Ireland’s Cardinal Brady apologizes for covering up child rapes, holds out on resignation

Via NYTimes:

DUBLIN — The besieged leader of the Roman Catholic Church in Ireland said Wednesday that he was “ashamed” of the role he played decades ago in handling accusations of child sexual abuse against a priest who went on to sexually assault scores of children, and he hinted that he might bow to calls for his resignation.

“I want to say to anyone who has been hurt by any failure on my part that I apologize to you with all my heart,” Cardinal Sean Brady said in an extraordinary St. Patrick’s Day sermon in Northern Ireland. “I also apologize 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.”

He delivered his broad apology before Pope Benedict XVI is due to issue a letter soon to Irish bishops addressing the abuse crisis. In unscripted remarks during the pope’s weekly audience on Wednesday, Benedict said the letter’s release would help “repentance, healing and renewal.”

The church’s widening abuse scandal has rocked Ireland, one of the world’s most heavily Catholic countries, and shaken dioceses across Europe in recent weeks, even reaching into the Vatican with questions about Benedict’s role in the handling of an abuse case while he was an archbishop in Germany.

Cardinal Brady has faced numerous calls for his resignation in the wake of revelations that he took part in an abuse investigation in 1975 in which a 10-year-old and a 14-year-old were forced to sign secrecy oaths. Cardinal Brady, who was a priest at the time, never went to the police; the priest who had been accused, the Rev. Brendan Smyth, was convicted in the 1990s and admitted to molesting and raping about 100 children in Ireland and the United States. In an interview with Irish state radio on Monday, Cardinal Brady answered the calls for his resignation — some from within the Irish clergy — by saying that he was “not a manager and not a bishop” when, as a 36-year-old priest then working as a secondary school teacher, he was asked by his bishop to participate in interviews with the two children who said they had been abused by Father Smyth.

“I have said that I don’t think it’s a resigning matter,” Cardinal Brady said. “I’ve also heard other calls, many other calls, to stay and to continue the work of addressing this most difficult problem.”

He said he would “only resign if asked by the Holy Father.”

But the cardinal’s deeply apologetic tone on Wednesday in Armagh led to widespread speculation in Ireland that he would step down, possibly as early as Thursday.

In his sermon, the cardinal said, “The Lord is calling us to a new beginning.”

He added, “None of us knows where that new beginning will lead.”

In his radio interview earlier in the week, Cardinal Brady said that under the procedures then mandated by the church, it had not been his responsibility to inform the police in 1975 that Father Smyth was abusing children.

“We had no guidance,” he said. “We were in uncharted territory, and now we have higher standards, thankfully.”

At the Vatican on Wednesday, Benedict said that he would sign the pastoral letter to the Irish church on Friday. He said that it had been “severely shaken” by abuse cases and that he was “deeply concerned.” Benedict himself has been under scrutiny, after the German church suspended a priest this week who had been allowed to work with children for decades after a court convicted him of molesting boys. In 1980, Benedict, then Archbishop Joseph Ratzinger, allowed the priest to move to Munich for therapy after allegations of abuse. The priest returned to pastoral work, but last week another church official took responsibility for allowing that move. Some church analysts have questioned whether Cardinal Brady will resign, saying that would only provoke questions about why the pope, who also failed to report a priest accused of abuse to civil authorities, did not also resign.

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