He abused boy while training in Rome… yet he was still allowed to prey on kids for 40 more years
By Deborah McAleese – 23 June 2015
The Catholic Church has been accused of “protecting their own” rather than the child abuse victims of notorious paedophile priest Brendan Smyth.
Decades of failures by individuals and Church institutions to deal with Smyth and prevent further abuse are currently under examination by the Historical Institutional Abuse Inquiry (HIAI).
During a day of shocking revelations yesterday, it emerged that suspicions within the Catholic Church about the serial child abuser were discussed even before he was ordained into the priesthood.
The inquiry team was told that the Church had been aware of allegations that Smyth had abused a young boy in Rome while he was there studying as a student priest.
His superiors within the Norbertine Order ignored warnings from a senior priest in Rome not to ordain him, the inquiry heard.
For 40 years after his ordination he targeted, groomed and sexually abused children in Northern Ireland, the Republic of Ireland and the United States, even though many within the Catholic Church were aware of his crimes.
A lawyer for the HIAI said yesterday there were “devastating consequences” to the decision by individuals and institutions “to protect their own rather than our children.”
Counsel Joseph Aiken said that Smyth’s name was “notorious in this jurisdiction and beyond” and that “the culture of secrecy and silence failed the children”.
“The Roman Catholic Church can only look back on this with shame and in disgrace,” he added.
Smyth joined the Norbertine Order in 1945 at the age of 18. He became the first member of the Order in Ireland to be accepted to study at the Curia Generalizia Collegio in Rome prior to his ordination.
It was revealed yesterday that while in Rome, members of the Norbertine Order became aware of allegations that Smyth had sexually abused a young boy in the vicinity of the college.
Photographs of young Italian boys were also allegedly found in his room.
A senior priest in Rome warned Smyth’s superiors against his ordination, but this advice was ignored.
In a letter dated April 1951, prior to his ordination, one of Smyth’s superiors told another member of the Norbertine Order “it would be a shame to see our first student failing in Rome”.
He was ordained on July 31, 1951. Four decades later he was convicted of more than 140 offences against children.
Shortly after his ordination, one of Smyth’s superiors wrote to him and raised concerns about his behaviour.
“The time is too short to enquire about your spirit but I’m inclined to believe that the opinion of the Abbott General (who warned against his ordination) is the truth. It would be lost money and time to send you back to Rome. There’s no question you will go your own way afterward,” he wrote.
The Brother added: “How is it possible that so soon after your ordination I have to send you such a letter … As long as you don’t see it there’s no hope for improving.”
The inquiry heard that paedophile Smyth was sent for psychiatric treatment, including electric shock therapy, on a number of occasions.
Call for Magdalene Laundry inquiry in NI
Former residents of Magdalene Laundries in Northern Ireland are calling for an inquiry into their abuse allegations.
Published Wednesday, 29 May 2013
It is thought hundreds of people across the region could come forward with their claims of abuse if a new investigation is established, or the current inquiry amended.
The current Historical Institutional Abuse inquiry does not cover victims of clerical child abuse and former residents of Magdalene Laundry-type institutions in NI.
But on Wednesday, they will gather to ask for the terms of that inquiry to be extended to include them.
They are backed by Amnesty International, and Patrick Corrigan from the organisation said it is now time for NI’s politicians to take further action.
He explained: “We are now coming to them with those other issues too, particular groups who have been left out of the current inquiry, children who have been abused at community or parish level, and women who were incarcerated effectively in those Magdalene Laundry-type institutions, and who suffered abuse not as children, but as adults.
“It’s now time for the Executive and the Assembly to turn their attention to justice and truth for those groups too.”
Many of these people are now in advanced years and they’ve had to live with shame, with stigma and they’ve a dark shadow cast over the whole of their lives, and a feeling that nobody wanted to know them and nobody was there when they were most vulnerable in their lives.
For the victims of abuse, Mr Corrigan said they want the state to acknowledge “the pain they went through”.
He added: “They now want to turn to our political representatives, and we are asking today for those leaders to listen to those victims now as adults, and to give them the truth, the justice and the acknowledgement that they crave before they finally pass away themselves.”
The current inquiry is investigating allegations of abuse at 35 sites across NI, including state-run children’s homes, institutions run by the Catholic Church, borstals, and institutions run by Protestant churches or voluntary sector organisations.
The three-year review, chaired by Sir Anthony Hart, could cost up to £19m.
After hearing from the alleged victims, an acknowledgement forum panel will produce a report to Sir Anthony detailing the claims.
Earlier this year, Taoiseach Enda Kenny described the Magdalene Laundries as “the nation’s shame”.
Speaking in the Irish government, Mr Kenny apologised to the victims of abuse after a report found thousands of women forced into the workhouses were physically and verbally abused.
The 18-month inquiry found 10,000 single mothers, women, and girls as young as 11 were forced into detention, mostly in the for-profit laundries. More than 2,000 women were sent to the laundries by the Irish authorities.
Some were detained for petty crime, others for disability, or pregnancy outside marriage.