End of Brendan Smyth case brings sorry saga to a close

Abuse by priest could have been prevented had church authorities acted sooner

And so ends one of the sorriest sagas in the abuse crisis which has engulfed the Catholic Church in Ireland. It first came to public notice with the jailing of Fr Brendan Smyth in 1994.

On March 29th 1975 Fr Seán Brady, later the Catholic primate, was asked by Bishop McKiernan to conduct a canonical inquiry into allegations of abuse against the Norbertine priest.

Fr Brady was then a 35-year-old canon lawyer and teacher at St Patrick's College, Cavan, but he acted also as part-time secretary to Bishop McKiernan in the Kilmore diocese.

Shortly afterwards, Fr Brady and local canon lawyer Msgr Francis Donnelly, interviewed Brendan Boland in Dundalk. Also present was Fr McShane, who has since left the priesthood.

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The latter was there as support for the teenager because his father was not allowed sit in as that was contrary to canon law procedures, despite the seriousness of the allegations that he was making.

There, Brendan Boland named five other children that had been abused by Smyth, including the brother and sister at the heart of Thursday's Appeal Court decision. The third party, their cousin, was not yet born in 1975.

On April 4th, 1975 Fr Brady interviewed the second boy (15) in the parochial house at Ballyjamesduff, alone. This second boy has never gone public. Neither that boy's parents or the parents of the other children were informed of the abuse, nor were the civil authorities.

Confidential oath

At the end of each interview each boy was asked and agreed to Fr Brady’s request, in line with canon law procedures, that they take an oath to keep matters confidential.

Bishop of Kilmore Leo O’Reilly was sued as a representative of Kilmore diocese. They sued Cardinal Brady in his personal capacity arising from his role as part-time secretary to Bishop McKiernan in 1975.

Legal sources advise that this judgment means Cardinal Brady cannot now be pursued by the brother, sister, or their cousin. The Cardinal stood down as Catholic primate in August 2014 on reaching the age of 75.

Following Smyth’s conviction an action was initiated in Belfast by the brother, sister and their cousin. In a 1998 settlement the brother received £25,000, his sister £16,000, and in 1999 their cousin was awarded £25,000. The awards were “in full and final settlement.”

It was a longshot legally whether the brother, sister, and their cousin would ever have succeeded in this later legal action. They argued that the new information which came to light in 2010 on Cardinal Dr Brady’s knowledge of their abuse as far back as 1975, had been concealed before their settlements.

He was convicted in Belfast on 17 counts of sexual abuse involving four members of one family in the mid-1980s.

In 1997 Smyth pleaded guilty to another 74 counts of child sexual abuse at a trial in Dublin. Sentenced to 12 years, he died in prison at the Curragh in August 1997. A man who attended Smyth’s trial in Dublin was Brendan Boland who had been abused by him.

At the hearing he met victims 10 to 15 years younger than himself. He was incredulous that Smyth continued to abuse children for 18 years after he first told church authorities of his own abuse by Smyth and of five other young people.

In early 1975 Boland, then 14, spoke to Fr Oliver McShane, a young Dominican priest in his home town of Dundalk, about being abused by Smyth. The priest reported this to Bishop Francis McKiernan in whose Kilmore diocese Smyth and his Norbertine order were based. The Bishop had already received reports of another allegation of abuse by Smyth involving a boy in Ballyjamesduff, Co Cavan.

Patsy McGarry

Patsy McGarry

Patsy McGarry is Religious Affairs Correspondent of The Irish Times