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Catholic Culture Overview
Catholic Culture Overview

How often did police join in the cover-up of sexual abuse?

By Phil Lawler ( bio - articles - email ) | Jun 25, 2015

Cardinal Sean Brady has apologized yet again for the failure to stop the predatory behavior of a pedophile priest, the late Brendan Smyth. If you’ve been following the story you know that Cardinal Brady—now retired, but once the Archbishop of Armagh, successor to St. Patrick, and Primate of All Ireland—became aware of Smyth’s misconduct in 1975, when he was a relatively young priest handling canonical affairs for the archdiocese. He informed archdiocesan superiors about the abuse, but did not inform police. Smyth remained on the loose, a menace to children, until his arrest in 1994.

Cardinal Brady has admitted that he should have done more to stop the pedophile priest. For several years now he has been harshly criticized by people who insist that he should have notified the police, and it’s difficult to argue with that criticism.

But what would have happened if then-Father Brady had told the Irish police, the gardai, that Father Smyth has abused children? Would the abuse have stopped? We now have answers to those questions: Nothing and No.

Thanks to the Historical Institutional Abuse Inquiry, which heard the cardinal’s testimony this week, we now know that the gardai actually were informed about Father Smyth’s abuse, by a psychiatrist who had treated the priest for pedophilia. And how did the gardai respond? Well, you already know the answer to that question; the pedophile priest was not arrested until 1994.

This is not an isolated case. In more than a decade of reading and reporting about clerical abuse, I have frequently encountered evidence that police were aware of the priest’s misconduct, whether or not diocesan officials reported it. I don’t mean—not for a minute!—to absolve Church leaders of their responsibility. But in turning a blind eye to abuse, and letting criminals go unpunished, the bishops were not alone.

Phil Lawler has been a Catholic journalist for more than 30 years. He has edited several Catholic magazines and written eight books. Founder of Catholic World News, he is the news director and lead analyst at See full bio.

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  • Posted by: meegan2136289 - Jun. 28, 2015 11:41 AM ET USA

    I am glad the author doesn't try to spin this in such a way as to take accountability off of priests and bishops, but the lack of police action in (probably many of) these cases is an important factor to be aware of.