BELFAST, Northern Ireland (RNS) For years, the head of the Catholic Church in Ireland, Cardinal Sean Brady, refused to heed repeated calls for him to step down over alleged cover-ups of sexual abuse of children by clergy.
Now at 75, the age cardinals are required to step down, Brady finally tendered his resignation, which Pope Francis accepted on Monday (Sept. 8).
“It has been a great joy and privilege for me to serve … and also to travel and meet people from all over Ireland in my role as primate,” he said in a statement referring to his title as archbishop of Armagh and primate of all Ireland.
Since he became head of the Catholic Church in Ireland in 1996, Brady has been dogged by allegations of child abuse cover-ups. His tenure, during which he became cardinal in 2007, has also been plagued by falling church attendance and strained relations with the Irish government.
In 2012, Brady publicly apologized for mishandling allegations of abuse after it emerged that in 1975 he was present at church meetings with two teenagers who alleged they were sexually abused by the Rev. Brendan Smyth. Instead of going to the authorities, the priests swore the alleged victims to secrecy, victims groups charged.
Brady has long maintained that he was just there to take the minutes of the meetings; as a young priest, he had no authority over Smyth. Furthermore, Brady said he was “shocked, appalled and outraged” to learn the Belfast priest went on to abuse others until the mid-1990s when he was convicted of more than 100 charges of abuse. Smyth died in prison in 1997.
In his resignation statement, Brady referred to the past abuse, saying he needed to apologize and to ask for forgiveness. At the same time, he added, he must “trust in the mercy of God.”
Still, some said Brady’s resignation should have happened a long time ago.
“If Cardinal Brady had resigned in 2010 when Brendan Smyth failures became known it might have meant something to survivors — meaningless now,” tweeted Marie Collins of Dublin, a sex abuse victim who has campaigned for a better understanding of the effects of sexual abuse on children.
Brady, who was born in County Cavan and ordained in 1964, became archbishop of Armagh and primate of all Ireland in 1996. Archbishop Eamon Martin has been named as Brady’s successor.
News of the 52-year-old archbishop’s appointment was welcomed here.
“He’s a very generous man and a very, very kind man who is very dedicated to his ministry and to his priesthood,” said the Rev. Patrick Lagan of St. Eugene’s Cathedral. “We’ll see certainly a very enthusiastic and kind shepherd.”
YS/AMB END SMITH