Northern Ireland

Historical Abuse Inquiry: Fr Brendan Smyth 'could have abused hundreds of children'

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Media captionThe inquiry was told by junior counsel Joseph Aiken that Fr Brendan Smyth admitted he could have abused hundreds of children

A public inquiry has been told that a paedophile priest admitted he may have sexually abused hundreds of children.

Northern Ireland's Historical Abuse Inquiry has begun an examination on the activities of Fr Brendan Smyth.

Smyth was at the centre of one of the first paedophile priest scandals to rock the Catholic church in Ireland.

The inquiry heard he told a doctor in 1994: "Over the years of religious life, it could be that I've sexually abused between 50 and 100 children.

"That number could have been doubled, or perhaps even more."

Surfaced

Smyth was convicted of over 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.

Image copyright PA
Image caption Fr Brendan Smyth was convicted of 117 indecent assaults against 41 children across Ireland

The wide-ranging inquiry is conducting a week-long focus on how Smyth got away with his crimes for so long.

It was told on Monday that Smyth abused children in Northern Ireland and the Republic of Ireland and also faced allegations of similar abuse in Scotland, Wales and the United States.

The inquiry heard that the first suspicions of abuse by Smyth arose while he was in Rome studying for the priesthood.

One church figure subsequently opposed his ordination but was overruled.

In a statement provided to the inquiry, Fr William Fitzgerald of the Norbertine Order, of which Fr Brendan Smyth was a member, said "warning signs had surfaced" prior to Smyth's ordination.

"I am unable to say how clear those warning signs were, but in light of what we now know the pattern of behaviour by which Brendan Smyth maintained his freedom to do as he chose was already apparent while he was in formation," Fr Fitzgerald's statement read.

"He ought never to have been ordained to the priesthood."

Disgrace

Fr Fitzgerald added in his statement that Smyth had been able to "silence and ridicule those who would oppose him".

"It is clear he used his intelligence and naked cunning not only to engineer circumstances where he could conduct abuse of children, but also to intimidate and effectively oppose the efforts of those who sought to confront him or restrict his activities.

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Image caption Retired high court judge Sir Anthony Hart is chairing the Historical Institutional Abuse Inquiry

"Brendan Smyth should not have been permitted to exercise ministry after it had become know that he was perpetrating acts of child sexual abuse."

A witness statement provided to the inquiry on behalf of the archdiocese of Armagh said "the church today can only look back on all this with shame and in disgrace".

The retired Cardinal Seán Brady will give evidence later this week on his involvement in a church examination of Fr Smyth in 1975.

Junior counsel Joseph Aiken said the inquiry will examine if there were "missed opportunities" to stop Smyth's abuse of children by individuals in prominent and important positions.

Retired judge Sir Anthony Hart is leading the inquiry, set up by the Northern Ireland Executive to investigate child abuse in residential institutions over a 73-year period, up to 1995.

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