Devil in a habit haunts church

Cardinal Brady has been derided for his role in allowing Smyth to prey, but the role of the abbot at Kilnacrott is near perverse, writes Claire O’Sullivan

IF THERE is ever an image that encapsulates the fear and brutality of clerical sex abuse — it’s the iconic one of the leering Brendan Smyth, the notorious paedophile priest who, 15 years after he died in prison, is still threatening to topple the head of the Catholic Church in Ireland.

Born in Belfast, Smyth went into the seminary at the age of 18. Part of the Norbertine Order, he never held a formal ministry but did locum work and spent time as chaplain in hospitals including the then Tralee General and Mercy Hospitals in Co Kerry and Cork City. A feature of his ministry was his work with children which manifested in his training of choirs, girl scouts, altar boys and his interest in religious instruction. But behind this avuncular, paternalistic facade lay a serial abuser. For five decades, he brutally raped and assaulted hundreds of children using his priest’s collar to gain access into families’ lives.

Children in orphanages, such as Sam Adair, were routinely brutalised. Others, such as Brendan Boland, who spoke to BBC this week, were regularly brought on “marathon excursions” up and down the country where they were raped on beaches, lonely country roads and in the priest’s car. He also abused, raped and assaulted young boys and girls on cinema trips, at a hotel, boathouse and even in an abbey.

Regularly, he targeted children from the same family, having won over their parents with his unending charm. One of his Belfast victims described how he was abused for another year after his name was handed to the then Fr Brady in 1975, while his sister was abused for seven more years and four cousins were abused until 1988.

Locals in Cavan say that Brendan Smyth’s tendencies were far from a closely kept secret — something that raises questions about Cardinal Brady’s assertion that he never heard rumours about Smyth after the 1975 secret court. Parishioners in the county told the Irish Examiner that Smyth’s paedophilic nature was an open secret; older brothers warned younger siblings not to be alone with him. Women warned their friends to watch their children around him.

While Cardinal Brady has been derided by children’s groups, victims groups and now politicians for his role in allowing the predator to continue to prey, the abbot at Kilnacrott’s role is near perverse. Despite widespread knowledge of what Smyth was doing, Fr Kevin Smith never reported his colleague to the civil authorities during his 25-year period as abbot of Holy Trinity Abbey in Kilnacrott, Co Cavan.

Between 1968 and 1993, Smyth was referred repeatedly by his order for sex offender treatment in England, Belfast and Dublin. When he returned, the abbot shunted him off to another parish where local priests remained innocent of the horror that lay ahead for children.

Smyth’s legacy of pain and despair wasn’t confined to these shores either. Complaints have been made of him raping six-year-olds in East Greenwich, US, after he was sent abroad by his abbot. Even when the RUC were trying to hunt him down in the ’90s on abuse charges, the Abbey at Kilnacrott gave him shelter.

Shortly before he retired as head of the order in Ireland following publicity about Smyth’s litany of sexual abuse, Fr Smith admitted he and other priests had mistakenly believed their colleague’s “problem” could be dealt with by assigning him to different communities every few years in order to prevent him forming “attachments to families and children”.

“We always hoped that a combination of treatment, Fr Smyth’s intelligence and the grace of God would enable Fr Smyth to overcome his disorder. We did not adequately understand the compulsive nature of his disorder or the serious and enduing damage which his behaviour could cause,” remarked Fr Smith at the time.

It wasn’t until 1994, nearly 20 years after Cardinal Brady’s secret canonical inquiry, that Smyth stepped into the dock and faced justice in his hometown. He was convicted on 43 charges of abuse and sentenced to four years in Magilligan jail.

The following September he was convicted on 16 charges relating to offences alleged to have taken place against 13 children in the North. He was sentenced to three years’ imprisonment.

Months later, the horror story that was Brendan Smyth exploded in the South, not in the Four Courts but on Kildare Street. Albert Reynold’s Fianna Fáil/Labour coalition collapsed following public outrage at the delay of seven months in the Attorney General’s office in processing Smyth’s extradition request.

A high-level civil servant hadn’t processed the documentation and the South was convulsed with rumours that the tentacles of the Catholic Church had extended into the Attorney General’s Office.

Upon his release from the Derry prison, Smyth was immediately arrested and extradited to Dublin. There in 1997, he pleaded guilty to 74 charges of sexually assaulting 20 victims over a 35-year-period. He was sentenced to 12 years at the Curragh prison in Kildare.

A month into his 12-year sentence, Smyth died of a heart attack at the Curragh prison in Co Kildare. He was buried at 4am at Kilnacrott Abbey in Co Cavan with the lights of his hearse providing the light for those lowering his coffin.

None of his family attended the pre-dawn ceremony. They told the Church they had no wish to.


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