Catholic Culture Trusted Commentary
Catholic Culture Trusted Commentary

What did the police know, and when did they know it?

By Phil Lawler ( bio - articles - email ) | Mar 16, 2010

In Ireland Cardinal Sean Brady is under heavy criticism-- justified, in my view-- for having failed to notify law-enforcement officials about reports that a priest was abusing children. The priest, Father Brendan Smyth, went on to become a notorious predator, was eventually convicted, and died in prison. If he had been reported to police earlier, perhaps many children could have been spared from a traumatic experience. 

But today's news brings an interesting wrinkle in the case: Police have been aware for years that Cardinal Brady heard those initial reports back in the 1970s. Police knew that the future cardinal-- who was then a priest and canon lawyer, investigating the case on behalf of the local bishop-- made a thorough report to Church officials, but did not alert civic officials. Knowing what he had done, did the police press charges against Cardinal Brady? No. Did they denounce him? No. The police did what the cardinal himself had done; they kept quiet.

The case is interesting because in more than a few abuse cases in the US, police had some early evidence that a priest was molesting children. When bishops sought to cover up the evidence in those cases, they needed cooperation from local police, and they got it. 

The fact that some police officials were involved in cover-ups does not justify the bishops' involvement. It does, however, point to the fact that Church officials were not the only people guilty of silence in the face of an outrage. 

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: williiam ronner - Mar. 16, 2010 10:56 PM ET USA

    Unfortunately, police officers sometimes put their loyalty to the Church and her priests first. Also, as a practicing Catholic and retired police officer, I would have been hesitant to arrest a priest as, in my very fallible state, I would have found it difficult to believe priests were engaging in this behavior.

  • Posted by: Frodo1945 - Mar. 16, 2010 9:26 PM ET USA

    Yeh, that argument that my friends were doing it too never got me anywhere with my parents. Maybe someday the Bishops will really 'get it' although I am not too hopeful. I think we'll most likely have to endure until they pass on.