Page last updated at 16:10 GMT, Wednesday, 17 March 2010

Analysis - Cardinal Brady apology

The leader of Ireland's Catholic's, Cardinal Sean Brady, has apologised for his role in mishandling the serial child abuser Fr Brendan Smyth. But will it be enough for him to keep his job? BBC Northern Ireland religious affairs presenter William Crawley offers his analysis.

Cardinal Sean Brady
Cardinal Brady has been under pressure for days

Sean Brady's St Patrick's Day sermon sounded like an act of confession from the man who is successor of Ireland's patron saint.

He reminded his listeners that the saint's account of his own life - his "confession" - begins with the words, "I, Patrick, a sinner."

The cardinal could just as easily have begun his homily with the words, "I, Sean, a sinner".

The starkest admission in the sermon is the statement that: "I am ashamed that I have not always upheld the values that I profess and believe in."

But shame and sinfulness, said the cardinal, are part of every saint's story too.

With the telling phrase "wounded healer", he offered himself to the church as one who is better placed to help it deal with the tragedy of child sexual abuse because of his brokenness.


A slightly discordant note was stuck when the cardinal said, "I have listened to reaction from people to my role in events 35 years ago."

Is that chronological stress a disguised criticism of others for dredging up the sins of the distant past?

Then the apology, which is less direct and more conditional than some victims and survivors would have liked.

"I want to say to anyone who has been hurt by any failure on my part that I apologise to you with all my heart. I also apologise to all those who feel I have let them down," he said.

Is this a rather abstract reference to the two teenagers who signed oaths of confidentiality before him in 1975, or to the other victims of Brendan Smyth who have come forward this week to express their outrage that the church would ask children to take a vow of secrecy about abuse?

News cycle

In what could be read as a response to requests from political leaders that he consider his own position, he ended by saying that he "will be reflecting carefully as we enter into Holy Week" and seeking to "discern the will of the Holy Spirit".

Read between the lines of that statement, some sceptics have suggested, and it sounds more like a media strategy than a mea culpa.

The cardinal hopes the tide of opposition he is currently facing will withdraw as a new story emerges to dominate the next news cycle.

That new story may be provided this weekend, when Pope Benedict's long-awaited Pastoral Letter to the Irish church is published.

Is that publication mere serendipity, or is the Vatican working hard to keep the Irish primate in his job?

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