Friday 18 October 2019

Did garda hush-up let evil priest off the hook?

The Finglas Episode, a chapter in the sordid life of Brendan Smyth, raises questions for the force

Notorious: Paedophile priest Brendan Smyth committed harrowing abuse Photo: Steve Humphreys
Notorious: Paedophile priest Brendan Smyth committed harrowing abuse Photo: Steve Humphreys
Maeve Sheehan

Maeve Sheehan

The remit of the Historical Institutional Abuse Inquiry in Northern Ireland did not extend across the Border. If it had, An Garda Siochana would almost certainly have come under scrutiny over suspicions that it covered up the crimes of notorious paedophile Brendan Smyth.

Sir Anthony Hart, the chair of the inquiry, called it 'The Finglas Episode'.

It refers to a time when Smyth apparently had a brush with the law in the north Dublin suburb three decades ago. However, his "crime" appears to have been hushed up so successfully that the reason why the paedophile came to the attention of Finglas garda station was never established by the inquiry.

You can bet, however, that it was a crime against a child.

The HIA inquiry's report published last Friday found that the Norbertine priest abused possibly more than 200 children with apparent impunity because of the wilful silence of his superiors and the systemic failures of his religious order and the diocese at large. The report charted in damning detail the harrowing sexual abuse and cruelty children suffered in children's homes in the North. But it has also raised questions once again about how members of An Garda Siochana handled paedophile priests.

Only for Smyth's medical records were finally released by St Patrick's psychiatric hospital in Dublin, and given by his religious order, the Norbertines, to the HIA inquiry, 'The Finglas Episode' may never have come to light.

The events played out in 1973 when Smyth was half way through his four-decade, cross-border rampage of child abuse, conducted from his base at Kilnacrott Abbey in Cavan.

His superiors had known for years that he was abusing children. He was ordained in 1951 against the advice of his abbot general. In the 1950s and 1960s, he was sent to Scotland, Wales and Rhode Island in the US, each time sent home in shame. Psychiatric treatment and grounding him failed. He just flouted the rules.

In 1973, a mother complained to her local bishop that Smyth had seduced her bereaved 12-year-old daughter, and had sex with her. Smyth's abbot, Kevin Smith, consulted a psychiatrist in Dublin.

"Order are now very concerned and anxious to know if anything can be done to help this man and avoid such incidents in the future," the psychiatrist, Professor JNP Moore, later wrote in his notes.

Prof Moore was the medical director at St Patrick's psychiatric hospital in Dublin. His first session with Smyth was in May, 1973: "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."

When he next saw Smyth a month later, the priest was flagrantly abusing boys. "He has had homosexual relations with a boy of 16 on two occasions since…"

That same month, Smyth was allowed to direct a retreat in Finglas, even though the psychiatrist warned that "his superiors wherever he was stationed should be aware of his difficulties".

Three months later, he was the subject of a complaint to Finglas garda station. According to a sequence of letters from Smyth to his psychiatrist and his psychiatrist to gardai, the garda authorities apparently offered to drop the investigation if Smyth agreed to be hospitalised for treatment.

In November 1973, Smyth wrote to Prof Moore: "Now [w]hen the garda complication arose only I myself knew about it and the authorities were very insistent that they would not in any way be responsible for anyone even where I lived learning about the problem. They simply made the request you know of and I agreed without any hesitation whatsoever."

At Smyth's request, Prof Moore then wrote to Finglas garda station: "He has been a patient under my care for some months and I am familiar with the nature of his problems. I am writing to his superior suggesting that he should have a period of in-patient care… I hope this arrangement will be satisfactory to you and your superiors."

Smyth was hospitalised for a time, and in February 1974, he was given a diagnosis of paedophilia. But he went on to abuse scores of other children after 'The Finglas Episode', right up to and even after his arrest in 1991 for child abuse.

The HIA found in the North, as two inquiries found in this jurisdiction, that child abuse was pervasive and systemic, that paedophiles were protected and their child victims silenced to prevent scandal for the Church.

The inquiry found former Catholic Primate Sean Brady was part of that "silencing" process, when he interviewed Brendan Boland, a 14-year-old boy who had been abused by Smyth. He asked the boy if he "enjoyed" what Smyth had done to him, a line of questioning that the cardinal later told the inquiry he regretted.

Gardai have been accused of complicity in paedophile cover-ups in the past. The HIA inquiry didn't have enough evidence to establish whether Finglas garda station decided not to prosecute Smyth provided he went for treatment. It did find: "Nevertheless there are clearly matters of a criminal or disciplinary nature relating to what occurred that may require to be investigated."

If 'The Finglas Episode' had occured in Northern Ireland, the HIA would have reported it to the PSNI, but it could only "draw it to the attention" of the Garda Commissioner.

The Garda Commissioner, Noirin O'Sullivan, has appointed a detective superintendent to investigate. A spokesman said inquiries were ongoing.

Sunday Independent

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