Conscience was not always a cardinal virtue for Brady
WHERE was Cardinal Sean Brady’s conscience when he helped hush-up the crimes of a child rapist?
It is a timely question, because he is now lecturing us on what our consciences should lead us to do.
The statement he issued with the three other Catholic archbishops, in response to government plans to legislate for the X-Case ruling, is big on the concept of conscience — it is a shame the cardinal’s own conscience was lacking when he had abuse victims sign secrecy agreements, instead of speaking out and saving other children from being raped.
Regarding the X-Case legislation, the archbishops’ statement says: “On a decision of such fundamental moral importance, every public representative is entitled to complete respect for the freedom of conscience. No one has the right to force or coerce someone to act against their conscience. Respect for this right is the very foundation of a free, civilised and democratic society.”
The dictionary definition of the word ‘conscience’ is: “The awareness of a moral or ethical aspect to one’s conduct, together with the urge to prefer right over wrong.”
In 1975, Cardinal Brady was part of team of clerics that interviewed a 14-year-old boy who had been abused for two years by the paedophile, Fr Brendan Smyth.
The boy told the panel about other victims of Smyth, yet he was sworn to secrecy.
One of the other victims was interviewed by Brady. The boy’s parents were never told about the interview, nor about the abuse he suffered.
Smyth went on to rape children again, and again, and again. Cardinal Brady did not inform the gardaí, nor child welfare agencies. He wanted to silence the victims.
The cardinal was not an impressionable novice priest; he was a 35-year-old lawyer.
A fellow priest close to the process informed parents — presumably acting on his conscience.
That man left the priesthood, while Brady washed his hands of the victims and rose to the top of an institution tainted with moral corruption.
When Brady’s role in the scandal emerged earlier this year, he ignored all calls, within and without the Church, to resign.
Now Brady is telling the rest of us about the importance of conscience and doing the right thing.
The archbishops’ statement, and the extreme language it deploys, will probably aid the pro-choice cause.
It brings a complex argument down to the crass and simplistic by stating: “The unavoidable choice that now faces all our public representatives is: will I choose to defend and vindicate the equal right to life of a mother and the child in her womb, in all circumstances, or will I choose to license the direct and intentional killing of the innocent baby in the womb?”
That is not the choice at all. TDs and senators will not be asked ‘vote yes for killing babies’. They will be asked to give women the right to seek a termination when there is substantial risk to the mother’s life.
The fact that neither the archbishops, nor anyone else, has yet seen the legislation makes their stance even more absurd and obtuse.
We know the legislation will allow terminations when there is suicidal risk to the mother, as that is included in the X-Case judgement, but it is still unlikely women will be able seek a termination even when they are the victims of rape or incest, unless they are suicidal.
The aggressive and misleading language used by the anti-choice side plays into the hands of those seeking to liberalise the law.
The revolting opportunism of a prominent anti-abortion campaigner, who accused the Government of “double think” for commiserating over the school massacre in Connecticut while planning to bring in legislation on abortion, is a case in point.
Where the archbishops’ statement is correct is in its call for a free vote in the Dáil on the X-Case.
This is always the custom at Westminster when issues such as abortion, or the restoration of the death penalty, are debated. There is nothing to be feared from a similar situation in the Oireachtas.
However, as Communications Minister Pat Rabbitte has said, there is plenty to fear in a “diktat” from the bishops.
Public opinion is way ahead of the timidity of our lawmakers, and light years away from the rigid dominance the Catholic Church wants to re-impose on Irish society.
Demanding a free choice on moral issues for TDs is an interesting move by a Catholic Church seeped in dogma and rigidity.
But most Irish Catholics already pick and choose what they want from the Church, and what they are prepared to give back — enjoying the solidarity and comfort of its faith, yet, in many cases, also rejecting its harsh teachings against sex outside of marriage, divorce, contraception and the extension of marriage rights to same sex couples.
Abortion is also on that list, and even after the expected X-Case legislation goes through the Oireachtas, Ireland will still have one of the most restrictive regimes in Europe.
And as Justice Minister Alan Shatter — hardly Mr Radical Liberal Feminist — has said, women remain second-class citizens in this so-called Republic, as they lack rights over their own bodies.
We still do not know all the facts regarding how Savita Halappanavar died.
We do know her husband’s version of events, in which he says her repeated requests for a termination she thought would save her life were turned down, because she was told Ireland “is a Catholic country”.
Who, with any conscience, would want to live in such a “Catholic country”, where women are allowed to die needlessly and the crimes of child rapists are hushed up, so that they can rape again, and again, and again?
I have this letter in pdf form and cannot seem to copy and paste from it or put it up in it’s original content on this posting. I will refer you to the following link for the pdf file to read the letter:
You will see the link for the letter on the left hand side of the page in a box.
Apostolic Nunclature in Ireland N. 808/97
Dublin, 31 January 1997 Strictly Confidential
The Congregation of the Clergy has attentively studied the complex question of sexual abuse of minors by clerics and the document entitled “Child Sexual Abuse Framework for a Church Response”, published by the Irish Catholic Bishops Advisory Committee.
The Congregation wishes to emphasis the need for this document to conform to the canonical norms presently in force.
The text however, contains “procedures and dispositions which appears contrary to canonical discipline and which, if applied, could invalidate the acts of some Bishops who are attempting to put a stop to these problems. If such procedures were to be followed by the Bishops and there were cases of eventual hierarchical recourse lodged at the Holy See, the results could be highly embarrassing and detrimental to those serve Diocesan authorities.
In particular, the situation of “mandatory reporting” gives rise to serious reservations of both a moral and canonical nature.
Since the policy on sexual abuse in the English speaking world exhibit many of the same characteristics and procedures, the Congregation is involved in a global study of them. At the appropriate time, with the collaboration of the interested Episcopal Conferences and in dialogue with them, the Congregation will not be remiss in establishing some concrete directives with regard to these Policies.
To the members of the Irish Episcopal Conference
For these reasons and because the above mentioned text is not an official document of the Episcopal Conference but merely a study document I am directed to inform the individual Bishops of Ireland of the preoccupation of the Congregation in its regard, underlining that in the sad cases of accusations of sexual abuse by clerics, the procedures established by the Code of Canon Law must be meticulosly followed under pain of invalidity of the acts involved of the priest so punished were to make hierarchical recourse against his Bishop.
Asking you kindly let me know of the safe receipt of this letter and with the assurance of my custodial regard, I am
Yours sincerely in Christ
Time to free church from clammy grip of clericalism
RITE AND REASON: Liberal Catholics have arrived at their views of church teaching on contraception, married and women priests, and homosexuality as a result of honest and honourable reflection
THE PAINTER Tony O’Malley had a custom of creating an artwork every Good Friday. When news broke during Holy Week of the Vatican censure of Fr Tony Flannery and the Redemptorist magazine Reality, I wished I could paint a picture to express my sadness.
Pope Benedict’s address at a Holy Thursday Mass in Rome copperfastened my gloom. Responding to a call to disobedience by Austrian priests and laity on celibacy and women priests he asserted that they had challenged “definite decisions of the church’s magisterium”.
Church leaders often talk of the right of free speech, most recently the Pope himself on his visit to Cuba. The recent Vatican moves are designed to create a climate of fear among liberal clerics. To echo a comment some years ago of the English writer AN Wilson, the Congregation of the Doctrine of the Faith has “ways of making you not talk”.
I know Tony Flannery quite well. He has given 40 years of sincere service as a priest, mainly as a preacher of missions throughout Ireland. He is an engaging and empathetic speaker and an innovative liturgist. His columns in Reality, based on his commitment to the ideals of the Second Vatican Council and his vast knowledge of the Irish church, were often thought-provoking.
He is one of the founders of the Association of Catholic Priests, set up in September 2010, and one of its leadership team. The association has provided a forum for debate and an independent voice for Irish priests.
Among its achievements was its intervention in the case of Fr Kevin Reynolds, who was grievously libelled in the Prime Time Investigates programme last May.
I expect that Fr Reynolds would agree that without this help he would still be languishing in a limbo from which he might never have emerged.
Perhaps it is not surprising that the Vatican has moved to censure Fr Flannery. The Second Vatican Council promised an open and dialogical church, willing to engage with the secular world. Since the 1980s there has been in Rome a retreat from its reforms.
Pope Benedict has a jaundiced view of the council’s spirit. Last year he sent a team of apostolic visitors to examine the Irish church in the wake of the sexual abuse scandals. In the summary of their report issued recently, the visitors have a cut at liberal Catholics. They noted that a significant number of Irish Catholics held views at variance with “the teaching of the magisterium”.
They should be accorded full marks for their powers of observation. The many liberal Catholics in Ireland hope for a church that is open to married and women priests, a rethink on the issue of contraception as exhorted by Humanae Vitae, and a reversal of the harsh insensitivity of the teaching on homosexuality.
We have come to these positions as a result of honest and honourable reflection. We are not seeking change for the sake of change. We believe that such reforms would aid the emergence of a church that is more humane, relevant and inspiring, a church released from the clammy grip of clericalism.
Nor are these sincerely held views at variance with the fundamental doctrines of the church as the visitors claimed in their report. These doctrines relate, for example, to the humanity and divinity of Christ, the resurrection and the sacraments.
I am not aware of any priest in Ireland who publicly dissents from these beliefs.
There is a tendency of conservative church commentators to argue that liberal clerics are an ageing, disgruntled minority who have turned their misinterpretations of the Second Vatican Council into a kind of holy writ.
To them we are castaways on a remote island, brazenly holding aloft the tattered banners of the 1960s. They won’t like this but I have to disillusion them.
Anecdotal evidence, coupled with the results of a number of professional surveys, indicate that the majority of Irish Catholics support radical change in the church’s ministry and moral teaching.
To paraphrase Gerry Adams in a different context, we are not going away. The Vatican has been a “cold house” for liberal Catholics in recent years. The least we expect is respect for our freedom of speech and conscience.
A reform of the church which excludes these rights is a form of repression. It seems that Pope Benedict thinks “a creative minority” of Catholic conservatives will transform the church in Europe. To me that sounds like a polite euphemism for an assembly of Rick Santorum lookalikes.
Fr Kevin Hegarty is a priest in the parish of Kilmore-Erris in Co Mayo, and a columnist with the Mayo News.