Monday 22 January 2018

Smyth was ordained despite suspicions over sex abuse

Brendan Smyth
Brendan Smyth
Brendan Smyth

Lesley-Anne McKeown

The activities of Ireland's most infamous paedophile priest sparked concerns years before he was ordained, an inquiry has heard.

There was suspicion that Fr Brendan Smyth, who admitted sexually assaulting hundreds of children, had abused a boy while training in Rome during the late 1940s.

The revelations were made to the Historical Institutional Abuse (HIA) inquiry, which is examining whether systemic failings allowed Smyth - a member of the Norbertine order - to abuse for another 40-plus years.

Jospeh Aiken, counsel for the inquiry, said the Norbertine order believes that knowledge of Smyth's activities existed prior to his ordination, yet he was still ordained as a priest.

"A complaint had been made about Smyth when he was a student in Rome in the 1940s. He was accused of abusing a child in the vicinity of the college," he added.


Retired judge Sir Anthony Hart, who is leading the UK probe, was told advice from a senior cleric in Rome not to ordain Smyth had been ignored.

Smyth's direct superiors at Kilnacrott Abbey in Co Cavan and the Belgian-based Abbey which sponsored his study at the Vatican felt it would be a "shame" if the first student they sent to Rome failed.

A letter shown to the inquiry also revealed they did not want the Abbott General - the Norbertine's most senior figure in Rome - "interfering" in their business. Smyth's ordination went ahead in 1951.

Shortly afterwards, a senior priest from Tongerlo in Belgium sent a letter in which he said the Abbott General's opinion may have been right.

"My letter is hard," he wrote. "I hope my fear is exaggerated."

Smyth, who was at the centre of one of the first clerical child sex abuse scandals to rock the Catholic Church, was later convicted of 117 indecent assaults on children across the island of Ireland from the 1960s to the 1990s.

There were also reports he abused children in Scotland, Wales and the USA. The inquiry heard he told a doctor in 1994 the true number of victims could run into the hundreds.

Smyth had a preference for children aged between 10 and 14 years old because he felt they would not inadvertently speak about the abuse, it emerged.

He frequented Catholic residential homes, where he groomed victims with sweets and trips away. His deviant behaviour was known among several of his superiors, who recommended psychiatric treatment and he recieved electric shock therapy as far back as the 1960s.

He was not arrested until the 1990s, was jailed in 1994, and died in prison in 1997, age 70.

Former Primate of Ireland Cardinal Sean Brady, who was part of criticised church investigation in 1975, will give evidence later this week.


In one written statement the Cardinal said: "Sadly at that time there was a culture within the church of secrecy and silence and it was felt that matters could be dealt with within the church structures.

"There was not a proper understanding of the devastating consequences of child abuse. Many of the bishops believed that psychiatric treatment of the individual perpetrator was an adequate response. The full horror and long-lasting impact of such criminal behaviour has now been grasped."

For counselling call Connect on 1800 477 477, or 00800 477 477 77 from Northern Ireland and the UK.

Irish Independent

Promoted Links

Today's news headlines, directly to your inbox every morning.

Promoted Links

Editor's Choice

Also in Irish News