A haunted St. Patrick's Day

In his homily today at the Mass for St Patrick's Day, St Patrick's Cathedral, Armagh, Cardinal Seán Brady spoke of recent reports that as a canon lawyer he mishandled sex-abuse cases 35 years ago:

There is always tension between the possibilities we aspire to and our wounded memories and past mistakes.

Saint Patrick, our national Apostle, our patron Saint, knew this tension throughout his life. Even as he brought the joy and life of the Gospel to the Irish people, he was haunted by the sins of his past. We recall the famous opening words of his Confession: ‘I, Patrick, a sinner, and the least of all the faithful’.
This week a painful episode from my own past has come before me. I have listened to reaction from people to my role in events thirty five years ago. I want to say to anyone who has been hurt by any failure on my part that I apologise to you with all my heart. I also apologise to all those who feel I have let them down. Looking back I am ashamed that I have not always upheld the values that I profess and believe in.
Like St. Patrick, like St. Peter, we as Bishops, successors of the Apostles in the Irish Church today must acknowledge our failings. The integrity of our witness to the Gospel challenges us to own up to and take responsibility for any mismanagement or cover-up of child abuse. For the sake of survivors, for the sake of all the Catholic faithful as well as the religious and priests of this country, we have to stop the drip, drip, drip of revelations of failure.

CNN provides some background:
Brady has been under fire over the investigation into the Rev. Brendan Smyth, one of the country's most notorious child-abusing priests.

Brady's office said Tuesday the cardinal -- then a priest and teacher with a doctorate in canon law -- had been asked to investigate two complaints against Smyth in 1975 but had no decision-making power. He reported his findings to Bishop Francis McKiernan, his office said, and McKiernan recommended Smyth get psychiatric help.

But John Kelly, founder of Irish Survivors of Child Abuse, said Brady should not have remained silent about what he learned in the course of investigating Smyth, who later was convicted of dozens of counts of child abuse in both Northern Ireland and the Irish Republic.

Curiously -- is it a purging or a defense? -- the Irish Catholic Communications Office today issued a press release:
The Catholic Communications Office wishes to bring to the attention of news editors that the story which was covered this week in the media concerning Cardinal Brady was first reported in the Sunday Mirror on 10 August 1997.
The Mirror article is appended to the release which Ruth Gledhill shares here.

In an article in this month's Commonweal, apparently written without benefit of this latest news though perhaps not changing its conclusions, Catholic canon lawyer Nicholas P. Cafardi draws lessons from the scandals in the U.S. and Ireland. He says "no U.S. bishop did as Archbishop Martin of Dublin did, practicing fraternal correction to protect the church, its people, and especially its children, publicly naming bishops who had not protected the young, and asserting that these bishops would have to go." They protected members of their fraternity. More:

[T]here is one critical difference in the treatment bishops received on opposite sides of the Atlantic. In the Boston shipwreck, only one bishop resigned, Cardinal Bernard Law, and the notion that he has been punished seems dubious. Within months, he was in Rome, sheltered by friends, resident in the Apostolic Palace, and finally, in May 2004, appointed by Pope John Paul II to be archpriest and canon of the Basilica of St. Mary Major—where he still resides, in a grand apartment adjoining the Basilica, with a chauffeured Vatican limousine, living on income from the Basilica’s endowment, and serving as a member of the powerful Congregation for Bishops, which recommends episcopal appointments. Hardly a penitential retirement, in other words. In contrast, in Ireland, four of the five bishops named in the Murphy Report have tendered their resignations. Only Bishop Drennan, currently of Galway, has not—and he is under severe pressure to do so. (So far, Rome has accepted only one of the resignations.)

What accounts for this difference? Why did the Irish bishops who gave solace to pedophile priests step down, while the American bishops who did the same went on happily with their episcopal careers? The answer, in a phrase, is “fraternal correction.” Archbishop Martin of Dublin has made it his job to see, for the benefit of the church in Ireland, that those who allowed known pedophile priests to continue harming children will not remain in the active episcopacy of Ireland. Martin announced publicly that if the bishops found culpable in the Murphy Report did not resign, then he would petition the Holy See to remove them. His basis for doing so was clear. There is not much doubt that bishops who continually reassigned pedophile priests had themselves violated canon law—specifically, canon 1389, §2, which holds that “one who through culpable negligence illegitimately places or omits an act of ecclesiastical power, ministry, or function which damages another person is to be punished with a just penalty.” This surely applies to the bishops, whose failure to commence a canonical penal process against known priest pedophiles clearly harmed the subsequent victims of these priests.

To petition the Holy See to remove bishops who protected pedophile priests would have been a courageous act by a courageous archbishop. Such episcopal courage was by and large lacking in the United States, and perhaps that obvious failure of the American episcopacy is what drove Archbishop Martin to act in Ireland.

Read "Fraternal Correction" here.

How about a "paternal correction"? Here's what Msgr. Charles J. Scicluna, "promoter of justice" of the Congregation for the Doctrine of the Faith, said in an interview just four days ago (emphasis added):

Q: A recurring accusation made against the ecclesiastical hierarchy is that of not reporting to the civil authorities when crimes of paedophilia come to their attention.

A: In some English-speaking countries, but also in France, if bishops become aware of crimes committed by their priests outside the sacramental seal of Confession, they are obliged to report them to the judicial authorities. This is an onerous duty because the bishops are forced to make a gesture comparable to that of a father denouncing his own son. Nonetheless, our guidance in these cases is to respect the law.

To put a fine point on it, elsewhere it is the hierarchy which reserves unto itself whether involve the civil authorities.

Addendum. Having trouble keeping up; scandals running together? Foreign Policy issues The List: The Catholic Church’s Latest Abuse Scandals.

Comments (2)

In some English-speaking countries, but also in France, if bishops become aware of crimes committed by their priests outside the sacramental seal of Confession, they are obliged to report them to the judicial authorities.

Does US law really allow such a fine pointed application of the Law?

I see the Irish Cardinal is using the usual crummy apology to all who feel they have been hurt -- how about a straight forward to all he HAS hurt.

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