Brady’s evidence raises questions about 1975 abuse investigation

Retired Catholic primate’s role in looking into Brendan Smyth allegations unclear

Hearing Cardinal Seán Brady’s evidence to the North’s Historical Institutional Abuse Inquiry was to be reminded of a damning conclusion in Judge Yvonne Murphy’s 2009 report on clerical child sexual abuse in the Dublin archdiocese.

He told the inquiry in Banbridge on Thursday that clergy investigating child sexual abuse were bound to secrecy so that the Catholic Church’s “good name” could be protected.

“The scandal was kept a secret; very, very secret . . . Everybody involved would be bound to secrecy too,” he said.

Following her investigation six years ago into the handling of abuse allegations in Dublin, Ms Justice Murphy concluded: “The welfare of children, which should have been the first priority, was not even a factor to be considered in the early stages . . . Instead, the focus was on the avoidance of scandal and the preservation of the good name, status and assets of the institution and of what the institution regarded as its most important assets: the priests.”


There is no doubt that Cardinal Brady regrets his actions and inaction in 1975 when, as a 35-year-old priest, he conducted canonical investigations into allegations by two teenage boys of abuse by Fr Brendan Smyth.

One of those boys, Brendan Boland, has since gone public; the second has chosen not to do so.

At the Banbridge hearing, Cardinal Brady demurred at the use of the word "interrogator" in connection with a priest at the 1975 investigation in Dundalk – but what was his own role?

Following the BBC documentary The Shame of the Catholic Church, broadcast on May 1st, 2012, he issued a statement.

To suggest, as the programme did, “that I led the investigation of the 1975 church inquiry into allegations against Brendan Smyth is seriously misleading and untrue. I was asked by my then bishop [Bishop Francis McKiernan of Kilmore diocese] to assist others who were more senior to me in this inquiry process on a one-off basis only,” he said.

“Any suggestion that I was other than a ‘notary’ in the process of recording evidence from Mr Boland, is false and misleading.”

He said he “simply recorded” the answers Mr 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 Mr Boland identified as having also been abused by Smyth and whom Fr Brady interviewed alone at the parochial house in Ballyjamesduff, Co Cavan, on April 4th, 1975. This boy was also sworn to secrecy.

Canon law

More than two years before that, in March 2010, a statement from the Catholic Communications Office said Cardinal Brady’s role was “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”.

The statement said that “because he held a doctorate in canon law, [the then] Fr Brady was asked to conduct this canonical inquiry”.

That would fit with how Fr Brady was described in the Catholic Directory for 1975. It described him as a diocesan secretary and advocate. He was then part-time secretary to the bishop of Kilmore, Dr McKiernan.

An advocate must possess degrees in canon law, which Cardinal Brady holds at the highest level. Neither of the other two priests who attended the inquiry with Mr Boland in 1975 – retired archdeacon Francis Donnelly and Dominican priest Fr Oliver McShane – were experts in canon law.

The March 2010 Catholic Communications Office statement said that “Fr Brady and two other priests interviewed a boy (14) in Dundalk” and that “Fr Brady’s role was to take notes”.

In March 2012, almost two months before the BBC broadcast its documentary, Cardinal Brady was anxious to clarify his role in the 1975 investigations at a press conference in Maynooth.

“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.

However, following Fr Brady’s report to Bishop McKiernan, Fr Brendan Smyth was refused permission to minister in Kilmore diocese. This “ban” was lifted in 1984 for reasons that are not clear.

One could get the impression that a notary at such inquiries has a minor role, but that is not the case. New Commentary on the Code of Canon Law, commissioned by the Canon Law Society of America and published in 2002, gives a different view.

It says that “in those cases which involve the reputation of a priest, the notary must be a priest”, as “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 also said that “by the act of signing a document, the notary attests to its authenticity”.

Further questions

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 his abuse of Brendan Boland was first reported to the then young Dominican priest, Fr McShane (who has since left the priesthood)?

Was the then Catholic primate, Cardinal William Conway, informed about such a child abuse inquiry in his archdiocese?

Mr Boland said in the BBC documentary of May 2012 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. They lived in the Down and Connor diocese. Did anyone tell its then bishop, Dr William Philbin?

Apparently not, as the boy in Belfast continued to be abused for another year by Smyth, his sister for seven more years, and their four cousins (members of one family) until the early 1990s. Or are we to conclude that Cardinal Conway and Bishop Philbin were told, and did nothing either?

Patsy McGarry

Patsy McGarry

Patsy McGarry is Religious Affairs Correspondent of The Irish Times