'Detached, egocentric and narcissistic paedophile with no shame or remorse'
Brendan Smyth's psychiatric records revealed at abuse inquiry give fresh insights into a child sex abuse that still haunts the Catholic church
Published 28/06/2015 | 02:30
A man hovered in the yard beside Banbridge court house pulling on a cigarette waiting for the now retired Cardinal Sean Brady to come out.
The retired Cardinal had spent Thursday morning telling the Historical Institutional Abuse Inquiry about the church's "flawed" response to complaints about Brendan Smyth, the paedophile priest back in 1975.
The man outside the court house watched as Cardinal Brady emerged to a whirr of cameras, got into a waiting silver car and drove away. Then he told a bit of his own story. He had been sexually abused by Smyth in various children's homes in Northern Ireland. Some years later he was doing time in Magilligan prison when Smyth was incarcerated there for abusing more than 40 children. Some of the other inmates attacked him with snooker balls in a bag but he never went near him. He was still terrified of the monster Brendan Smyth.
Last week, Northern Ireland's Historical Institutional Abuse Inquiry (HIA) resurrected the ghost of Brendan Smyth. Almost 20 years after his death, when you'd think there was little more that could shock us about paedophile priests and the protectionist Catholic hierarchy, the HIA put into the public domain decades' worth of internal church documents, letters, medical records and police reports and transcripts.
They provide further insight into the horror of what Smyth's crimes, marking the response of his superiors - already widely acknowledged as being woeful - as even worse. This is one case where the devil is truly in the detail.
The HIA is investigating whether systemic failures allowed Smyth, who abused at least seven boys in children's homes, to continue abusing for so long.
John Gerard Smyth was born in West Belfast in 1927, and joined the Norbertines when he left school at 18. The inquiry has heard little about his childhood, or about his family, who lived on Nansen Street off the Falls Road. There was mention of a brother, who used to visit him in Cavan and was seen at his Masses but not of other siblings. According to psychiatric reports, he regarded women as distant and unyielding.
Smyth later told police that he never had an inclination to abuse until he became a priest. But he told his doctor in 1994 that he had "interactions" with other boys as a teenager, some of them younger than he was. He got a thrill from "wrestling."
He told police he was never sexually abused himself, that he'd had intimate relationships with women, but that he'd never been able to have sexual intercourse in his life because he was impotent. This was one of many lies the police suspected him of telling. He was accused of rape but had a habit of owning up to the lesser crimes.
In his later police interviews, he spoke about his victims as though discussing a hobby.
In one, an RUC detective asked: "Why did you pick on children?"
"Because I liked them, was able to work with them and really because they were there."
In another interview, a detective asked:
"Would you class yourself as a paedophile?
"To a certain extent, yes."
"Could you explain what you mean by that?"
"Well, I'm attracted to fondle young people, young people, not very small children. I'm talking about from I suppose about 9 or 10".
"So you have a sexual attraction to pre-pubertal children?"
"Well, 9, 10 to 14."
Smyth's sexual proclivities were known to his superiors even before he was ordained in 1951.
According to Fr William Fitzgerald, an Australian and now the prelate administrator of Holy Trinity Abbey, Kilnacrott, Smyth ought to never to have been ordained.
According to Fr Fitzgerald, the Abbot General didn't want Smyth to be ordained. There were rumours that he had interfered with a child in Rome. But Smyth's superior in Belgium ignored this and allowed it.
Over the next few years, Smyth was sent to Scotland and then Wales, and in the 1960s to Providence Rhode Island. Abuse allegations followed him wherever he went and he was sent home.
In 1968, back from Rhode Island in disgrace, his then superior, Abbot Colwell, sent Smyth for psychiatric treatment to Purdysburn in Northern Ireland where he got electric shock treatment. The Abbot imposed sanctions on him, had him under what Fr Fitzgerald called "house arrest" and refused to allow him leave Kilnacrott unaccompanied.
But Abbot Colwell died, Kevin Smith later took over, Brendan Smyth's freedoms were restored, and he continued to abuse children.
In 1973 Smyth was sent for treatment to St Patrick's psychiatric hospital by his Abbot, Kevin Smith, after a mother complained that her daughter had been abused by Smyth.
The medical records were released to the inquiry last week. At his first meeting with Smyth, the psychiatrist noted how Smyth had engaged in "some fairly elaborate sexual interference": "No evidence of remorse, or shame, or any deep-seated appreciation of the gravity of this relationship from the point of view of the girl. Strikes one as an intelligent but rather egocentric and narcissistic man, who is interested in his sexual experience in a somewhat detached and objective way."
The doctor told the Abbot that there was no treatment but advised that the superiors where he worked should be told about his "difficulties".
That didn't happen. By November of 1973, Smyth came to the attention of the gardai in Finglas, Dublin after attending a retreat over the summer. Medical records suggest the gardai were happy to let medical professsionals handle the matter.
In November, his doctor wrote to gardai - at Smyth's request - to inform them that Smyth was being hospitalised, hoping this was to their "satisfaction."
Later Smyth asked the doctor not tell his superior about the "garda complication ... the authorities were very insistent that they would not in any way be responsible for anyone even where I live learning about the problem. They simply made the request you know of and I agreed without any hesitation whatsoever."
Several of Smyth's victims are now taking a civil action against the Gardai on foot of the revelations in those medical reports.
In 1973, Smyth's infamy had spread to the Norbertine's house in Perth. Fr Fitzgerald remembers one of the Fathers talking about getting a brother over from Kilnacrott to teach. "The headmaster said, "Great. Who?" He said, "Brendan Smyth", and he said, 'Absolutely not'... He said, 'I'm not having that fellow in this place'. "
Fr Fitzgerald's point was that many people, even then, knew what Smyth was like.
In 1975, the Bishop of Down and Connor, Francis McKiernan, set up a Canonical inquiry into Smyth, appointing Fr John Brady, then a teaching priest in St. Patrick's College and Bishop's part-time administrative assistant to the inquiry.
Fr John later became Cardinal Brady, Primate of All Ireland, which meant his role in this inquiry took on an added significance. He took notes as another priest asked a 14-year-old boy some "inappropriate" questions about abuse by Brendan Smyth, while he later personally interviewed another to "corroborate" the account, the aim being to get "robust" evidence to convict Smyth.
That second boy was brought to Cardinal Brady by a curate, his parents were never told, and he was also sworn to secrecy. One of the questions he asked the boy was had he "enjoyed it", which the Cardinal agreed was inappropriate.
At that time, telling the Gardai or the RUC didn't cross his mind, he said. At the inquiry last week, the Cardinal was at pains to apologise and of his "deep regret" at not handing the information to the authorities.
Smyth's faculties to hear confession were withdrawn, but neither the limited punishments, nor treatment, nor moving him around, stopped him from abusing children. But as Fr Fitzgerald told the inquiry last week, at that time "nothing short of murder" or "maybe fiddling with the finances" warranted the arrest of a priest. Within a year, Smyth was giving a retreat in a children's home to nuns and meeting victims that he was then going to abuse.
He was sent to North Dakota in 1979 with the blessing of his Abbot. Records noted that he wanted Smyth "to have nothing against him from the past" when he left the house. His shameful return to Kilnacrott was almost inevitable.
After that he was left to perform local masses in Kilnacrott, to fill in for other priests and to visit the sick. On his days off, the inquiry heard, he drove up north ostensibly to visit friends and family but often prowling children's homes.
Smyth later told police how he came to call to one particular children's home in Belfast and ask to see his victims: "... it was a handy place when I'd come up from the country sometimes, a handy place and I'd go in and say Mass if I hadn't got Mass said elsewhere...Now I did ask to see people there, ones that I had met and knew, who I met once ... that were altar servers and ones like that, you see."
In 1987, Fr William Fitzgerald moved to Kilnacrott. On his first day he held an altar server's practice for nine boys, Smyth showed up. "I said, "Listen, Brendan, in view of the rumours about you and your sexual activities towards children I will not have you anywhere near these kids under my watch" and he said, "I'll knock your head off". I said, "Oh, make my day, you b**tard," I said.
I said,"I'll knock your head clean off," and he stepped back and he never gave me any trouble again."
Smyth had a "loud, roaring voice," and was "scary." At a meeting with Abbot Kevin Smith, Fr Fitzgerald said he once told Smyth to shut up and give someone else a chance to speak. Afterwards the Abbot told him he was "wonderful" to have put Smyth in his place.
"I said, "Why didn't you do it?" He said, "I couldn't do it", he said. 'He'd roar me out the door'." Last week, the inquiry heard how Kevin Smith "lied" to the RUC claiming he didn't know Smyth was paedophile until 1989, and didn't know it was criminal.
In 1990, the late Cardinal Cathal Daly raised concerns about Smyth: Daly suggested "drastic action" to prevent a grave scandal and court proceedings. Still no mention of going to the police.
But one brave victim did. After his arrest in 1991, Smyth fled south to Kilnacrott where he refused to answer the phone. The RUC issued an extradition warrant for him. The seven month delay in processing it caused the now infamous collapse of Albert Reynold's coalition government in 1994.
Smyth was convicted of 117 cases of indecent assault against 41 children, North and South, over 40 years, and there are many other victims in Scotland, Wales and the United States.
Even Smyth was unable to put a figure on the number of children he has abused. In February 1994, he told a doctor: "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."
A psychiatrist, Dr Gerry Loughrey, who treated Smyth in 1994, wrote that asking a paedophile to recall individual offences was like asking him to recall any "emotionally neutral" event such as a meal he'd had many years ago. He was a "fixated paedophile, with little or no remorse and no insight into the disorder and essentially no motivation to change."
"You know, the youngest victim of Brendan Smyth that I know of is 28 years of age," Fr Fitzgerald told the inquiry. "She is going to be around for another 60 years maybe or longer, and every day of her life the horrible spectre of that man will be in her mind and what he did."
On 22 August 1997, Smyth died of a heart attack in the Curragh prison in Kildare without anyone knowing for sure how many childhoods he had robbed. He was buried in the dead of night in great secrecy. His brother didn't attend. A Cavan businessman who went out of "inquisitiveness" said: "They put out a story that he wasn't coming here at all, that his body was being brought to Belfast. But he came here at midnight. They brought him in on the back roads. There was a team ready to dig the grave and concrete to pour over him. They thought that fellas would dig him up afterwards, fellas that he had interfered with."
Yet even encased in concrete, six feet under, the stench of Smyth and of his protectors still refuses to go away.