Saturday March 27 2010
THE Vatican will force the head of the Roman Catholic Church in Ireland, Cardinal Sean Brady, to quit if he refuses to resign over the growing child abuse scandal.
Sources in Rome signalled that nothing less than Dr Brady's resignation will diminish fury at the highest levels in Rome over his role in paedophile priest cover-ups.
Dr Brady apologised last week for his role in a Catholic Church tribunal on allegations made by a 14-year-old boy against Brendan Smyth, the priest whose case brought down the Government in 1994.
The victim was sworn to secrecy after the proceedings. Sources said that Pope Benedict was considering diverting attacks on his handling of paedophile cases in Germany and France by taking strong action in Ireland.
The sources added that the Pope was considering the option of seeking Cardinal Brady's resignation to prove to his critics that he was now fully determined to tackle the worldwide abuse crisis.
Cardinal Brady has already stated he will not resign unless asked to do so by the Pope -- and he has pleaded for time to consider his position until May 23. But church sources in Ireland and Rome said last night that events surrounding the abuse scandals were happening so quickly that Cardinal Brady himself may decide to step down, possibly during Holy Week, which begins with Palm Sunday tomorrow. Further difficulties for Cardinal Brady emerged yesterday when he was called on to withdraw his defence in a legal battle with a man who claims he was abused by paedophile priest Fr Brendan Smyth.
The cardinal said he wanted to work towards a just resolution in a court case being taken against him by the alleged victim of clerical abuse.
It is understood the man is suing Dr Brady at the High Court in his capacity as Archbishop of Armagh.
Although there is no canonical procedure to remove him, if he refuses to go voluntarily pressure from the Holy See will make his departure inevitable.
"Ireland needs a fresh start," a source in Rome said. "By clinging on, he is putting his own interests before the church's."
Dr Brady's exit, after the resignations of Bishop Donal Murray and Bishop John Magee, would pave the way for a major church reform in Ireland.
Other bishops are also expected to go after the 'Tablet Journal', an influential Catholic weekly, called for the forced retirement of a number of prelates in a hard-hitting editorial. The view in Rome is that Cardinal Brady's apology has not gone far enough and there has been no popular groundswell of support for Dr Brady in Ireland.
The most likely successor to Cardinal Brady is the Dublin Archbishop Diarmuid Martin, and another highly regarded contender is Bishop Noel Treanor of Down and Connor, the youngest serving bishop in Ireland.
By announcing an apostolic visitation to the Irish church in a letter last week, Pope Benedict XVI effectively placed it in receivership.
The scandal spread closer to home for the Pope yesterday as, in Italy, a group of victims appeared on television to allege that two dozen priests in Verona had abused children at a school for the deaf for decades. The Holy See attempted to blame the media for whipping up a storm against the Pope as efforts intensified in London and Rome to prevent Benedict XVI's visit to Britain in September from being derailed.
British government officials made clear yesterday that the visit, which is being co-ordinated by a cross-government committee, would go ahead as planned.
The Catholic bishops of England and Wales are not expected to be caught up in the present wave of revelations because of action taken by the then Archbishop of Westminster, Cardinal Cormac Murphy-O'Connor, to clean up the church a decade ago.
- John Cooney, Ruth Gledhill and Jill Sherman