The priest who brought down a government

Twelve years for paedophile in Irish scandal
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The Independent Online
The paedophile priest whose case brought down the Irish government was yesterday jailed for 12 years after a Dublin court heard harrowing details of his victims' suffering over a 36-year period.

Brendan Smyth, 70, a member of the Norbertine order, pleaded guilty to 74 charges of abusing 20 children, some as young as six, in an abbey, a boathouse and a Dublin hotel, between 1959 and 1993.

In 1994 the Irish coalition government, led by Albert Reynolds, collapsed amid uproar over the revelation that the Attorney General's office had failed to act on extradition applications for Smyth's return to face charges in Northern Ireland.

Church authorities also came under strong criticism for moving Smyth to new parishes when abuse complaints emerged. In July 1994 the priest was jailed for four years in Belfast for eight child sex-abuse offences. The following year he received an additional two-year term on eight further charges. On his release in Northern Ireland in March this year he was extradited to the Irish Republic.

The latest sentence followed a two-day hearing in Dublin's Circuit Criminal Court in which Judge Cyril Kelly heard details of the suffering of 20 of Smyth's female and male victims. One woman described how, as a child, she woke up on one occasion feeling a sharp pain, to find Smyth's finger in her vagina. Smyth's assaults drove her to attempt suicide, three months after giving birth, and her marriage ended six months later.

Smyth gave his victims sweets, crosses, Bibles, statues, and football kit. He preyed on the children of families he had become close to and who trusted him enough to let him take them away on trips to country retreats, to a parish priest's seaside house or to guest houses in Dublin.

Another woman, now a nurse, told of being repeatedly abused in a convent parlour.

Her school uniform had been stained after Smyth ejaculated on to it. The next day she had been humiliated and beaten in school because of the semen stains. When the girl refused to see Smyth again, the Mother Superior told her she was "above her station" and slapped her before making her see him.

The girl later turned to drugs as a result of her ordeal. She attempted suicide by swallowing needles, and said that much of her adolescence was spent looking for pills with which to kill herself.

Detective Inspector Thomas Dixon told the court that Smyth had shown no remorse. DI Dixon agreed that some victims who had refused to go on further trips with Smyth had relented to prevent younger brothers and sisters being abused also.

One male victim told the court: "I hate Smyth so much I could kill him."

In court on Tuesday Smyth read out an apology recognising that his actions were "sins against God, offences against individuals and the laws of the state". He said he regretted any trauma his victims may have suffered.

Judge Kelly said, because of psychiatric reports and because of the priest's conduct during a sex- offenders' treatment programme in Northern Ireland, he feared Smyth would seriously sexually abuse again.

The judge also cited Smyth's behaviour during prison-van journeys through Coleraine, when the priest became sexually excited at the sight of schoolchildren. He refused leave to appeal.

The Catholic Church in England and Wales was yesterday confident that strict guidelines on investigating claims of sexual abuse by priests would prevent the English Church being hit by a huge damages payout similar to one facing an American diocese. The Roman Catholic diocese of Dallas was ordered to pay $120m (pounds 72m) damages to 10 former altar boys, and to the parents of another youngster, who were sexually abused by a Catholic priest. A jury in the civil case found the diocese guilty of not only failing to uncover the Rev Rudolph Kos's 11-year reign of abuse, but also of covering up the evidence when victims finally came forward.

A number of priests have been convicted in Britain of sexual abuse of young boys over the past few years but no victims have ever brought a civil damages claim to court. If a diocese was sued, then a victim would have to prove that the Church had actually been negligent in that it had covered up what had happened.

Father Kieran Conry, of the Catholic Media Office, said the Church was alert to any possibility of sexual abuse by priests and was doing all it could to stamp it out.