HIA inquiry told Fr Brendan Smyth abused children in Belfast care homes
The Historical Institutional Abuse Inquiry has been told a religious order accepts that a notorious paedophile priest abused children in their care.
The inquiry's barrister, Christine Smith QC, said witnesses alleged they were abused by Fr Brendan Smyth in two care homes in south and east Belfast.
The inquiry is examining abuse claims at Narareth House and Nazareth Lodge.
The homes were run by the Sisters of Nazareth, who have repeated an earlier apology to all abused in their care.
'Sadistic and bullies'
The HIA inquiry was set up in 2013 to investigate child abuse in residential institutions in Northern Ireland over a 73-year period, up to 1995.
A total of 13 Northern Ireland institutions are being investigated.
The latest module, focusing on the two Belfast homes, is the single biggest module of the inquiry, in terms of the number of witnesses who have come forward to given evidence about their time in the care of the nuns.
In her opening remarks, the inquiry's barrister said the witnesses would also outline allegations of physical abuse, excessive physical chastisement, child neglect and lack of food in the homes.
It will be told children were often humiliated, and were made to do chores inappropriate for the their age.
Ms Smith explained how one former resident, who lived at Nazareth Lodge from the late 1940s to the mid 1950s, has made serious allegations of cruelty against the Sisters of Nazareth.
The barrister read from the witness's statement, which said: "Nuns were at best indifferent but more often sadistic and bullies. They were quick to strike out and provided no reassurance or comfort to a small, frightened child."
However, she said that another witness who lived at Nazareth Lodge in the late 1950s and 1960s has alleged that he was abused by lay staff and other boys, and that the Sisters of Nazareth provided good care.
"I never had any complaints about the nuns. The nuns were good and I have nothing bad to say about them. They made sacrifices for us. I have missed them since I left Nazareth Lodge," the witness's statement said.
A representative of the Sisters of Nazareth has already provided statements of response to some of the allegations, and has accepted that the Belfast priest Fr Brendan Smyth visited both Narareth House and Nazareth Lodge and sexually abused children.
Smyth, who was at the centre of one of the first clerical child sex abuse scandals to rock the Catholic Church in Ireland, was eventually convicted of more than 100 child abuse charges on both sides of the Irish border.
He died in prison in 1997, following a heart attack.
The HIA inquiry's barrister said 102 witnesses have come forward in relation to Narareth House and Nazareth Lodge.
More than 90 are expected to give evidence over 40 days of hearings at Banbridge Courthouse, County Down.