role, writes PATSY McGARRY

IT JUST gets curiouser and curiouser. Just what was Cardinal (then Fr) Seán Brady’s role when he attended that inquiry with two other priests and 14-year-old Brendan Boland at the Dominican friary in Dundalk on March 29th, 1975?

According to a statement from the Catholic Communications Office, issued on March 16th, 2010, he was there “to conduct a canonical inquiry into an allegation of child sexual abuse which was made by a boy in Dundalk, concerning a Norbertine priest, Fr Brendan Smyth.”

In case there might be doubt, this was repeated in the very next sentences of that statement. It said that “because he held a doctorate in canon law, Fr Brady was asked to conduct this canonical inquiry”. So we were told twice by the communications office on March 16th, 2010, that Fr Brady’s role was “to conduct” this canonical inquiry.

That would fit with Fr Brady’s description in the Catholic Directory for 1975, which described him as a diocesan secretary and advocate. He was then part-time secretary to the bishop of Kilmore diocese, Francis McKiernan, as well as teaching at St Patrick’s College in Cavan town.

An advocate represents a client at canon law procedures. He must be skilled in canon law and have a degree in same, which Cardinal Brady has to the highest level. Neither of the other two priests who attended that inquiry with Brendan Boland in 1975 – the now retired archdeacon Francis Donnelly nor Dominican priest Fr Oliver McShane – were expert in canon law.

That March 16th, 2010, communications office statement continued: “Fr Brady and two other priests interviewed a boy (14) in Dundalk (who was accompanied to the interview by his parents*). Fr Brady’s role was to take notes.” The asterisk referred to a bracketed line at the end of the statement, which remains on the communications office website, reading “(*an amendment inserted on 15 November 2010).”

Brendan Boland told The Irish Times yesterday he was accompanied to the inquiry by his father only and that his father was not allowed be in the room when Brendan was being interviewed.

In his statement yesterday, issued through the communications office, Cardinal Brady said he was “asked by my then Bishop (Bishop Francis McKiernan of the Diocese of Kilmore) to assist others who were more senior to me in this inquiry process on a one-off basis only”.

He continued: “The documentation of the interview with Brendan Boland, signed in his presence, clearly identifies me as the ‘notary’ or ‘note taker’. Any suggestion that I was other than a ‘notary’ in the process of recording evidence from Mr Boland, is false and misleading.”

He “simply recorded” the answers Brendan Boland gave and “subsequently interviewed one of the children identified by Mr Boland who lived in my home diocese of Kilmore. That I conducted this interview on my own is already on the public record.”

This is a reference to the 15-year-old boy whom Brendan Boland identified as having also been abused by Fr Smyth, and whom Fr Brady interviewed at the parochial house in Ballyjamesduff, Co Cavan, on April 4th, 1975.

To return to that March 16th, 2010, statement. It said: “Fr Brady’s role was to take notes” and yesterday Cardinal Brady said he was a “notary” or “note taker” at that 1975 inquiry with Brendan Boland in Dundalk. Addressing the issue at a press conference in Maynooth on March 7th this year, at the end of the bishops’ spring meeting, Cardinal Brady was as anxious to clarify his participation at that 1975 inquiry with Brendan Boland in Dundalk.

“I carried out my role, limited role that it was . . . as secretary taking down the notes. [I] handed those to my bishop, who in turn handed them to the abbot of the monastery,” he said. He added: “I’ve discussed this with officials in the Congregation for the Doctrine of the Faith at the highest level and they have assured me that was the appropriate way to act.”

One could get the impression that a notary at such inquiries has a very minor role indeed. But that is not the case. Reading the New Commentary on the Code of Canon Law, edited by some of America’s leading canon lawyers, commissioned by the Canon Law Society of America, and published in 2002, you get a different view.

It says of a “notary” that “in those cases which involve the reputation of a priest, the notary must be a priest, although the law does not specify the reasons for such requirement”. It continues: “The canon itself speaks of ‘the reputation of the priest’ and there may be a presumption that only another priest would be prepared to deal with the facts of such cases and maintain the required level of confidentiality.”

It says that “by the act of signing a document the notary attests to its authenticity” and, this being so, “there must be no hint of dishonesty or taint of suspicion” regarding his character.

But Cardinal Brady’s role in those 1975 inquiries gives rise to even further questions. Why was he, a priest of Kilmore diocese, asked to take part in an inquiry in Dundalk, which is in the Armagh archdiocese? Why was any diocese involved at all, as Fr Brendan Smyth was a priest of the Norbertine congregation and, to confuse things even more, his abuse of Brendan Boland was first reported to Dominican priest Fr McShane?

Why did the Dundalk inquiry take place in premises owned by the Dominican congregation as opposed to property of the Armagh archdiocese? Was this in accord with canon law where jurisdiction between religious congregations and diocesan clergy were concerned? Was the then Catholic primate Cardinal William Conway informed that such a child abuse inquiry was or had taken place in his archdiocese?

Brendan Boland said in the BBC documentary on Tuesday night that while three of the children he had told Fr Brady about were from Kilmore diocese, two others, a brother and sister, were from Belfast. That means they lived in Down and Connor diocese. Did anyone tell its bishop, William Philbin, at the time?

Apparently not, as the boy continued to be abused for another year by Smyth, his sister for seven more years, and their four cousins (members of one family) until 1988. Or are we to conclude that Bishop Philbin was told and he did nothing either?

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