Fr. Brendan Smyth, c. 1965
|Born||8 June 1927
Belfast, Northern Ireland
|Died||22 August 1997 (aged 70)
Curragh Prison, County Kildare, Ireland
|Cause of death||Heart attack|
|Resting place||Kilnacrott Abbey|
|Known for||Abuse of children|
|Criminal penalty||1994, 4 years, +3 (concurrent) ; 12 years (dies one month into sentence)|
|Conviction(s)||1994 in Belfast, 43 counts, + 26 later found; 1997 admitted to 74 counts of child sexual abuse|
Brendan Smyth (8 June 1927 – 22 August 1997) was a Roman Catholic priest who became notorious as a child molester, using his position in the Roman Catholic Church to obtain access to his victims. During a period of over 40 years, Smyth sexually abused and indecently assaulted over 143 children in parishes in Belfast, Dublin and the United States. His actions were frequently hidden from police and the public by Roman Catholic officials. Controversy surrounding his case brought about the downfall of the government of Republic of Ireland in December 1994.
Early life and ordination
Born John Gerard Smyth, in Belfast, Northern Ireland, Smyth, upon joining the Norbertine Roman Catholic religious order in 1945, changed his name to Brendan. The Norbertines, also known as the "Premonstratensians," were aware of Smyth's crimes as early as the late 1940s, yet they did not report him to either the Garda Síochána or the Royal Ulster Constabulary. Smyth was moved from parish to parish and between dioceses and countries whenever allegations were made. In some cases, the order did not inform the diocesan bishop that Smyth had a history of sexual abuse and should be kept away from children. He abused children in parishes in Rhode Island and North Dakota and at one time worked in Boston, all in the USA, and was suspected of similar actions while on pastoral work in Wales and Italy. Norbertine Father Bruno Mulvihill made several attempts to alert church authorities about the abuse committed by Smyth.
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Smyth's first conviction followed the reporting to police of his abuse of four siblings in Belfast's Falls Road. After his arrest in 1991, he fled to the Republic of Ireland, where he spent the next three years on the run, staying mostly at Kilnacrott Abbey. This led to the collapse of the Fianna Fáil–Labour Party coalition government when the poor handling of an extradition request from the RUC by the Irish Attorney General's office led to a further delay of Smyth's trial. An award-winning UTV Counterpoint programme on the scandal by journalist Chris Moore, followed by a book, accused the head of the Norbertines and the Archbishop of Armagh of mishandling the case, and the Norbertines of negligence and a failure to tell others of Smyth's crimes, enabling Smyth to sexually abuse large numbers of children for 40 years.
Smyth died at 70 in prison of a heart attack in 1997 after collapsing in the exercise yard, one month into a twelve-year prison sentence. The Norbertines held his funeral before dawn and covered his grave with concrete to deter vandalism. Smyth was buried in Kilnacrott Abbey, which was later put up for sale with 44 acres (18 ha) of land, including the grave.
Reviewers of the case differ as to whether there was a deliberate plot to conceal Smyth's behaviour, incompetence by his superiors at Kilnacrott Abbey, or some combination of factors. Cahal Daly, both as Bishop of Down and Connor, a diocese where some of the abuse took place, and later as Cardinal Archbishop of Armagh, is recorded as having been privately furious at the Norbertine "incompetence".
In 2010, Daly's successor as Roman Catholic Archbishop of Armagh, Cardinal Seán Brady, faced "huge pressure to resign" after he admitted that in 1975 he witnessed two teenage boys sign oaths of silence after testifying in a Church inquiry against Smyth. Survivors groups saw this as evidence of collusion, but Brady said he "did not have the authority" to turn Smyth in. On 17 March 2010, the Deputy First Minister for Northern Ireland, Martin McGuinness, called for Brady to resign.
Module 6 of the 2014-2016 Northern Ireland Historical Institutional Abuse Inquiry is dedicated to Smyth's crimes in Northern Ireland.
A two-part dramatisation of the Smyth case, Brendan Smyth: Betrayal of Trust, was broadcast by the BBC on 13 March 2011 with Ian Beattie in the title role and Richard Dormer as Chris Moore.
- Crimen sollicitationis
- Ferns Report
- Roman Catholic priests accused of sex offences
- Roman Catholic sex abuse cases
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- "Evil spirit of a ruined church", The Irish Times (Weekend Review), p. 5, accessed 20 March 2010.
- Brendan Alliance Support Group: Smyth victim battles with US church, 31 January 2010, Sunday Tribune
- Cunningham, Grainne (17 March 2010). "Priest who blew whistle on Smyth estranged from order". Irish Independent. Retrieved 17 March 2010.
- "Few voice sympathy at death of molester: Pedophile priest's case undermined reverence for Catholic Church". Baltimore Sun. 24 August 1997. Retrieved 14 June 2011.
- Reilly, Jerome (6 April 2008). "Abbey for sale, with pervert priest's grave included". Sunday Independent (Independent News & Media). Retrieved 6 April 2008.
- "Evil spirit of a ruined hurch". The Irish Times (Irish Times Trust). 20 March 2010. Retrieved 19 June 2010.
- kshaw (27 October 2005). "Abuse priest has 'Rev' title removed from grave". Retrieved from bishop-accountability.org
- Caldwell, Simon; Pisa, Nick (15 March 2010). "Leader of Roman Catholic Church in Ireland urged to quit over abuse victims' silence vow". Daily Mail. Retrieved 15 March 2010.
- Cooney, John; Byrne, Ciaran; Heffernan, Breda (18 March 2010). "'Shamed' plea buys Brady more time to stay as leader". Irish Independent (Independent News & Media). Retrieved 18 March 2010.
- Northern Ireland Historical Institutional Abuse Inquiry: Module 6 - Fr. Brendan Smyth
- Moore, Chris (1995). Betrayal of Trust: The Father Brendan Smyth Affair and the Catholic Church. Dublin: Marino. ISBN 1-86023-027-X.