Court Records Revealing Abuses by Ex-OLM Priest
Attorney who grew up in EG living with childhood molestation memories by former EG priest

By Abby Fox
East Greenwich Pendulum
October 25, 2007

[This article was scanned by from a copy of the original article.]

Because of a group called Bishop Accountability, including one member who grew up in East Greenwich, the number of priests accused of misconduct in the Providence Diocese is getting a fresh look.

Bishop Accountability said that 125 priests since 1971 have had allegations issued against them, based on court documents released in January 2007 [see the documents]. That number is far higher than 56, the tally given in 2004 by the diocese, the group said.

One East Greenwich related person with a stake in the issue is Helen McGonigle, an attorney living and working in Brookfield, Conn., who resided at 83 Dalebill Drive in East Greenwich from 1967 to 1973. She attended Our Lady of Mercy School from first through sixth grade.

Helen McGonigle in her 1967 OLM class picture at age 6, the year she says she first experienced sexual abuse by Brendan Smyth.

From her first year here, and for the next four years, McGonigle said, she was molested by Father Brendan Smyth, then known to her as "Father Gerry," while her family was a member of Our Lady of Mercy Catholic Church.

The Diocese of Providence has received eight complaints in all about Smyth, according to spokesperson Michael Guilfoyle.

Smyth was "gregarious and charming," McGonigle said, "targeting" her, she believes, because she belonged to a "devout Irish-Catholic family," whose father was frequently away on business trips.

Smyth "knew when fathers would be there or wouldn't be there," she said. Her father, Charles, for example, worked for Textron and was not at home as much as five days a week.

Brendan Smyth

Smyth was "all around the kids," she said. "He infiltrated the CYO basketball team and the cheerleaders. He was a fixture in my neighborhood."

In her case, McGonigle said, she was molested four or five times, at first "under the pretext of learning penance."

Smyth was assigned to East Greenwich from 1965 to 1968, McGonigle said, and was sent back to Ireland in 1968, allegedly for sexual misconduct. But by 1969, she said, he was back in East Greenwich again, and he returned for visits for several years afterwards.

He was born John Gerard Smyth, but was known to McGonigle and others under different aliases.

Looking back

Now 46 years old, with a law practice defending sexual abuse victims, McGonigle said she started thinking in 2005 about her own abuse story, when her older sister Kathleen died at age 49 of an overdose of Wellbutrin.

Before her sister's death two years ago, "I blocked it out of my mind," she said. But when McGonigle learned from her father that her sister had mentioned learning to drink from Smyth, she started jogging her memory about "Father Gerry."

Before long, McGonigle said, she realized that her sister was abused as well. As she began asking more questions, she said, she learned that two of her neighbors were also molested.

McGonigle never talked with her sister about Smyth before her death, she said, although she eventually confided to her father, who has been "very supportive." Her mother, Margaret, died in 2002, before McGonigle was seriously addressing the issue, she said, while her brother, Gerard, "has backed me 100 percent."

Even with familial support, and even though McGonigle's family left East Greenwich for Connecticut in 1973, McGonigle said she's been diagnosed with post-traumatic stress disorder, is still in therapy, and takes anti-depressants.

"It's been a rough ride," she said.

For many people, "East Greenwich is a lovely town," she said. "For me, my experience was a nightmare."

Public awareness

In July 2006, McGonigle said, she notified the Diocese of Providence about Smyth and was told she was one of several people who had come forward with accusations against him.

Since her childhood, McGonigle said, she's read many accounts of Smyth's sexual abuse scandals in Ireland, including a book by Chris Moore, "Betrayal of Trust." In the 1990s, he went to prison in Belfast for molesting many children, according to newspaper articles.

McGonigle has also traced Smyth's history of abuse to Langdon, North Dakota, where he served as a priest in the Diocese of Fargo from 1979 to 1983.

In the past year, McGonigle said, the Diocese has acknowledged her as a victim in private correspondence. And has paid more than $30,000 for her therapy.

But McGonigle now wants a public confession.

"I begged Bishop Tobin to make known" what happened in East Greenwich, she said. "They don't want this coming out. He was a problem."

The church is "supposed to be open with the community," she said. "I don't want other people succumbing to the same fate as my sister."

McGonigle has a letter sent to her last year from the Rev. Paul D. Theroux on behalf of Bishop Thomas J. Tobin, saying that Tobin didn't want to publicly announce Smyth, "given the number of years and the fact that it has already been a matter of international public record and taking into consideration the expressed confidentiality concerns of other known victims..."

If the Diocese doesn't say more at this point, Bishop Accountability is turning to public officials, hoping for their interest. "I would hope [Attorney General] Patrick Lynch would meet with us," she said, for example.

Friday, the same day Accountability's announcement was released, Lynch put out a preliminary response.

"We will review this newly disclosed information very carefully, we will pursue all credible leads, and if appropriate, we will prosecute any and all resulting cases to the fullest extent of the law," the press release stated.

McGonigle said that by her count and her private conversations, she thinks she's one of at least eight people molested by Smyth.

In response, Our Lady of Mercy's comment was that no complaints had come in recently, while the Providence Diocese issued a general statement: "Because the cases are in suit, it is inappropriate or us to comment on the claims of the victims and the legal issues being litigated. However, the Diocese of Providence has in place one of the earliest, strongest and most nationally recognized anti-abuse programs in the United States."

To see a list of accused priests in the United States, the web site of Bishop Accountability is, where 26 Rhode Island priests, including Brendan Smyth, are listed.


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