Disgraced priest Fr Brendan Smyth penned an angry letter from jail denying he had damaged the Catholic Church, an inquiry has heard.
Just months after he was jailed for sexually assaulting more than 100 children, the prolific paedophile wrote to former Catholic Primate Cahal Daly claiming he had pleaded guilty to “false” allegations to spare the reputation of the church.
In a letter sent from Magilligan Prison, Co Derry, in December 1994, Smyth wrote: “I wish to express my anger and disbelief that a person with your lofty intellectual qualifications could possibly have made such statements.
“Whatever my sins and failings, and there are many of them, it is not they but the media reporting of them which was created an atmosphere of mixed shame and embarrassment...
“I pleaded guilty to wildly exaggerated and in some cases false allegations to try to limit the media coverage. In that I admit I failed dismally.”
The letter was shown to Northern Ireland’s long running Historical Abuse Inquiry (HIA) which is examining whether systemic failings allowed Smyth – a member of the Norbertine order – to perpetrate the abuse over more than four decades between the 1960s and 1990s.
Retired judge Sir Anthony Hart is leading the HIA probe, one of the UK’s largest inquiries into physical, sexual and emotional harm to children at homes run by the church, state and voluntary organisations.
The inquiry panel heard details about a number of victims including a 14-year-old girl who was raped by Smyth in a Dublin hotel in 1973.
Despite complaints being made to the church authorities, Smyth was never reported to police. Instead he was moved between parishes, dioceses and even countries where he preyed on victims who were as young as eight.
A letter from Smyth’s superiors at Holy Trinity Abbey, Kilnacrott in Co Cavan revealed they had been aware of allegations of deviant behaviour but hoped he could be treated.
Abbott Kevin Smith said: “We always hoped that a combination of treatment, Father Smyth’s intelligence and the grace of God would enable Father Smyth to overcome his disorder. We did not adequately understand the compulsive nature of his behaviour or the serious damage it could cause.”
Three years later, in an interview with the Royal Ulster Constabulary (RUC) in 1997, Abbot Smith said he had not gone to the civil authorities because he did not know paedophilia was a crime.
He said: “I did not realise it was a criminal offence. At that time I did not know what paedophilia was.”
Yesterday the inquiry was told that suspicions about Smyth’s behaviour had been raised in the 1940s and that a senior cleric in Rome who advised against ordaining him was over-ruled.
Smyth died from a heart attack in prison in August 1997.
Joseph Aiken, counsel for the inquiry, said: “Today the type of failure that we are looking at would lead to a veritable storm.
“The panel will want to consider whether there can there be any justification for the chronology that I have just laid out because the inevitable consequence was that not one of the children in the children’s homes we have been looking at in the inquiry would have been abused if the opportunities presented to deal with Smyth’s behaviour, had been taken.”