Priest risked church career to expose paedophile but concerns dismissed
BRENDAN SMYTH:NOT ALL Irish priests in the 1960s and 1970s were as enthralled by silence as Fr Seán Brady, it would appear. He had been “part of an unhelpful culture of deference and silence in society, and the Church . . . ” he said on Wednesday.
Not so Fr Bruno Mulvihill.
From the late 1960s he tried to have child abuse by Fr Brendan Smyth addressed through direct contact with two papal nuncios, one bishop, an abbot-general and two abbots. He might as well have stayed as silent as Fr Brady.
Fr Mulvihill joined the Norbertine congregation, of which Fr Brendan Smyth was a member, in 1963. From 1968 onwards he tried to have something done about his colleague. Some of this was recalled on the UTV Counterpoint programme Suffer Little Children, broadcast in October 1994.
There he produced a letter he sent to the bishop of Kilmore, Francis McKiernan, dated November 1st, 1974. In it he disclosed how “ever since 1964 I have known that a member of the community, Fr Brendan Smyth, is misbehaving: he is molesting children who attend bingo sessions. Two of them who are superficially known to me have told me about their troubles.” He “brought this matter to the attention of the abbot but to no avail”.
That letter was dated almost five months before Fr Brady, then secretary to Bishop McKiernan, and two other priests interviewed 14-year-old Brendan Boland about the boy’s abuse by Fr Smyth.
Bishop McKiernan denied receiving the letter. A copy was sent to then papal nuncio Archbishop Gaetano Alibrandi.
In another letter, dated July 1994, and sent to papal nuncio archbishop Emanuele Gerada, Fr Mulvihill said he had tried to speak to Bishop McKiernan about Fr Smyth at a function in Kilnacrott Abbey in the early 1970s.
That letter detailed more incidents he had seen involving Fr Smyth and children. He had seen the priest enter a room at Kilnacrott with a young girl. He told the abbot, who saw no harm in it. A boy told him Fr Smyth had made advances. He told the abbot, who “laughed it off as a joke with a remark that I must have a problem myself, otherwise the child would not have come to me”.
In that letter to the nuncio, Fr Mulvihill detailed his many approaches about Fr Smyth to Felim Colwell, abbot at Kilnacrott, Co Cavan, until 1969, and his successor, abbot Kevin Smith.
He recalled seeing at Kilnacrott a “stiff decree” issued by the Vatican’s Congregation for Religious in 1968 concerning Fr Smyth. It said Fr Smyth was not to leave there without permission or without being accompanied by a trustworthy person for the rest of his life. His faculties for confession were to be forever restricted.
The decree was ignored, he told the nuncio. Fr Smyth had his own car with a Belfast number plate and was permanently absent from the community. When he was at Kilnacrott he heard confession.
After the election of abbot Smith in 1969, Fr Mulvihill said he risked being allowed take his final vows by asking why the decree was ignored. “I was told that in his [the abbot’s], opinion Smyth had been penalised too much in his life, that his pastoral record was impeccable and the stipulation from the Congregation for Religious was far too stringent.”
Archbishop Gerada told The Irish Times he knew nothing of the letter from Fr Mulvihill. Fr Mulvihill also claimed he told then abbot general of the Norbertines, Fr Marcel Van de Ven, in 1986 about Fr Smyth after an ordination service in Belgium. Abbot general Van de Ven denied this to The Irish Times.
In March 2010 documents from Garda files produced during a legal action taken by a woman abused by Fr Smyth included the letter sent by Fr Mulvihill on November 1st, 1974, to papal nuncio Alibrandi and a similar letter of the same date to bishop McKiernan. Both dealt with Fr Smyth’s abuse of children.
In a statement to gardaí of June 1995, Fr Mulvihill recalled his attempts to raise his concerns about Fr Smyth with papal nuncio Alibrandi and Bishop McKiernan at a 1974 function in Kilnacrott. Archbishop Alibrandi “was not interested”. Bishop McKiernan “showed no interest”.
So he then wrote to both.
Fr Mulvihill left the priesthood in frustration. He went to Germany, where he died in a car crash in October 2004. He was 59.
It is estimated that, between 1945 and 1989, Fr Brendan Smyth sexually abused and indecently assaulted 117 children in Ireland. The number of victims in the US and other countries is unknown.