The Diocese of Providence

Bismarck Tribune
February 8, 1995

PROVIDENCE, R.I. — The Diocese of Providence is strongly denying it knew the Rev. Brendan Smyth was a child molester, though church officials in Northern Ireland have said they knew Smyth was a pedophile but allowed him to continue serving. Smyth also is accused of abusing children while serving as a priest in Langdon, N.D. ""Everyone is shocked," diocese spokesman William Halpin said Monday of reports that Smyth, who is from Northern Ireland, molested children while serving as a visiting priest at Our Lady of Mercy in East Greenwich from 1965 to 1968. Halpin said Rhode Island church officials ""had no reason to be suspicious" about why the church in Northern Ireland sent Smyth to the state. ""(Smyth) was assigned to Our Lady ostensibly to help his asthma," said Halpin, who explained the diocese was told Rhode Island's climate would be beneficial to Smyth's health.

Smyth now is serving a four-year prison sentence in Belfast, Northern Ireland, for sexually abusing children there. The allegations about child molestations in the United States were in a letter from Smyth's former superior to Ulster Television in Northern Ireland last summer. Church officials did not notify the dioceses in Rhode Island or North Dakota of Smyth's ""propensity to molest children," the Rt. Rev. Kevin Smith wrote last July, shortly before resigning as abbot of Holy Trinity Abbey in Kilnacrott, County Cavan, Ireland. Smith, who was Smyth's superior for 25 years, said he and others thought Smyth's ""problem" could be dealt with by reassigning Smyth every two or three years to prevent him from forming ""attachments to families and children." ""Father Smyth's behavior has perplexed and troubled our community over many years," Smith wrote. ""We always hoped that a combination of treatment, Father Smyth's intelligence and the grace of God would enable Father Smyth to overcome his disorder. We did not adequately understand the compulsive nature of his disorder or the serious and enduring damage which his behavior could cause." When accusations against Smyth first surfaced last year, Northern Ireland police filed a request to extradite him from Ireland, where Smyth fled after allegations arose. But Irish Attorney General Harry Whelehan did not act on the request for seven months, which enraged some Labor Party members when Whelehan was appointed president of the High Court of the Republic of Ireland by former Irish Premier Albert Reynolds in November. The controversy that followed prompted Reynolds' resignation and brought down his party's coalition government. Six people claim they were victimized by Smyth while he was in North Dakota in the early 1980s, according to the Rev. Dale Kinzler, of St. Alphonsus Church in Langdon, N.D., a town of 2,400 people. ""But only one is a very serious case," he said. The victim, a male, was in his early teens at the time, Kinzler said. Halpin said the Diocese of Providence doesn't ""have the capability to launch a full-scale investigation" to find Smyth's victims, but said anyone who was molested by Smyth is encouraged to contact the church. Asked why no one from the diocese had attempted to contact the church in Northern Ireland in light of the Smith letter, Halpin said it was possible that such calls were made ""and I just don't know about it. I just haven't had a chance to discuss it with the people in power." The Rev. Raymond Theroux, who worked with Smyth as an assistant pastor at Our Lady of Mercy and is now pastor of St. John Vianney Church in Cumberland said he was startled to learn about Smyth. ""When I read those stories out of Ireland, I couldn't believe that this is the same guy I lived with in the rectory," he said. ""If there was any abuse going on at that time, I had no inkling." For some, the revelations have changed their thinking about Smyth. Kathy Guilfoyle of Narragansett worshipped at Our Lady of Mercy in 1965 and said Smyth performed last rites for her grandmother. For Guilfoyle, whose son was molested by former Bristol priest William O'Connell, the memory of Smyth has turned sickening. ""If you look at a priest, you can't tell which is good and which is bad. It's just that if the church had weeded out the bad ones we could feel safe but they don't, they just move them around," she said.


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