Letter to Chris Moore

By Abbot Kevin A. Smith, O. Praem.
September 26, 1994

Photograph of this letter, from the UTV Counterpoint documentary Suffer Little Children, aired on 10/6/94.

Dear Mr Moore,

I refer to your letters, visits and telephone calls to the monastery over the past four months. I have given much thought to your letter of May 20. In an effort to respond to your questions I have reviewed Fr Smyth's history, conferred with the members of our community and sought the advice of professional people who have studied paedophilia.

As Fr Smyth's religious superior at Holy Trinity Abbey since 1969, I acknowledge that I have made many errors in dealing with his wrongdoing. As a community we have also erred and failed in our pastoral response to those who have suffered. At the time of Fr Smyth's conviction we publicly apologised for the hurt caused to so many people. I now again say to those who have suffered that we are heartily sorry.

It is now clear that Fr Smyth should never have had access to children. When he comes out of jail, we as a community are determined to ensure that Fr Smyth has available to him such treatment as is advised. In addition, we are especially alert to the need to do all in our power to ensure he has no further access to children.

Fr Smyth has been a member of the Norbertine Community since 1945. Notwithstanding the absence of records I believe that his problem with children surfaced early in his religious life. In those years frequent reassignment was often the way church authorities handled priest paedophiles and other problem priests. Fr Smyth was reassigned every few years or so in an effort to keep him from forming attachments to families and their children. We now see how inadequate this approach actually was.

In 1968 we sought treatment for Fr Smyth at Purdysburn Hospital in Belfast where aversion techniques were used. At that time psychiatrists believed that this was the appropriate treatment for his disorder. In time it became apparent that it was not effective in this case. In 1973 Fr Smyth was again sent for treatment, this time at St Patrick's Psychiatric Hospital in Dublin. In 1974 Fr Smyth was institutionalised for a time at Stroud in Gloucestershire. In 1989 he was referred by the community for further treatment by a Consultant Psychologist in Dublin. Fr Smyth attended him on a regular basis until late last year. From his history you see that we sought expert intervention and treatment for Fr Smyth.

Fr Smyth's behaviour has perplexed and troubled our community over many years. We always hoped that a combination of treatment, Fr Smyth's intelligence and the grace of God would enable Fr Smyth to overcome his disorder. We did not adequately understand the compulsive nature of his disorder or the serious and enduring damage which his behaviour could cause.

Fr Smyth was born and reared in West Belfast and had many friends there. We are aware of one occasion only on which he was there in a pastoral capacity. To the best of our knowledge, he was not on any pastoral ministry when wrongdoing occurred.

On two occasions Fr Smyth was sent on temporary assignment to do parish work in America. On neither occasion was the Bishop of the diocese to which he was sent notified of his propensity to molest children. On both occasions Fr Smyth offended against young parishioners. I acknowledge that I, as his religious superior, committed a grave error in sending Fr Smyth abroad without warning the Bishop to whom I sent him.

I have recently learned that between 1992 and 1993 Fr Smyth paid substantial sums of money in response to a complaint made directly to him by the family of a young person in America. The community had no knowledge of this complaint until recently and did not make or authorise the payments or know anything about them.

The community has paid no money to any person arising out of Fr Smyth's offending.

In 1989 I received complaints from a family about Fr Smyth's conduct with their children. Twice thereafter, Cardinal Daly, then Bishop of Down and Conor, [sic] communicated with me and requested that I, as Fr Smyth's religious superior, take appropriate steps to deal With Fr Smyth's misconduct. Dr Patrick Walsh, the present Bishop of Down and Conor [sic], also contacted me regarding the same issue. After the 1989 complaint I had arranged for Fr Smyth to attend a Clinical Psychologist in Dublin regularly and so informed both Bishops. I also gave assurances to both Bishops that I would deal effectively with Fr Smyth.

With my approval, in December 1993, Fr Marshall, one of our Community, telephoned the father of one of the young people against whom Fr Smyth had offended. Our purpose was to arrange a meeting With the young person's father to discuss Fr Smyth's offending and its possible consequences for the victim and the community.

I was not aware of any desire on the part of the RUC or the Garda Siochana to interview or serve any process upon Fr Smyth. I did not know that the extradition of Fr Smyth was sought or contemplated. Fr Smyth has not held any permanent position since his return from the United States in 1983. However, he undertook a number of assignments for short periods, the last of which was as chaplain to a hospital in Cork.

In this letter I have done my best to answer the many questions you have asked. I hope you will treat it as my response and that of our community for the purposes of your programme. The community has been devastated by these events and we can only, once .again, express our heart-felt sorrow and continuing concern for all those who have been hurt.

    Yours sincerely,
+Kevin A. Smith,
O. Praem. Abbot

[Note from This letter was scanned from Chris Moore, Betrayal of Trust: The Father Brendan Smyth Affair and the Catholic Church (Dublin: Marino Books, 1995), pp. 194-98.]


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