'This is a knife in the heart' - shock at church tribute on anniversary of paedophile priest Brendan Smyth
The parish priest for a Co Down Catholic Church which recognised the anniversary of paedophile priest Brendan Smyth has said he has no idea how the tribute found its way into a memorial book and pledged it would be removed immediately.
The daily listings at Our Lady of the Assumption Church in Newcastle included 'Fr Brendan Smyth 1997' for August 22 - the same date the evil cleric died in prison.
When the Belfast Telegraph alerted Fr Jim Crudden yesterday, he said: "I don't know how that's got into there so I'll just check that now and take it out."
He said that after removing it, he would look into how it found its way there.
He added: "I just didn't see that in there, I don't check that book. That shouldn't have happened."
Campaigner Jon McCourt from Survivors North West called it a "knife in the heart" for victims of Smyth and other abusers.
He said: "I think it's disgusting. I mean, good God, how insensitive do they have to get? It's the best way I can put it, insensitive is like a very mild word.
"He (Smyth) should have been defrocked, his title should have been taken away from him. They actual buried him with 'Father' on his gravestone and they covered it with concrete to make sure nobody could get at it.
"That guy should have been literally written out altogether and to think that they are memorialising him in that way in the Church - look, okay, lost souls deserve prayers, but I think there's a special exemption that should be given to people like Brendan Smyth.
"I knew some of his victims and the lives that have been destroyed as a result of what he was involved in. They'll never be repaired. This is not a slap in the face, this is a punch in the mouth and a knife in the heart of surviving victims and survivors.
"In absolutely no way should the Church be giving any kind of special status or any kind of tribute - if you're going to give a tribute or status to anybody it should be the victims of Brendan Smyth.
"If the Catholic Church was to recognise the trauma and the hurt of victims and survivors of historical abuse in the same way that they're recognising the anniversary of Brendan Smyth maybe we could somewhere. This is just compounding hurt upon hurt."
The DUP's Jim Wells, MLA for the area, said: "Mention the name Brendan Smyth and everybody's stomach churns in south Down. He was perhaps the most notorious paedophile priest ever, certainly in Northern Ireland.
"His activities are stomach churning and the famous picture taken of him being led into court and even the very face is one that is chiselled with evil, it's a picture that no one will ever forget.
"I'm hoping this is an oversight and I welcome the fact that the parish priests says it's going to be removed and I hope that somebody will check to make certain that has happened because nobody in Newcastle or south Down wants to commemorate Brendan Smyth.
"The pain and anguish that he wrought on the community is absolutely horrendous and we'll never know the true extent of it, but even that which is revealed in the court was a litany of the most sadistic and evil child abuse imaginable."
The MP for the area - Sinn Fein's Chris Hazzard who was reported last year to be holding clinic in the church's parish hall - was also contacted for comment but his party's Press office did not take up the opportunity.
Smyth, a serial child abuser, is widely viewed as one of the most heinous examples of a paedophile priest.
The infamous image of him leering into a camera lens as he prepared to face justice for his crimes compounded his notoriety and public contempt for his evil deeds.
Belfast-born Smyth was eventually convicted of dozens of offences against children over a 40-year period, and the scandal of his sickening acts rocked the Catholic Church across the island of Ireland.
Despite allegations being previously investigated by Church officials, including former Irish primate Sean Brady, as far back as 1975, it was almost 20 years before he was jailed.
Cardinal Brady found himself under pressure in 2010 after confirming he was at meetings when two alleged victims of a paedophile priest signed an oath of silence. Instead of taking action against Smyth, a member of the Norbertine order, the Church moved him between parishes, dioceses and even countries where he preyed on victims who were as young as eight.
As a priest in the Falls Road area of Belfast, he targeted four children from the same family. It was their courage in reporting the abuse to the police that led to his first conviction.
In 1991 he was arrested and released on bail, before spending the next three years out of the reach of police in Northern Ireland by hiding out at his order's Kilnacrott Abbey in Co Cavan in the Republic.
His case led to the collapse of the Republic's Labour/Fianna Fail coalition government when it emerged there had been serious delays in his extradition to Northern Ireland in 1994.
When the priest finally appeared before a Belfast court, he was convicted of 43 charges of sexually assaulting children in Northern Ireland and was sentenced to four years in prison.
He was later found guilty of another 26 charges and given a three-year sentence to run concurrently. Upon his release from prison, Smyth was immediately arrested and extradited to the Republic.
In 1997, the convicted paedophile again appeared before a judge - this time in Dublin - where he admitted to 74 charges of child sexual abuse over a 35-year period. He had assaulted children in a hotel, a cinema, a convent and other venues across nine different counties.
Smyth - born John Gerard before changing his name to Brendan - died of a heart attack in prison in August 1997, just a month into his 12-year prison sentence.