Northern Ireland

HIA inquiry hears angry jail letter from paedophile priest Fr Brendan Smyth

Brendan Smyth Image copyright Pacemaker
Image caption Fr Brendan Smyth was jailed in both Northern Ireland and the Republic of Ireland for child abuse and died after a heart attack in prison in 1997

The paedophile priest Fr Brendan Smyth wrote an angry letter from prison, criticising his Church and the media over their response to his conviction.

The letter emerged at the Historical Institutional Abuse (HIA) inquiry.

Smyth castigated a former leader of the Catholic Church in Ireland - the then Bishop Cathal Daly - for stating that his case had damaged the Church.

The serial child abuser's letter also blamed the media for creating an atmosphere of "shame" over his crimes.

The HIA inquiry, which is being held in Banbridge courthouse, County Down, is examining child abuse allegations in church, state and voluntary children's residential institutions dating back to 1922, but has set aside a dedicated module on the case of the late Brendan Smyth.

'Anger'

Smyth was at the centre of one of the first clerical child sex abuse scandals to rock the Catholic Church in Ireland.

The Northern Ireland-born priest was eventually convicted of more than 140 offences against children over a 40-year period and spent time in prison on both sides of the Irish border.

Writing from his cell in Magilligan prison, County Londonderry, in 1994, Smyth said that he wanted to express his "anger and disbelief" at Cathal Daly's comments in which he said his case had "done severe damage" to the Catholic Church.

Describing the then Bishop Daly as "lofty and intellectual", the convicted child abuser went on to blame the media.

He said: "Whatever my failings - and there are many - it is not they, but the media reporting of them which has created an atmosphere of mixed shame and embarrassment."

The HIA inquiry also heard the only sanction the Catholic Church imposed on Smyth was to stop him hearing confessions.

The decision to withdraw Smyth's right to hear church-goers' confessions was made by Bishop Francis McKiernan in the Irish cross-border diocese of Kilmore.

The bishop's sanction followed a "secret" 1975 inquiry into allegations made against the paedophile priest by a number of young boys in the area.

The 1975 inquiry was conducted by three priests, including Fr John Brady - who later became Cardinal Sean Brady and replaced Cathal Daly as the leader of the Catholic Church in Ireland.

Cardinal Brady retired last year.

The HIA hearing was told that, in the aftermath of the 1975 inquiry, there was nothing to show Bishop McKiernan had taken any action to stop Smyth from abusing more children, other than banning him from hearing confessions.

It heard that there was no evidence to suggest Bishop McKiernan informed his fellow bishops of the allegations against Smyth, or that he tried to help the children who reported the abuse.

The inquiry also heard about another letter sent by Smyth in 1995.

In it he said: "I have welcomed the prison sentences imposed by the courts as a fitting means of paying my debt to society.

"I would like to take this opportunity to express my deep sorrow to anyone who has in any way suffered as a result of my actions and also to those relatives, friends and members of my religious community who suffered because of the media treatment of these matters for a long time now.

"I have been at peace with my God and I trust they too will find a similar peace."

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