Making invisible the victims of child abuse

Cardinal Sean Brady In June 2012, Cardinal Brady – who in 1975 had let a child abuser loose to prey on further victimspublicly if not very personally apologised:

Cardinal Sean Brady has said it is “a matter of deep shame” that the Catholic Church did not always respond properly to victims of child abuse.

The Catholic primate of all Ireland was delivering a homily at the 50th International Eucharistic Congress in Dublin.

He said he wanted to ask for the forgiveness of abuse victims.

He said the church had “first betrayed their trust and then failed to respond adequately to their pain”.


In a BBC documentary in May, a victim of Father Brendan Smyth told how in 1975 he

gave Brady, then a priest, a list of names and addresses of other children Smyth was abusing. He claims neither Brady or the hierarchy acted on his information. A number of those children have since come forward over the past few days to claim that, had Brady handed over the information to the police on either side of the Irish border or even their parents, they would not have been subjected to years of abuse at the hands of Smyth.

Amid deepening anger aimed at the church’s leadership, Brady said he would “apologise without hesitation” to Boland “and to any victim”.

It would have taken courage and moral backbone for Cardinal Brady to use his Christmas Eve sermon this year to apologise to the victims of sexual abuse in Ireland, both those harmed by his failure to act in 1975 and all the other victims.

Including one child whom we know as “X”. In 1992, when “X” was 14, she was raped by a neighbour and became pregnant. X was suicidal and despairing: her parents took her to England to have an abortion, and the Attorney General tried to force her to have the rapist’s baby by an injunction granted in the High Court (the family had informed the Garda if DNA from the foetus would be evidence that could convict the rapist). A majority opinion on the Supreme Court ruled that a girl or a woman who was at risk of dying if she didn’t have an abortion – as for example a raped and suicidal child – could legally have an abortion, and overturned Harry Whelehan and Declan Costello’s attempt to force the girl to have the baby against her will. “X” miscarried shortly after: the rapist went to jail for four years.

What is Sean Brady’s view of this child, or of any other victim of sexual abuse who needs an abortion?

Nowhere. Cardinal Brady used his Christmas Eve sermon to preach that such victims of sexual abuse should be forced to have the rapist’s baby against her will, regardless of how suicidal that forced use of her body made her: regardless of the damage to a woman’s health, regardless of the risk to her life.

To Cardinal Brady, by Christmas 2012, victims of sexual abuse didn’t deserve apology: they deserved more forced use and dismissal of their pain by erasing those children and women from discourse.

This is an evil argument.

The change in the law being proposed by the Irish government is that if a girl or a woman will die if she doesn’t have an abortion, legislation and regulations must specify that the doctors can perform the abortion in Ireland. This isn’t prochoice legislation: this merely allows that the girl’s life, the woman’s life, is of value in and of itself.

For Cardinal Brady to claim that if doctors are allowed to save one life by abortion rather than let both die this shows

the right to life is fundamental

and that doctors who let a woman die in hospital rather than abort her pregnancy are

providing the best possible care and protection to a woman

then Brady is really saying that to him, the pregnant female is not really life at all. She does not exist in his world view, neither as a subject for compassion and apology nor even as a human being with a right to live.

That some Catholics feel bound to oppose legal abortion in Ireland because all abortion is wrong even when carried out to save a woman’s life, is to argue that it is necessary for Catholics to believe it is better for both pregnant woman and foetus to die if the foetus cannot live; that it is an essential part of Catholic doctrine to believe that pregnant woman may be allowed to live only for the purpose of bringing a foetus to term: this is as wrong as Jephthah’s vow to immolate his daughter.

Sinead Ahern, spokeswoman of Pro-Choice Ireland, pointed out

“Obviously, this is a very sensitive issue and one on which opinion is sharply divided. However, the issue here is a change in the law to put into effect a right women have had here for a long time. Cardinal Brady talks a lot about the right to life, but what about a woman’s right to life? The lack of legislation in this area is threatening that right.

“He is suggesting some sort of very liberal abortion regime coming in on foot of the legislation when the fact is abortion will only be offered to women where there is a direct threat to the life of the mother.

“It will not affect those who are carrying a child with fatal foetal abnormalities, women who have been raped, or women who are very ill.”

But even saving a woman’s life, even saving the life of a raped and suicidal child, is just too much for Cardinal Sean Brady, who not six months ago was claiming to be very, very sorry for all victims of sexual abuse.

Healing Stone Eucharistic Conference Dublin Lord, we are so sorry for what some of us did to your children: treated them so cruelly, especially, in their hour of need. We have left them with a lifelong suffering. This was not your plan for them or us. Please help us to help them. Guide us, Lord, Amen.

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Filed under Children, Human Rights, Religion, Women

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