Abuse victim plans legal action
Father Smyth was a friend of Claire's mother. He entered their lives when Claire was six and almost immediately began sexually abusing her. That abuse continued for nine years. It was not until they discovered the trusted family friend was a paedophile that her parents questioned Claire and discovered she, too, was one of his victims.
Now the 22-year-old says her life is ruined because of the abuse. She is the mother of an 18-month-old daughter, of whom she is fiercely protective, has a broken marriage, and late last year attempted suicide.
She described failed attempts to contact Cardinal Cahal Daly but the cardinal has strongly rejected the claims that he refused to take her calls. A spokesman at the Catholic press office said the cardinal would have arranged a meeting with her if she had telephoned.
"This is his policy and he is absolutely certain he would have taken the call. The name would have rang a bell and he would have recognised it.
Claire attends counselling, but is unable to speak in detail about what she suffered at the hands of the paedophile priest, who also abused 11 other children in her immediate circle. She does remember the first time he abused her.
"I was so young my memory of it is hazy. But I do remember watching him from the sitting room window getting out of his car, opening the boot and getting sweets out of it. I remember my mum, my dad and my sister were in the house. He came in and the words he said that stick in my mind are Look what I have for you. I don't remember what I felt at the time. I remember him touching me. I knew that my father didn't touch me that way when he lifted me up or sat me in his lap and he never hurt me like that.
"At school Father Smyth would come into the class and say he was a friend of the family and take me out. He took me out for my 11th birthday, myself and two friends. He gave us gold crosses and chains and money and he brought us for a big slap-up meal. He never cared where the abuse took place it didn't have to go on behind closed doors. It happened in the car, in the restaurant, he would do it just after my parents had left a room. It seemed to add to the thrill for him.
Claire's anger now is directed at the Hierarchy, particularly Cardinal Daly and Abbot Kevin Smith. She feels both should resign their positions.
"Cardinal Daly said on the radio that he has cried with families who had children that were sexually abused. But I can tell you now that he never cried with me or my family. We were left to cope on our own, she said angrily. It was to Claire's parents that Cardinal Daly wrote two letters, one in 1991 and the other in 1992, apologising for the distress caused and acknowledging that "there have been complaints before" about the Norbertine priest.
Claire is now planning legal action against the church for its alleged inaction over the priest who abused children for more than 40 years.
"Seeing pictures of Smyth makes me feel physically sick but when I see those members of the church who stood back and did nothing despite knowing what he was up to for all those years, I am totally disgusted.
Matters came to a head for Claire last year shortly after the birth of her daughter. She suffered from depression and a growing anger about Father Smyth's continuing freedom, and the pain he had caused her.
"What happened has caused me unbelievable pain in my life. I wanted to tell the Church what had been done. I wanted them to stop him from abusing other children and put this monster behind bars, but they just weren't willing to listen. Last year it all got too much for me and I just had to do something. I contacted a priest and all he said was that he was sorry to hear about my problems. It turns out that he is now up on sex abuse charges himself."
It was Claire's parents who made the complaint about Father Smyth to the RUC which resulted in him being charged with a total of 17 offences involving sexual assaults on boys and girls. Knowing his daughter's increasingly fragile emotional state, her father attempted to contact Cardinal Daly, she said. After that she attempted to reach him herself, again without success. Claire said that between them they made six calls to the cardinal's residence.
"My daddy called first, and when he told me the response he got I lost my temper and said.
'They'll bloody well speak to me' and I made the call. I explained why I wanted to speak to him, and I was told he was away and the second time I was told the same thing. I got very angry, but that didn't matter.
Following her suicide attempt, her father rang the cardinal's residence and explained that his daughter's upset and great anger had caused her to try and take her own life. "There wasn't much of a response, although they eventually gave him the name of a monsignor who did help us. He got word to Father Smyth that the church was no longer going to protect him and that he would have to come and face the charges, which is eventually what happened."
For Claire it was far too little, and too late. She points to a story told on the UTV Counterpoint programme Suffer the Little Children, which she also took part in, about a girl who was abused in 1971. Her parents were assured by the nuns that the matter would be dealt with by a higher authority, and Father Smyth would not be allowed back into the school.
"But he was allowed back, and 10 years later he abused me in the same school. I want to now know what the church is going to do for the victims. There is no cure for paedophilia as there is no cure for someone who has been sexually abused. We needed support, help and counselling and still do. It also boils down to compensation which we are owed by the church. We are a working class family and if we got some money it might mean that we could take a holiday and get away from some of the pressure and the stress. I nearly lost my life over what happened to me and I deserve these things from the Catholic Church."
The case on Father Smyth, who is serving a four year sentence at Magilligan prison in Co Derry, has been reopened by the RUC. Claire believes that during the 40 years he was abusing he came into contact with thousands of children
"They say that he will be confined to the monastery when he gets out but that man gets such a thrill out of what he does to children that he would find a way to get out. He has done it before. I'd like to see him locked away in jail for a very, very long time where he cannot harm children in any way."
Claire still feels guilt over what happened, and blames herself for not speaking up and protecting those younger than her who were also abused. Her horrific experiences mean that she cannot bear to let her young daughter out of her sight, even to the care of her parents. For years she suffered abdominal pains, eventually under going surgery, but it was only through counselling, following her suicide attempt, that she realised they were psychosomatic pains.
Today she is a very thin seven stone, she chain smokes and she eats little. "I realise now that those pains, which were very real to me, were my cry for help. I still do feel guilt, a sense of responsibility that I let it continue for so many years. It's very difficult to get on with life because something new keeps cropping up about the case and I feel that justice has not been done. How can I really get on with a normal life when all this is going on? I can't be at peace with myself until it is sorted out."
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