Brendan Smyth

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Brendan Smyth O.Praem
Father Smyth1.png
Fr. Brendan Smyth, c. 1965
John Gerard Smyth

(1927-06-08)8 June 1927
Belfast, Northern Ireland
Died 22 August 1997(1997-08-22) (aged 70)
Curragh Prison, County Kildare, Ireland
Cause of death Heart attack
Resting place Kilnacrott Abbey
Occupation Priest
Known for Abuse of children
Allegiance Catholic Church
Conviction(s) 1994 in Belfast, 43 counts, + 26 later found; 1997 admitted to 74 counts of child sexual abuse
Criminal charge 1991 arrested for child sexual abuse, spend three years in The Republic of Ireland before being extradited to Northern Ireland,
Penalty 1994, 4 years, +3 (concurrent) ; 12 years (died one month into sentence)

Brendan Smyth O.Praem (8 June 1927 – 22 August 1997) was a Roman Catholic priest from Belfast, Northern Ireland, who became notorious as a child molester, using his position in the Roman Catholic Church to obtain access to his victims. During a period of over 40 years, Smyth sexually abused and indecently assaulted at least 143[1][2] children in parishes in Belfast, Dublin and the United States. His actions were frequently hidden from police and the public by Roman Catholic officials. Controversy surrounding his case contributed to the downfall of the government of Republic of Ireland in December 1994.[3]

Early life and ordination

Born John Gerard Smyth,[4] in Belfast, Northern Ireland, Smyth, upon joining the Norbertine Roman Catholic religious order in 1945, changed his name to Brendan. The Norbertines, also known as the "Premonstratensians," were aware of Smyth's crimes as early as the late 1970s, yet they did not report him to either the Garda Síochána or the Royal Ulster Constabulary. Smyth was moved from parish to parish and between dioceses and countries whenever allegations were made. In some cases, the order did not inform the diocesan bishop that Smyth had a history of sexual abuse and should be kept away from children. He abused children in parishes in Rhode Island and North Dakota and at one time worked in Boston,[5] and was suspected of similar actions while on pastoral work in Wales and Italy. Norbertine Father Bruno Mulvihill made several attempts to alert church authorities about the abuse committed by Smyth.[6]

1994 arrest

Smyth's first conviction followed the reporting to police of his abuse of four siblings in Belfast's Falls Road. After his arrest in 1991, he fled to the Republic of Ireland, where he spent the next three years on the run, staying mostly at Kilnacrott Abbey.[1] This led to the collapse of the Fianna Fáil–Labour Party coalition government in December 1994 when the poor handling of an extradition request from the RUC by the Irish Attorney General's office led to a further delay of Smyth's trial. An award-winning UTV Counterpoint programme on the scandal by journalist Chris Moore, followed by a book, accused the head of the Norbertines and the Archbishop of Armagh of mishandling the case, and the Norbertines of negligence and a failure to tell others of Smyth's crimes, enabling Smyth to sexually abuse large numbers of children for 40 years.


Smyth died at 70 in prison of a heart attack in 1997 after collapsing in the exercise yard,[7] one month into a 12-year prison sentence. The Norbertines held his funeral before dawn and covered his grave with concrete to deter vandalism. Smyth was buried in Kilnacrott Abbey, which was later put up for sale with 44 acres (18 ha) of land, including the grave.[8]

On 27 October 2005 the title "Reverend" was removed from his gravestone following a campaign by one of Smyth's victims.[4]

Later investigations

Reviewers of the case differ as to whether there was a deliberate plot to conceal Smyth's behaviour, incompetence by his superiors at Kilnacrott Abbey, or some combination of factors. Cahal Daly, both as Bishop of Down and Connor, a diocese where some of the abuse took place, and later as Cardinal Archbishop of Armagh, is recorded as having been privately furious at the Norbertine "incompetence". Smyth's activities were investigated by the Northern Ireland Historical Institutional Abuse Inquiry, finding that: "..despite knowing his history of abusing children, the Norbertine religious order moved Smyth to different dioceses where he abused more children.."[9]

In 2010, Daly's successor as Roman Catholic Archbishop of Armagh, Cardinal Seán Brady, faced "huge pressure to resign" after he admitted that in 1975 he witnessed two teenage boys sign oaths of silence after testifying in a Church inquiry against Smyth. Survivors groups saw this as evidence of collusion, but Brady said he "did not have the authority" to turn Smyth in.[10] On 17 March 2010, the Deputy First Minister for Northern Ireland, Martin McGuinness, called for Brady to resign.[11]

Module 6 of the 2014-2016 Northern Ireland Historical Institutional Abuse Inquiry is dedicated to Smyth's crimes in Northern Ireland.[12]


A two-part dramatisation of the Smyth case, Brendan Smyth: Betrayal of Trust, was broadcast by the BBC on 13 March 2011 with Ian Beattie in the title role and Richard Dormer as Chris Moore.[13]

See also


  1. ^ a b "Profile of Father Brendan Smyth". BBC News. 15 March 2010. Retrieved 15 March 2010.
  2. ^ "Cardinal will only step down if told to do so by Pope". Irish Independent. Dublin, Ireland: Independent News & Media. 15 March 2010. Retrieved 15 March 2010.
  3. ^ McGee, Harry (15 March 2010). "Coalition in power 2 years when Smyth row erupted". The Irish Times. Dublin, Ireland: Irish Times Trust. Retrieved 15 March 2010.
  4. ^ a b Moriarty, Gerry (20 March 2010). "Evil spirit of a ruined church". The Irish Times. Dublin, Ireland: Irish Times Trust. p. 5. Retrieved 20 March 2010.
  5. ^ Brendan Alliance Support Group: Smyth victim battles with US church, 31 January 2010, Sunday Tribune Archived 25 December 2015 at the Wayback Machine
  6. ^ Cunningham, Grainne (17 March 2010). "Priest who blew whistle on Smyth estranged from order". Irish Independent. Dublin, Ireland: Independent News & Media. Retrieved 17 March 2010.
  7. ^ "Few voice sympathy at death of molester: Pedophile priest's case undermined reverence for Catholic Church". Baltimore Sun. Baltimore, Maryland: Tronc. 24 August 1997. Retrieved 14 June 2011.
  8. ^ Reilly, Jerome (6 April 2008). "Abbey for sale, with pervert priest's grave included". Sunday Independent. Dublin, Ireland: Independent News & Media. Retrieved 6 April 2008.
  9. ^ "RTE report on the NIHIA". RTE. Dublin, Ireland. 20 January 2017. Retrieved 16 August 2018.
  10. ^ Caldwell, Simon; Pisa, Nick (15 March 2010). "Leader of Roman Catholic Church in Ireland urged to quit over abuse victims' silence vow". Daily Mail. London, England: Daily Mail and General Trust. Retrieved 15 March 2010.
  11. ^ Cooney, John; Byrne, Ciaran; Heffernan, Breda (18 March 2010). "'Shamed' plea buys Brady more time to stay as leader". Irish Independent. Dublin, Ireland: Independent News & Media. Retrieved 18 March 2010.
  12. ^ Northern Ireland Historical Institutional Abuse Inquiry: Module 6 - Fr. Brendan Smyth
  13. ^ McDowell, Michael (Director); Dormer, Richard, Beattie, Ian, McElhinney, Ian (actors) (13 May 2011). Brendan Smyth: Betrayal of Trust (Motion picture). Belfast, Northern Ireland: BBC Northern Ireland.

Further reading

  • Moore, Chris (1995). Betrayal of Trust: The Father Brendan Smyth Affair and the Catholic Church. Dublin: Marino. ISBN 1-86023-027-X.

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