Specialist detectives are reviewing claims the head of the Catholic Church in Ireland knew in 1975 that five children were being abused by one of the country’s most dangerous paedophiles.
As Cardinal Seán Brady was increasingly isolated over his role in a secret Church inquiry into evil Brendan Smyth, a series of political leaders piled further pressure on him to quit.
Abuse victims including Brendan Boland and Sam Adair and others speaking anonymously led a chorus of calls for his resignation before Ireland’s deputy prime minister Eamon Gilmore warned that anyone in authority who did not act should go.
The cardinal’s spokesman hit back at the damning collective criticism and repeated the cleric’s claim that the failure 37 years ago lay with Church superiors and not the then priest.
Mr Gilmore said: “It is my personal view that anybody who did not deal with the scale of the abuse that we have seen in this case should not hold a position of authority.”
The beleaguered cardinal has vowed to remain as Primate of All-Ireland despite new revelations in a BBC documentary over the role he played investigating allegations against Smyth and secretly interviewing two young victims.
The abuse complaints were not passed to police at the time and parents were not informed.
Northern Ireland’s Deputy First Minister Martin McGuinness has backed calls from Taoiseach Enda Kenny for the cardinal to reflect on his position
“I think that many Catholics, of which I am one, Catholic priests amongst whom I have many good friends and the public in general will be dismayed at these new allegations,” Mr McGuinness said.
Micheal Martin, leader of opposition party Fianna Fáil in Dublin, said the cardinal should consider his position, given the enormity and scale of the abuse perpetrated by Smyth.
“I think his authority has been very seriously undermined with what has happened,” Mr Martin said.
Labour’s Education Minister Ruairi Quinn called for the resignation of the cardinal because of his position as the most senior cleric of a Church which is patron of 92% of the 3,200 primary schools in Ireland.
The cardinal was also facing wider calls to address explanations over his role in the 1975 inquiry.
Martin Long, the cardinal’s spokesman, rejected claims that there was any discrepancy or contradiction over this week’s description of the cleric as notary and the 2010 explanation which said he had been asked to conduct the investigation.
“The facts remain the same. He was not the person in charge of the inquiry,” he said.
A statement from the Church in March 2010 said Cardinal Brady, who was a teaching priest at a boarding school, had been drafted in to conduct the investigation because he held a doctorate in canon law.
In the 1975 internal Church inquiry Brendan Boland, a then 14-year-old, told investigators that at least five children had been attacked by Smyth.
The cardinal claimed his role was as notary and to submit a report and he blamed superiors in the Church for failing to stop the evil priest abusing over the next 20 years.
But the cardinal also accepted he privately interviewed one of the victims identified by Mr Boland about the abuse and did not notify the child’s parents.
Cardinal Brady, who is due to retire in 2014, also swore two victims to secrecy and the Church has since claimed this was for their protection and to prevent Smyth, who died in prison in 1997, from manipulating evidence.
A senior Police Service of Northern Ireland (PSNI) commander, Assistant Chief Constable George Hamilton, said a decision on whether to launch an investigation into the claims levelled against Cardinal Brady would not be taken until the evidence was fully assessed.
A team already investigating alleged institutional abuse in the region is reviewing the documentary to see if there was prima facie evidence that an offence had taken place.
Mr Hamilton vowed his officers would “do the right thing” based on where the evidence led them.
He said he would not comment on whether the police had plans to interview Cardinal Brady although question marks remain over whether the PSNI holds jurisdictional responsibility, given that the programme focused on historic incidents on both sides of the Irish border.
Later, the Garda press office in Dublin declined to comment on whether it was investigating the circumstances around the inquiry.
Mr Gilmore, who also holds the post of minister for foreign affairs, oversaw the decision to close down the Irish embassy in the Vatican last year. That move was made as part of huge cost-cutting measures, the Government said.
Mr Gilmore also stated that he believed in the separation of church and state.
Some children were abused by Smyth for years after the internal Church inquiry.
It was not until 1994 that Smyth was convicted in a Belfast court of 17 counts of sexual abuse. Three years later in Dublin, he pleaded guilty to another 74 counts of child sexual abuse. He died in prison in 1997.