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Fr Brendan Smyth confession: I had hundreds of child sex victims

By Deborah McAleese

Published 23/06/2015

Brendan Smyth is surrounded by RUC officers as he leaves Limavady Courthouse in 1997
Brendan Smyth is surrounded by RUC officers as he leaves Limavady Courthouse in 1997
Counsel to the inquiry Joseph Aiken

Ireland's most notorious paedophile priest Brendan Smyth admitted to having potentially abused more than 200 children during his years in the priesthood, it has been revealed.

The full extent of the serial sex abuser's offending has never been revealed.

However, Smyth himself believed the number of victims he abused could be in the many hundreds.

In his own words, which were yesterday made public for the first time during a hearing of the Historical Institutional Abuse Inquiry, Smyth told a doctor in 1994: "Over the years of religious life it could be that I have sexually abused between 50 and 100 children. That number could even be double, or perhaps even more."

The inquiry heard that Smyth received psychiatric treatment many times during his time in the priesthood.

Smyth was convicted of more than 100 indecent assaults against children across Ireland, offences which took place over a 40-year period. He died in prison in 1997 after a heart attack.

The inquiry heard he distanced himself from the severity of his crimes and the effect they had on his victims.

During a police interview in the 1990s with RUC detectives, he said that "in some cases" the abuse "will have hurt or damaged" his victims "somewhat psychologically".

He added, however: "In some cases it hasn't done any harm."

Fr William Fitzgerald of the Norbertine Order, of which Smyth was a member, said that the "inexcusable actions of Brendan Smyth have caused incalculable damage".

In a statement provided to the inquiry he added: "Suspicions should have been reported immediately to the police authorities. Brendan Smyth should not have been permitted to exercise ministry after it had become known that he was perpetrating acts of child sex abuse."

Fr Fitzgerald said there did not appear to have been any real appreciation of the harm Smyth was causing.

The Archdiocese of Armagh said in a statement that the "single greatest failure in this appalling saga was not reporting these matters to the civil authorities in both Northern Ireland and Republic so that they could investigate the allegations and monitor the movements of Brendan Smyth in order to minimise the risk to children".

The statement continued: "There was a failure to exert vigilance over Brendan Smyth and ensure he was not free to continue this abusive behaviour. The Church today can only look back on all of this with shame and in disgrace.

"The diocese acknowledges that Brendan Smyth perpetrated the most heinous and deplorable crimes against children on a prolific scale."

Fr Timonthy Bartlett of the Diocese of Down and Connor said in a statement that the "consequences for the children has been catastrophic".

The hearing was told yesterday that Smyth abused children in Northern Ireland and the Republic and also faced similar allegations in Scotland, Wales and the United States.


Several allegations of child sexual abuse were brought to the Church's attention throughout the 1970s, the inquiry was told yesterday.

In 1974 a senior priest confronted Smyth about a complaint from a Belfast family of child sexual abuse.

Smyth did not deny the complaint.

However, it was another 20 years before he was eventually jailed.

Instead, he was moved between parishes, dioceses and even countries where he would prey on victims as young as eight.

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