Abusing priest offers apology and faces sentencing

 

The paedophile Brendan Smyth has declared he recognises his sexual offences as "sins against God, offences against individual persons and offences against the laws of the State". The priest's declaration, which includes a public apology to his victims for his wrongdoing over 36 years, came in a statement he wrote by hand overnight and which was read to Dublin Circuit Criminal Court by his counsel, Ms Gemma Loughran, on the second day of his sentence hearing.

Judge Cyril Kelly said he would sentence Smyth on Friday morning for the 74 sex abuse offences against 20 victims. Judge Kelly said he wanted time to review his notes on the two days of hearings at Dublin Circuit Criminal Court as well as to assimilate all submissions from prosecution and defence.

Earlier, Ms Loughran said Smyth's guilty plea, full co-operation with the Garda and refusal to seek bail indicated his genuine remorse and empathy with his victims.

He was an old man in declining health who had been diagnosed as suffering from a recognised psychiatric disorder known as "fixated paedophilia".

Ms Loughran said Smyth had previously made a public apology on the occasion of his second trial in the North for similar offences and felt persecuted by the media's presentation of him, which Ms Loughran suggested amounted almost to "demonisation" of her client.

She said there had been references on the first day of hearing to the fact that he had not expressed any remorse to gardai when interviewed by Det Insp Tadhg Foley and Det Sgt Pat Lyons in Belfast.

But, Ms Loughran said, Smyth believed that as a result of the wide publicity given to his previous public apology there could have been no doubt about his remorse.

Smyth had now written another public apology in which he said he took this opportunity "to renew sincerely and wholeheartedly" his deep sorrow and regret for any psychological hurt or trauma he had caused the people he abused. He accepted without question he had to be punished for his crimes.

Ms Loughran said her client's public apologies were "glimmers of light in a long tunnel". They showed he had benefited from a course for sexual offenders he took part in after his second trial in the North.

His attitude to his victims changed rapidly during that course. He developed a better insight into his own role in the offending and became aware in a way he was not before that his behaviour had caused damage to his victims. He also recognised now that they were innocent victims of his wrongdoing.

Ms Loughran submitted Smyth's record was now so well known he would not be a private citizen on his release from prison. She said it was inconceivable he would ever again have the opportunity to reoffend or that he would be in contact with children in the way he was before.

Smyth was now 70 and had had a heart attack in April 1994. He still suffered from angina and breathlessness. He would be well advanced in age by the time he was released from prison.

Ms Loughran said Smyth had been a member of the Norbertine Order for 51 years and intended returning to that community on his release. He was unaware of a suggested "canonical process" concerning him and was visited regularly in prison by members of the order, including three from Kilnacrott Abbey last week.

Counsel submitted the antiquity of many of the offences should be taken into consideration, as well as the time he had already served in prison.

A total of 48 of the 74 offences to which he pleaded guilty had been committed more than 10 years ago and 38 were committed before 1980. It had been held by the Court of Criminal Appeal that with lapse of time there could be significant changes in public opinion about offences.

Ms Loughran said hearing the details of the victim impact reports and the verbal evidence given in court by victims had been "very chastening" for Smyth and reinforced his awareness of the trauma and hurt he had caused them.

"The more he is aware of the effect of his offences the more it lessens the chances of his reoffending," counsel said.

Ms Loughran said that while there was a 10-year maximum sentence for pre-1991 offences and five years for the later sexual offences, and the question of consecutive sentences could arise, the court had to have regard to the totality of sentence as ordained by the Court of Criminal Appeal.