Leering chillingly into the camera lens, the face is that of perhaps the country’s best-known and most notorious of paedophile priests.
The fallout from the controversy surrounding the case of serial sexual predator Fr Brendan Smyth continues to resound almost 15 years after his death.
A member of the Norbertine Order, Smyth’s litany of abuse going back to the 1940s led to the collapse of a government and the exposure of widespread clerical child sex abuse in the Catholic Church.
Born in Belfast in 1927, Smyth joined the Norbertines in 1945, but decades would pass before his hidden life as one of the most notorious Irish clerical sex abusers was to be revealed.
He targeted vulnerable children living in orphanages and boarding schools and even molested youngsters in their family homes while their parents were in another room.
His favoured tactic was to befriend his victims' families and gain their trust. Once he had adopted the persona of a “friendly uncle”, he was able to bring them away on trips and abuse them, sometimes in his car, other times at a hotel, a cinema, a boathouse and an abbey.
During his time as a priest in the Falls Road area of Belfast, Smyth targeted four children from the same family — their reporting of the abuse to the police leading to his first conviction.
It wasn’t until June 1994 that the scandal finally broke when Smyth appeared before a Belfast court. He was sentenced to four years in jail following his conviction on 43 charges of abuse.
Within months the case was to have reverberations south of the border after outrage erupted over a delay in extraditing Smyth to Northern Ireland to face abuse charges. It led to the collapse of the Fianna Fail-Labour government over divisions between the coalition partners over the Irish Attorney General’s handling of the extradition requests.
Upon his release from Magilligan prison, Smyth was immediately arrested and extradited to Dublin. In 1997, he pleaded guilty to 74 charges of sexually assaulting 20 victims over a 35-year-period.
A month into his 12-year sentence Smyth died of a heart attack at the Curragh prison in Co Kildare.
In a pre-dawn ceremony in August, 1997, Smyth was buried at his order’s Kilnacrott Abbey in Co Cavan. The lights of the hearse were used to illuminate the graveside as his coffin was lowered shortly after 4am.
Smyth’s family stayed away and, in a statement, the Norbertine Order said it had been requested by his family to conduct the burial service in private.
Source Irish Independent