Parents asked to check on children's contacts with sex abuse priest

By Dick Hogan and John Maher
Irish Times
October 13, 1994

Parents of young patients who attended Tralee General Hospital between August 1990 and September of last year have been asked by the Southern Health Board to establish if improper advances were made to their children by the paedophile priest, Father Brendan Smyth, who acted as locum hospital chaplain on several occasions over a three year period.

Smyth is now serving a four year prison sentence in Co Derry for sex offences against young people. He acted as locum chaplain with, the board says, the approval of his abbot, Father Kevin Smith. The abbot declined last night to discuss the reasons why he gave approval for Fr Smyth's appointment at the hospital. He told The Irish Times that he had made a statement some weeks ago concerning Father Smyth and he had nothing more to add.

At a news conference at the hospital yesterday, Mr Pat Madden, the programme manager for child care services in the area, said the board was outraged that the abbot of the Norbertine Order, based at Holy Trinity Abbey, Ballyjamesduff, Co Cavan, should have approved Smyth for the post when he knew he had a history of child sex abuse going back 20 years.

The board would now insist on more stringent procedures before such appointments, he said.

Last week UTV's Counterpoint programme highlighted the fact that Catholic Church authorities knew of complaints against Smyth for some years. The Bishop of Ossory, Dr Laurence Forristal, said Smyth's past should have been revealed when he sought the Tralee post.

"There should have been a more careful screening of the applicant for a post like this", he said. He accepted that the priest's appointment to the position placed innocent people at risk.

Asked if clergy tended to protect an errant priest, Dr Forristal said this attitude had existed in the past. "I'd imagine it would. have been prevalent, that you protected the institution first, in terms of the clerical personnel of the institution," he said. "But it was the case also with many other professions. Society generally swept things under the carpet."

Child sex abuse was not solely a church problem, he said. "The vast majority of abusers 70 to 80 per cent are married. So it isn't just the church. Celibacy isn't the cause of child sex abuse, and marriage isn't the cure of it."

Dr Forristal heads a church committee which advises bishops and religious superiors on dealing with abuse allegations.

Smyth first came to Tralee General Hospital after responding to an advertisement in the newsletter of the Conference of Major Religious Superiors, placed by the full time chaplain, Father John Quinlan, in March, 1990. Smyth's abbot approved the appointment with a two sentence letter, which was accepted at face value, the board said.

The board stressed that the appointment of hospital chaplains was a matter for the diocese in any area, while the serving chaplain was responsible for arranging a locum.

Mr Madden said that in the child care area every precaution, including a Garda reference, was taken to ensure that staff had the highest credentials. Had the appointment of locum chaplain been the responsibility of the board, he went on, the same criteria would have been applied.

We will be meeting with the dioceses to insist that in future the most stringent measures are taken to fill posts such as this," he said.

"This appointment was made in good faith and I think it's reasonable to assume, when a priest's abbot approves him for a position, that he is fit to serve in that position." He added that the board was "outraged, concerned and very annoyed that the abbot consented to Father Smyth's appointment in the full knowledge of his previous record." In future, the board would insist on clear and transparent protocols for appointments like this.

Smyth acted as locum chaplain during August and September of 1990. He was back at Tralee General for six days the following November and for five days the next month. In August 1992 he was there for four days, and he spent a further three days at the hospital the following month. He was there again from February 17th to 20th 1993, and for one day in September of that year.

Mr Madden said Smyth would have had access to the paediatric ward, which had 30 beds. The ward, he added, was always busy, with parents visiting and staff working day and night, and it was unlikely that the priest would have beep able to make advances to the children.

Kerry gardai had now been informed that Smyth worked at the hospital, and parents had been asked to discuss with their children whether anything improper took place. If this happened, the full resources of the board would be available to the parents and their children, Mr Madden said. So far, no cases of abuse had come to light, he added.


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