Monday, March 29, 2010

Archbishop of Westminster: 'secrecy vows should never have happened'

The Archbishop of Westminster has said children should not have been made to swear life-long vows of secrecy as more details of legal cases in which the head of the Irish Catholic Church Cardinal Seán Brady is named as a defendant emerged in Ireland.

Responding to the reports that Cardinal Brady was present when abused children were sworn to secrecy, Archbishop Vincent Nichols said it was wrong for victims to swear secrecy for a lifetime but told the BBC's Andrew Marr show that it was comparable to the secrecy imposed for the purposes of a trial.

"It is like giving victims anonymity in the course of a trial," he said.

However he maintained there was nothing that prevented abuse from being reported to the police.

"Since 2001 consistently the Holy See has urged bishops to do that," he told the programme.

Pressure is growing on Cardinal Brady to step down as Ireland's Sunday Independent reported today that he is fighting legal actions brought by five victims of the child rapist Father Brendan Smyth. Three of the cases have been before the High Court for more than a decade.

An investigation is to be launched in Ireland into whether offences were committed by failures to report allegations to the police or to take steps to stop priests raping children. Assistant Commissioner John O'Mahony has been brought back to Dublin from his position as head of the garda western region in Galway to head a team to examine files released by the Catholic Church and information uncovered in other garda investigations, and to speak to senior clergy who knew about abusers but did nothing about them.

It was the same newspaper that two weeks ago reported the case of the Cardinal's involvement in interviewing two young boys in 1975 who were raped and abused by Father Smyth.

Although this had been discovered a decade earlier, there is anger in Rome that his involvement was not known to the Holy See when Cardinal Brady was appointed coadjutor Archbishop of Armagh in 1994 and formally installed after Cardinal Cahal Daly retired in 1996.

The Times reported on Saturday that Cardinal Brady is under pressure to resign. He is currently using Lent to consider his position and has said he will not make up his mind until Pentecost, at the end of May.

Sources told The Times that his position was increasingly untenable and he should step down for the sake of the Church.

"I think from his language that he's getting ready to go," a source said. "That will be the sea change that is needed in Ireland. The Irish case is very serious. The scale of the problem there is much worse than anywhere else."

There is also anger that Cardinal Brady did not tell Pope he was facing legal proceedings during two days of talks between Benedict XVI the Irish bishops in Rome in February.

Demonstrators at Westminster Cathedral in London called for the Pope himself to step down but Archbishop Nichols dismissed their demands.

The Pope is due to visit England and Scotland for four days in September, when he will make a speech at Westminster on the need for moral values in society.

The Protest the Pope group believes the Pope is personally responsible for some of the cover up.

However, defenders of Benedict XVI say he is in fact cleaning up the Catholic Church. In his Good Friday meditations shortly before his election in 2005, he personally condemned the "filth" in the Church.

The Pope's recent pastoral letter to the Irish was unprecedented, and by announcing an Apostolic Visitation he effectively placed the Catholic Church there in receivership.

Archbishop Nichols said: "The Pope won't resign. Frankly there's no strong reason for him to do so. In fact it's the other way round. He's the one above all else in Rome who's tackled these things head on."

"What we have done in this country is actually quite instructive. Over ten years have put in place procedures in every parish with external supervision to make sure that any allegations no matter how far back they come from are handled in open and transparent way."

He said England and Wales had not escaped the scandal.

"We've had our fair share of abuse but we've handled it properly. Child abuse is probably the most hidden crime. These things will continue to emerge. But people have to remember that 75 per cent of abuse in this country is within the family. It takes a long time to emerge.

He said just one case of child abuse was enough to create "justifiable anger" but the issue could be tackled.

Archbishop Nichols said he acknowledged the sense of betrayal in the Church felt by victims and their families.

Activist Peter Tatchell, who helped organise the demonstration at Westminster Cathedral, criticised the Pope's 2001 letter to Catholic bishops worldwide when, as Cardinal Joseph Ratzinger and head of the disciplinary body, the Congregation for the Doctrine of the Faith, he ordered that child abuse cases be subject to the "pontifical secret".

Mr Tatchell said: "He failed to ensure that priests who raped and sexually abused young people were reported to the police.

"This is why he is not welcome in the UK and why we object to him being honoured with a state visit in September, especially a state visit that is being funded by the taxpayer."

Pope is coming under pressure to call an emergency synod of bishops from around the world to draw up strategy to deal with the crisis. So far, the Vatican's response has been to blame the media.
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