Published Sunday, 14 March 2010
Cardinal Sean Brady said he had been present at a closed canonical tribunal into the activities of the late Father Brendan Smyth.
During the meeting, two of Smyth's child victims were made to sign an oath to the Catholic church that they would not talk about their claims with anybody other than a priest.
The disclosure that the children gave these written assurances in Brady's presence will again raise fears that the church thought it was above the law.
The support group Irish Survivors of Child Abuse said it confirmed that a cover-up of clerical abuse of children "went to the very top".
The tribunal was held over two meetings in 1975 behind closed doors at a Dominican Friary outside Dundalk, close to the Northern Ireland border, and later in Ballyjamesduff.
Smyth was accused of sexually assaulting a boy then aged 10 while on holiday. A girl said the priest had abused her around Easter 1970, when she was 10.
Both alleged victims were required to sign affadavits swearing that they would not talk to anyone except priests given special permission to hear their allegations. The church at the time did not inform Irish police about the children's allegations.
It was not until the broadcast of an Ulster Television documentary in 1994 on Smyth's history of serial child sex abuse that the church admitted it had known about his paedophilia and had moved him around Ireland, Britain and the United States, where he was able to continue to abuse other children.
Smyth died in jail 13 years ago while serving 12 years for 74 sexual assaults on children.
The Irish Survivors of Child Abuse co-founder Patrick Walsh said: "This is an extraordinary turn of events where the most senior Catholic man in Ireland knew about allegations of child abuse more than 30 years ago. These revelations confirm there was a systemic problem within the Roman Catholic church in Ireland over a great number of years. It went to the very top.
"The church was more interested in protecting its reputation than anything else. Certainly the cardinal needs to examine his conscience about this. He needs to take stock of his position. In 1975 he was just a priest acting as a secretary and he was not the decision maker. But he knew what was going on. He really should consider standing down."
The Catholic Information Office in Ireland said: "In 1975, Father Sean Brady, as he then was, was the part-time secretary to the then bishop of Kilmore, the late Bishop Francis McKiernan. At the direction of Bishop McKiernan, Father Brady attended the two meetings ... In the Dundalk meeting Father Brady acted as recording secretary for the process involved. In the Ballyjamesduff meeting he asked the questions and recorded the answers given.
"At those meetings the complainants signed undertakings, on oath, to respect the confidentiality of the information-gathering process. As instructed, and as a matter of urgency, Father Brady passed both reports to Bishop McKiernan for his immediate action."
The cardinal is now being sued by the female victim, who claims she suffered assault, battery and bodily tresspass by Smyth.
Brady, one of three defendants in the case, is accused of "failing to report to An Garda Siochana [the Irish police] the fact of formal signed complaints against Father Brendan Smyth of sexual assault and paedophilia on other children made to the church authorities investigated by them at interviews".
Smyth's extradition from the Republic to face charges in Northern Ireland led to the collapse of Albert Reynolds' government months after he had helped secure the 1994 IRA ceasefire.
His Labour party coalition partners pulled out of government after it emerged that the Royal Ulster Constabulary's extradition warrant had sat in the Irish attorney general's office.