Priest Jailed for 12 Years for Child Sex Abuse over 36 Years

Associated Press
July 26, 1997

A pedophile priest whose case brought down the Irish government and forced the Roman Catholic Church to confront its own sex scandals has been sentenced to 12 years in prison for sexually abusing children over a 36-year period.

Judge Cyril Kelly said Friday he had taken into account the Rev. Brendan Smyth's guilty plea to 74 offenses but remained fearful that he would "seriously sexually abuse" children again.

Smyth, 70, completed a four-year prison term in British-ruled Northern Ireland in March for indecently assaulting five girls and two boys while serving in west Belfast. He was immediately extradited across the border to the Irish Republic to stand trial.

During a two-day hearing at Dublin's Circuit Criminal Court before sentencing, the judge heard details of the suffering of the priest's victims. One woman described how she attempted suicide, another how she turned to drugs. A male victim told the court: "I hate Smyth so much I could kill him."

Based on payments already made by the church in previous cases of clerical sex abuse, Smyth's victims are likely to receive between $ 34,300 and $ 68,600 in compensation, according to media reports.

Smyth, who is an Irish citizen, had fled to the headquarters of his Norbertine order in Ireland's County Cavan in 1993 after accusations surfaced of child molestation going back to the 1960s.

The Irish Republic's seven-month delay in extraditing Smyth to Northern Ireland brought down the coalition government of Prime Minister Albert Reynolds in November 1994.

The Labor Party withdrew from its coalition with Reynolds' Fianna Fail party over claims that Reynolds' outgoing attorney general, Harry Whelehan, suppressed an extradition warrant for Smyth.

The case also led to an apology by Irish bishops for the church's insufficient attention to pedophiles in the priesthood. The Irish Republic's population of 3.5 million people is 95 percent Roman Catholic.

The church announced today that it has opened a telephone helpline for victims of sexual abuse by the clergy.

Public disclosure of the Smyth case unleashed a torrent of claims throughout the Irish Republic from former altar boys and students in church-run schools that priests had molested them. He also was accused of abusing children in North Dakota after being reassigned there during the mid-1980s.

Judge Kelly said he based his concern that Smyth might abuse children again on psychiatric reports and the priest's behavior while on a sex offenders' course in Northern Ireland.

He also noted that Smyth had refused to cooperate with officials preparing probation and welfare reports in Dublin.

In court on Tuesday, Smyth read out an apology recognizing that his actions were "sins against God, offenses against individuals and the laws of the state." He expressed "deep sorrow and regret for any psychological hurt or trauma" experienced by his victims.

The Norbertine Order, to which Smyth still belongs, announced Saturday it has started a formal ecclesiastical disciplinary process against him, which could lead to his clerical status being stripped.

"We deeply regret that a member of our Community has caused such harm," the order said. "It is our sincere hope and prayer that the conclusion of this criminal trial will help in the process of healing and restoration, and in some way assist those who have been so unjustly and gravely hurt."


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