Seán Brady sorry for ‘inadequate’ response to Smyth abuse
Cardinal admits ‘shroud of secrecy’ applied to paedophile priest’s actions
Cardinal Seán Brady told the Historical Institutional Abuse inquiry the scandal of Brendan Smyth’s paedophilia was “kept a secret – very, very secret”. Photograph: Colm Lenaghan/Pacemaker
Retired Catholic primate Cardinal Seán Brady has said he was “truly sorry” for the “totally inadequate and ineffective” manner in which the church dealt with paedophile priest Brendan Smyth.
He also admitted that the church applied a “shroud of secrecy” in relation to Smyth in order to protect the good name of the church.
In his evidence, the cardinal chiefly concerned himself with how in 1975 he was involved in separate secret interviews with two boys who alleged they were sexually abused by Smyth, then 35. The then Fr Brady was charged by the late Bishop of Kilmore, Francis McKiernan, with establishing if the allegations were true.
The boys, after giving evidence, which Cardinal Brady said he believed, had to sign oaths of secrecy. The boys were also interviewed without their parents present and the Garda was never notified about the boys’ allegations.
“There was a shroud of secrecy and confidentiality with a view not to destroying the good name of the church,” Cardinal Brady told the inquiry.
“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,” he added.
The cardinal said the church at the time felt “bound by this terrible weight of confidentiality”.
As an adult, one of the victims who were interviewed said the experience was frightening, “felt like an inquisition”, and some of the questions he was asked were inappropriate. He felt that the “blame and shame” was being put back on him for his abuse, he said.
Cardinal Brady said that, looking back, he agreed with the victim’s assessment. He added that he had never dealt with cases of sexual abuse before. The case was “uncharted territory”, he said.
Inappropriate and wrong
He said, however, that some of the questions might have been asked “in the context” of how the experience affected the “faith and morals” of the boys. He said some of the “robust” questioning strengthened the case against Smyth.
“My main focus was on getting the evidence and getting it corroborated as soon as possible and getting it to the proper authorities who had the power to deal with Brendan Smyth,” he said.
At the time, Cardinal Brady said, there was not “the same appreciation of the paramountcy of the safety of the child” as was the case now.
He said that after the 1975 inquiry was completed, a report was sent to Bishop McKiernan. Subsequently the bishop “did not engage” with him again about the matter.
Cardinal Brady said that under canon law the bishop was “probably” required to notify his superiors in Rome about the abuse.
Smyth, who died in prison in 1997, continued to abuse children up until the early 1990s. In all he may have abused more than 200 boys and girls.
He was also asked why rather than pursuing the matter through the church, the allegations were not taken to the Garda.
“It just did not cross my mind to inform the state authorities,” he answered. “Now it is the first thing that we would do.”
Cardinal Brady again said he was “truly sorry” for how the church failed children over Smyth’s abuse. He thanked the inquiry for its work and said its task was “to look at a dark chapter of history” and “cast the welcome light of truth on the situation”.
Fr Timothy Bartlett, representing the diocese of Down and Connor, said Smyth was “diabolical in his behaviour”. He urged anyone abused by Smyth who had never come forward to make themselves known to the church so that they could seek restitution and justice.
He said the church was “profoundly, profoundly sorry” to all those who were abused.