Restoration of rights to Smyth beggars belief
IT BEGGARS belief that, following what was discovered about Fr Brendan Smyth’s abuse of children at two 1975 church inquiries, the bishop of Kilmore diocese, Francis McKiernan, would have restored to the priest his right to hear Confession and say Mass publicly there.
Those faculties were removed following the inquiry conducted by then Fr Seán Brady, Fr Francis Donnelly and Fr Oliver McShane with 14-year-old Brendan Boland in Dundalk on March 29th, 1975. He told them of his abuse and that of five other young people by Smyth.
On April 4th, 1975, Fr Brady interviewed a 15-year-old boy at the parochial house in Ballyjamesduff, Co Cavan, concerning his abuse by Smyth. He was one of five young people whose names and addresses had been given by Brendan Boland at that inquiry in Dundalk. Four of those were never spoken to by any priest, nor were their parents. Nor were the parents of the 15-year-old boy interviewed by Fr Brady in Ballyjamesduff.
We now know, following last Tuesday’s BBC This World documentary, that Smyth continued to abuse another boy, who was on the list supplied by Boland to the priests, until 1976, that boy’s sister until 1982 and four cousins of theirs, members of one family in Belfast, until 1988.
While it might be argued that none of this was known to bishop McKiernan at the time, or to his secretary Fr Brady, that is simply because they did not try to find out. This is incomprehensible, as it would be imagined that before restoring any priest’s faculties in such a context there would be an anxiety to ensure he was no longer abusing young people. Smyth continued to do so until 1993.
But even prior to 1975, evidence existed at Kilnacrott Abbey, where Smyth was based, that would have justified much earlier and more sustained action by the diocese where he was concerned. As reported by the UTV Counterpoint, Suffer the Children programme in September 1994, and repeated by Kilnacrott abbot Fr Gerard Cusack yesterday, there had long been awareness there of Smyth’s paedophile activities.
On that programme the then abbot at Kilnacrott, Fr Kevin Smith, said that, beginning in 1968, they had sought various treatments for Smyth.
Of these, abbot Smith said,“in time it became apparent” that they were not effective. He continued: “Fr Smyth’s behaviour had perplexed and troubled our community over many years. We always hoped that a combination of treatment, Fr Smyth’s intelligence and the grace of God would enable Fr Smyth to overcome the compulsive nature of his disorder.”
He admitted that on the two occasions Smyth was sent to parishes in the US, the bishops there were not informed “of his propensity to molest children” – which he also did in the US.
In his Shannonside Northern Sound interview yesterday, Fr Cusack said they had sent Smyth for treatment many times. They had “conferred with professionals” who had used “aversion techniques”, which were “not effective in this case”.
Then, in 1973, they sent Smyth to St Patrick’s psychiatric hospital in Dublin and, in 1974 to a centre at Stroud in England that dealt with abuser priests. In 1989 he was referred to a consultant in Dublin. Abbot Cusack recalled that Smyth had been “very difficult to deal with”.
At the request of The Irish Times, the current Bishop of Kilmore, Leo O’Reilly, is checking records to establish when his predecessor restored to Smyth faculties to say Mass publicly and hear Confessions. If it happened before 1980, when bishop McKiernan’s secretary, Fr Brady, became vice-rector of the Irish College in Rome, the primate’s troubles will intensify greatly.