Pressure is increasing on the head of the Catholic church in Ireland to resign amid allegations of his role in a secret inquiry into a paedophile priest.
A string of government ministers and political leaders want Cardinal Sean Brady to consider his future over the Brendan Smyth affair.
Smyth was convicted in 1994 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, over 35 years. He died in prison in 1997.
The beleaguered cardinal has repeatedly vowed to carry on despite disclosures that in 1975 he was aware of at least five of Smyth’s child victims, yet reports were not passed to police and parents not informed. Some children were abused by Fr Smyth for years after the internal church inquiry.
Cardinal Brady – at the time a teaching priest at a boarding school, a part-time diocesan secretary and a canon lawyer – acted as notary in the 1975 interviews with two of Smyth’s victims.
He also swore them to secrecy, but has insisted he should not quit as he was tasked with writing a report and his seniors, and those of Smyth’s order, were responsible for acting to stop him.
Last night the Catholic Church disputed reports he had previously offered to step down, insisting Cardinal Sean Brady did not offer to resign when allegations first broke two years ago.
Martin Long, head of the Catholic communications office in Ireland, said: “No such offer of resignation was made.”
Cardinal Brady is due to retire in 2014. In the wake of his role in the Smyth inquiry first being uncovered in 2010 he approached the Pope to ask for another bishop to support his work in the Armagh Archdiocese. Mr Long said that request is still active.
It is expected that a coadjutor will be appointed to Armagh by the end of the year with the prospect that he will ultimately replace the cardinal on his retirement aged 75.
Taoiseach Enda Kenny said it was not his job to dictate who leads the church but Martin McGuinness repeated his concerns and called for him to go.
Helen McGonagle, a United States lawyer abused by Smyth while he was a priest in east Greenwich, Rhode Island, in the Diocese of Providence, said the cardinal must resign and should be the subject of a criminal inquiry.
“Smyth and the Catholic Church destroyed my family,” she said.
Ms McGonagle said she is aware of at least a dozen victims of Smyth in Rhode Island. Her sister, also a victim of Smyth’s, took an overdose of anti-depressants in 2005 aged 48 and her brother, who had not been abused, died in similar circumstances.
“What happened to Brady is that he was promoted and rewarded and given a red hat,” she said. “This is a terrible injustice.”
Police in Northern Ireland are reviewing a BBC documentary which uncovered the extent of Cardinal Brady’s role in the Smyth inquiry, including a secret interview he conducted with a second victim to corroborate the original allegations.
The Garda in Dublin have declined to comment on whether it is investigating the circumstances around the inquiry.