|Cardinal Sean Brady|
Depending on how you see it, the outcome could make or break the Irish economy for decades to come.
It's not only a very important matter but a highly complex one. It deserves all our attention for the next few weeks as we decide whether to vote yes or no.
It should have been dominating the headlines here last week, but it failed to do so. Instead it was pushed to the margins as sex abuse by priests yet again took over the news agenda.
It's enough to make you despair that this country can ever be normal.
Unbelievably, even at this critical time, clerical sex abuse is back again to haunt us. And this time it reaches right to the very top, to the man in charge of the Catholic Church in Ireland, Cardinal Sean Brady.
The latest revelations came in a BBC TV program just over a week ago about the notorious Father Brendan Smyth, the worst sexual predator in the church here, and what happened when the then Father Sean Brady investigated Smyth's abuse back in 1975.
You will, I'm sure, need no reminding of the appalling child abuse that Smyth perpetrated here north and south of the border and also in the U.S. when he was sent over there.
He was rampant -- there is no other word for it -- over four decades from the 1950s to the 1990s as he was shifted around from parish to parish and even from country to country. Dozens, possibly hundreds, of children were abused by him.
Eventually he was jailed in the north, and subsequently in the south. His case was so controversial that it led to the fall of the Fianna Fail/Labor government here in the 1990s over the attorney general's handling of Smyth's extradition.
Having brought down a taoiseach (prime minister) back then, it seems certain that Smyth, who died in prison here in 1997, will now be responsible for bringing down a cardinal as well.
Last weekend, Brady was “reflecting seriously on his future.” But he’s in a hopeless position. There’s not much to reflect on, other than the timing of his departure.
The latest revelations are so damning that they have completely undermined his credibility and suitability as a church leader.
We already know, of course, that Brady and two other priests were involved in a church investigation into
Smyth in 1975 after accusations of abuse had been made against Smyth. This investigation was conducted for the local bishop in the area where Smyth had been operating.
Brady, a canon lawyer, has always insisted that his function was simply as a note taker. He passed his report on to the bishop for action.
Because Smyth belonged to a religious order, he had to be controlled though the abbot of his monastery, which complicated matters. Smyth was banned by the bishop from some priestly duties, and the abbot continued to move him around to stop him forming “attachments” with children. But nothing effective was done to stop his activities.
All that has already been known, including the fact that the children who were interviewed as part of the investigation were sworn to secrecy by Brady and his two colleagues, who did not send their findings to the police. This was normal church procedure at the time. Brady has always insisted that he did everything that was expected of him. It was up to others, the bishop and the Abbot, to take action.
What the BBC program a week ago has done is shoot that already flimsy defense to pieces. It revealed that during the investigation one boy, Brendan Boland, had given Brady a list of names of children who were being abused, but Brady did not inform their parents.
It also revealed that the boy remembers that Brady played an active role in the investigation, interrogating the children who had made complaints. This was confirmed by one of the other priests, who has since left the priesthood.
Brady was not just a note taker. The questions that were asked during the investigation also seem outrageous.
The boy, who Smyth had got to masturbate him during regular visits to his home, was asked if he liked doing this. He was also asked what happened to his body during the sessions, and whether he would have done this with another boy or man.
This line of questioning was, of course, totally inappropriate and also irrelevant. Since the boy was only 13 or 14 he was not old enough to consent.
In any event, the boy told Brady and his colleagues that he did not like what he was involved in and only did it because Smyth was a priest.
Apart from his active role in the questioning and his failure to involve the police or to follow through on his report to the bishop, the most damning part of the BBC revelations was that Brady, although he had a list of names of children Smyth had abused, did not contact their parents to tell them.
In the eyes of people here that is absolutely unforgiveable, and that reason alone is enough to mean that Cardinal Brady must go.
A separate claim last week added to the pressure on the cardinal. A former pupil at the college in Cavan where Brady was a teacher for years says that he was abused at the college when Smyth visited there.
Significantly, this happened after the 1975 investigation. The pupil is now suing Brady, who says he was "completely unaware" that Smyth was ever in the college.
The revelations last week have shaken the already disgraced church here to its very core. There is now a real possibility that Brady could face not only civil actions for damages but a criminal case as well, even though the law back in the 1970s was not as clear as it is now.
In an effort to finally reveal everything about the Smyth saga of abuse, the Archbishop of Dublin Diarmuid Martin last weekend called for an independent commission to investigate all of the accusations and how they were handled by both the church and the state over the years.
The last thing we need is another tribunal, but that might be the only way of getting all the information out of the church archives and onto the public record.
Smyth visited the U.S. twice. In 1945, at the age of 18, he had joined the Norbertine monks, based in Holy
Trinity Abbey near Ballyjamesduff, Co. Cavan. In 1951 he began work as a priest in West Belfast and started abusing children there.
He was a consistent abuser, and complaints eventually led to the Norbertines sending him to the U.S., to Rhode Island, to work there as a parish priest.
This was part of a policy of shifting him around but it did not stop his behavior, and in 1968 he was brought back from the U.S. and sent for treatment for the first time in Belfast. Five years later he was again sent for treatment in Dublin. But nothing stopped him.
By 1975, when he was investigated by Cardinal (then Father) Brady in Cavan he was a voracious abuser.
As we now know, nothing effective was done to keep him away from children, and a few years later he was sent off again to the U.S., to North Dakota, where he worked as a priest and continued to abuse. It was not until 1990 that a complaint made to the RUC by a Belfast family finally led to a case that put him behind bars.
If Cardinal Brady had done the right thing back in 1975, Smyth could have been stopped a lot sooner. That is why the cardinal now must go.