Fr Brendan Smyth made the admission in February 1994 — the year he was jailed.
He said: “Over the years of religious life it could be that I have sexually abused between 50 and 100 children. That number could even be doubled or perhaps even more.”
The North’s long-running Historical Abuse Inquiry is holding a focused module into how Smyth, a member of the Norbertine Order, was allowed to continue offending for over four decades.
Joseph Aiken, counsel for the inquiry, said it was the first time the comments had been made public. “The story that’s about to unfold over the coming days is steeped in deep and prolonged human suffering of the abused.
“The inquiry will have to consider whether it is also a story of a litany of missed opportunities to properly deal with Smyth by a significant number of individuals who were themselves in positions of considerable trust, power and influence not only over him, his victims and their families,” Mr Aiken said.
Smyth was convicted of 117 indecent assaults over the 1960s to 1990s. He died from a heart attack in jail in 1997. Despite allegations being investigated by church officials, including former Irish primate, Cardinal Seán Brady, as far back as 1975, it was almost 20 years before he was jailed. Instead he was moved between parishes, dioceses and even countries.
In a statement, Fr William Fitzgerald of the Norbertine order said Smyth should never have been ordained.
He said: “I accept that Brendan Smyth was not a fit person to have access to children at any time or under any circumstance.
“I am ashamed by the failure as a community to hear these warnings and act accordingly. The shame of our failings is immense.”