Rendezvous in Rome
Brendan Boland was the 14 year old victim of one of many serial rapists operating within Church ranks when Church authorities decided that the best way of neutralising him was to isolate him from the security of his father, put him in a room with men who were colleagues of the priest who had raped him, outnumbering him with interrogators. I remember when I was questioned by the RUC in 1974 I chanced my arm and asked for a parent to be to be present. I was amazed when they acceded to my request without hesitation. Seems even they had more concern for Catholic teenagers than the Church.
The Church conspiracy to silence Brendan Boland resulted in a persistent offender being ordained to carry on in his rape vocation totally unhindered. In short, senior Catholic clerics had a rapist in their midst whom they knew about and did nothing to compel him to desist. When questioned in 1975 by Church figures including the current cardinal Sean Brady, Brendan Boland gave his interrogators the names and addresses of children that Smith was already abusing or posed a potentially serious risk to. Only one of these people was subsequently spoken to by the hierarchy. He confirmed what Brendan Boland had told his inquisitors.
Neither his parents nor the parents of the other people at risk were warned. Such was the need to protect power and reputation that truth was held within the grip of those least likely to do anything with it, other than to bury it. The information necessary for rape prevention was available and the Church failed to act on it. Protected by the Church’s complicity through silence Smith continued to abuse 'John', his sister and four cousins. It never even took the basic safety procedure of warning the teenager’s parents that he was at risk.
So it was a very poignant scene that confronted the viewer in MacIntyre’s documentary when Brendan Boland met up with John and told him ‘I thought I had saved you.’ That he had not saved him was down to the clergy who knew about Smith but preferred to save the ‘good name’ of Mother Church and not the children its officials raped. Smith raped children because the Church did nothing to prevent him raping children and created the circumstances in which he could continue raping children.
Sean Brady, who swore Brendan Bolan to secrecy, was a teacher who held a doctorate in canon law. Today he insists his function was that of a notary, which because it closely enough resembles the term note, allows him to put the inflection ‘note taker’ on it. This minimises his role, distancing him from any investigatory responsibility, as if he was performing the role of a court stenographer with absolutely no responsibility outside of his function on the day, and with no input into the decision making process. Fr Thomas Doyle, an expert in canon law disputed this interpretation. In his eye Brady’s handling of the matter was completely inadequate. To claim, as he does, that he only did his job and passed the matter up the line, Doyle found a threadbare defence. He stated that it was criminal behaviour for Brady and the bishops not to have done anything about it. Strong stuff from a fellow priest. It strikes a chord in a way that Brady’s account does not.
Darragh MacIntyre pursued Sean Brady to Rome. The cardinal who appeared to want to give an explanation nevertheless allowed himself to be shuttled out of range by a minder, prompting MacIntyre to angrily comment that the cardinal was deliberately, wilfully refusing to take responsibility for his actions, or inactions, which left children exposed to abuse.
Charles Sciculna ‘promoter of justice’ for the Congregation for the Doctrine of the Faith said on the documentary that the response by the Church to disclosures such as those made about Smith should be immediate and effective. Par for the course he sidestepped the question of Brady’s resignation. Incredibly he claimed he would not give his opinion on it despite earlier in the course of the same interview pontificated that the culture of silence was the enemy of truth of justice.
Whether he chooses to resign or not it seems indisputable that Sean Brady is a gravely weakened leader. He has lost his moral authority, as many staunch defenders of the church distance themselves from them having at last come to recognise his liability status. They range from Vincent Twomey to David Quinn. They are not prepared to stand over his actions in 1975.
Yet what is perhaps more instructive than the events of 1975 are those of 2012. Almost 40 years ago the culture of Catholicism, uninformed by and much more impervious to the culture of secular dissent that abounds today, may have made it possible for Sean Brady to think he had behaved at least procedurally correctly. He did not exist in a vacuum and lived and breathed the institutional culture of his day, being guided by the anonymous pressure of the group. If that is an extenuating circumstance, it is hopelessly negated by events of today where he simply refuses to publicly apologise to Brendan Boland. It reeks of arrogance: a prince of the church apologise to a pauper of the streets; never, never, never.
His refusal to resign indicts him less than his refusal to apologise.