Sunday, March 21, 2010

Fr. Brendan Smyth, the poster child for clerical pedophile abuse, mugging for cameras during his trial.

"Remember not the events of the past, the things of long ago consider not; see, I am doing something new! Now it springs forth, do you not perceive it?" (Jesus Christ according to the Gospel of John)

John (Fr. John McNiell) suggests that the more out of touch the hierarchy of the Catholic Church get, “…the more we learn in a painful way to let go and grow up spiritually”. He calls it “…the blessing of fallibility. We are witnessing the birth pangs of the Church of the Holy Spirit.” (From Queering The Church.)

These two passage from two different sources really struck me this morning. I think the critical concept in the first passage is the request we perceive that which is new. That we not let the past dictate our present and by extension our future. Fr. McNeill is not alone in his perception that what is "new" is the Holy Spirit's demand that we grow up spiritually and cast off the things of our youth.

Pope Benedict is attempting to call us back to our spiritual youth. He is like an abusive parent who feels guilty after a particularly violent episode and asks for a honeymoon period. There are only so many honeymoon periods before the victim says "no mas". I truly believe along with Fr. McNeill, that many of us are reaching the 'no mas' stage. We have seen and heard enough empty apologies, which remain empty because we've witnessed no real accompanying change. The exclusive celibate male clerical priesthood, in which laity are expected to act like dependent children, can no longer sustain itself on apologies while insisting it need not change in form because it has changed in spirit. No, it hasn't changed. What is changing is the relationship between individual Catholics, the priesthood, and the Institutional Church.

Catholics, mostly one at a time, are beginning to pray about this notion of needing the Catholic version of priesthood. They are going way back to rediscover that original 'new'. They are reconnecting with their own baptismal priesthood and looking at other concepts of Eucharistic expression. They are reading scripture and the history of the Church and the Patristic Fathers and the thoughts of modern theologians. They are reading the Pope's own writings and coming to their own independent assessment. The days when the parish priest was the only literate Catholic are long gone, and with that, the power the priest had over the dissemination of Catholic teaching and the exclusive formation of Catholic culture-conscience-in the lay world.

It was only a matter of time until literate lay Catholics began to reassess the whole notion of priesthood on a spiritual level.

Catholicism is passing through a tumultuous period of spiritual and emotional growth. In spiritual terms one can liken it to postpubesence because this stage is characterised by the young adult's movement toward adult autonomy, sexual responsibility, and away from exclusive parental control. In this respect, the clerical abuse crisis centering around teen agers--and this includes a lot of girls, especially in the South-- is truly symbolic.
Any parent could tell Benedict what happens when one attempts to maintain absolute authority in most post pubescent teenagers. Attempting to maintain clerical authority in this new climate can only lead to anger and chaos for society, the church, and individual members. This chaos isn't limited to left vs right or progressives vs traditionalists. The chaos is rampant with in all these camps. It's being played out in secular politics this very instant in the US over health care. Many of the debates mirror cliques of junior high kids maintaining their own tight boundaries at the expense of the humanity of others.

This will be a tough passage for the Institutional church and it's maturing members. Especially if the Institutional Church resists letting it's members grow up. If it continues to insist on maintaining it's exclusive family authority at the expense of it's adult members it will be left with a very small cadre of spiritually obedient children and no real authoritative voice for anyone else. It will have convinced itself that in saving the one, losing the other ninety nine is God's will. It will not convinced the ninety nine of that view of God. Lots of parents engage in that particular thought process as they drive their less compliant children out of the nest. Everybody loses when family relationships are sundered, but the truth is maturing teenagers lose more if they stay in an infantilizing environment.

There is another compelling reason Catholics must look for the new, while understanding this of necessity includes really assessing the lessons in the ashes of present. Dark energy (what Fr. Armoth would call Satanic) is chaos energy and when given free reign, when not checked, when left to it's own devices it is hugely destructive of everything it touches. Especially when that energy is allowed to function in secrecy and complicit silence, or when exposed is shoved behind the door of a closet with another name. Take away the silence, the secrecy, and all the decptive closets and chaos energy can not survive. In fact, the lessons derived from it's exposure serve as the foundation for an even more beautiful structure. That's what it means to find the 'new'.

With that in mind, I offer the story of Brendan Smyth. I mentioned Smyth a couple of days back. Smyth is the one cleric who is totally representative of the chaos principle as it played out in the Irish abuse crisis. His legacy may still take down Cardinal Brady and that's what makes his story and the energy he wallowed in still so much one of the present.

Irish Times - 3/21/2010

Since Brendan Smyth’s death 13 years ago, the spectre of the relentless child abuser has haunted both his victims and those in the Catholic Church who failed to halt his crimes.
HERE’S AN image.
It’s still dark, pre-dawn, in late August 1997.
A graveside in the Co Cavan countryside at 4.15am, seven silhouetted Norbertine priests and a few locals gathered around, four gardaí standing in the background, the lights from a hearse illuminating the scene as the coffin of Fr Brendan Smyth is lowered into the ground.
It’s like a picture conjured by a modern-day Bram Stoker, only worse because you know it’s real.

They buried Smyth for sure, but his pernicious legacy lives on.
He destroyed lives, toppled a government, and – with the other paedophile priests allied to the church’s own criminal mismanagement – brought Irish Catholicism to its knees.
Now Cardinal Seán Brady prays, reflects and wrestles with his conscience over whether he should step down as primate of Ireland because of Smyth.

Somebody must have loved him once, and maybe there was a time when he was a redeemable figure, but most of Smyth’s adult life seems to have been dedicated to unspeakable acts against children in Ireland and the US, and possibly in Wales and Italy too, that carried terrible consequences for his victims and, on a broader level, for Irish society.

There are elements of the grotesque, evil and gothic about Smyth. Just remind yourself of that growl of his, of his contorted ogre’s face deliberately pressed into the camera as he was led from the Four Courts after being sentenced to 12 years’ imprisonment in July 1997.

He’s almost an apocalyptic figure as well, like a character from a Cormac McCarthy book who leaves a trail of destruction behind him and, even in death, still causes devastation.

Court hearings against Smyth when he was finally brought to some form of justice in Belfast and Dublin heard victims’ stories of attempted suicides, broken marriages, destroyed careers, mental illnesses, difficulties with sexual orientation and relationships, hatred of priests and the Catholic Church.

Chris Moore, the journalist whose investigative programme on UTV in 1994, Suffer Little Children , exposed both the paedophile priest and the Catholic Church in how it protected him, believes that Smyth was truly evil.

“I believe that because of the way he treated children,” he says.
A psychiatrist, who prefers not to be named, notes that his profession speaks of evil acts but stops short of describing people as evil.

“The technical term for Smyth is that he had a dissocial personality disorder, with psychopaths at the most extreme end of that spectrum – that is, people who would engage more in violent behaviour, although Smyth is coming close to that, as it were,” he says.

“He was the kind of narcissistic person who was purely into his own gratification, who would repeatedly engage in harming other people, who did not learn from advice, sanctions or supports; a person who had a callous unconcern for other people and relentlessly pursued his own pleasure.”

But the psychiatrist adds that there was no evidence that Smyth had any mental illness. “He was responsible for his actions – there was no empathy for other people and there was no remorse.” (Classic definition of a psychopath.)

HOW DID IT get to this?

Smyth was born John Gerard Smyth on June 8th 1927 (the name Brendan was adopted much later when he became a member of the Norbertine Order).

He had a brother and they were raised in a terraced house in Nansen Street in west Belfast.
His mother was from Co Cavan, his father from Belfast.

Smyth attended the Christian Brothers school at the bottom of the Falls Road in Barrack Street.
According to Chris Moore, Smyth, in his adolescent years, was known to his friends as “The Fiddler”, which is thought to have been an early reference to his sexual behaviour.

In September 1945, at the age of 18, Smyth was vested in the Norbertine Order at Kilnacrott Abbey in Ballyjamesduff, Co Cavan.

Smyth was bright, and was sent to Rome to advance his studies.
The late Fr Bruno Mulvihill, a Norbertine colleague of Smyth’s who, over many years, tried to expose the paedophile, told Moore that Smyth returned from Rome under a cloud in 1951.
“The talk in the abbey was that he had been sent home in disgrace because of some incident with a child.”

It was a way of life that continued remorselessly until Smyth was jailed in the 1990s, first in Northern Ireland and then in the Republic.

An unprepossessing figure Smyth nonetheless had charm, being able to insinuate himself into the confidence of parents so that he could abuse their sons and daughters.

He was described as a “Pied Piper” figure who carefully groomed children and often arrived back in west Belfast from Kilnacrott Abbey to tempt children with car excursions, sweets and treats.
Smyth would visit schools and tell the head teachers that he was calling to see certain pupils at the behest of their parents, children who, as Moore observed, “were duly delivered to a room for a private audience and private abuse”.

He was so brazen that he would abuse children in their homes while, in the kitchen, an unwitting mother prepared a meal for him.

This abuse of the most vulnerable continued throughout his life, notwithstanding that from relatively early on his superiors had suspicions and knowledge about him.

Fr Mulvihill told Moore that Smyth’s interest in abusing children was widely known within the Abbey and that his letters to bishops and superiors over many years to alert them to Smyth’s behaviour were “ignored or ridiculed”.

Over the years Smyth was moved between parishes, dioceses and countries where he continued to prey on victims.

He abused in parishes in Rhode Island and North Dakota in the US, at one stage paying a former altar boy €20,000 in compensation.

He is also suspected of similar actions while on pastoral work in Wales and Italy.
He was a priest on a sexual mission and while his priestly authorities knew of his actions, little was done to stop him. (The road to hell is paved with the devil's complicit helpers and those of good intentions.)

IT IS SMYTH’S relentless career of sexual molestation that is giving Cardinal Brady pause for deep reflection now. Should he and others, such as the Norbertine abbots and Catholic prelates who at various stages were made aware of Smyth’s actions, not have ensured that he was jailed for his criminal behaviour?

Cardinal Brady alerted his own superiors when, as a priest, he held secret canonical investigations into Smyth’s abuse of two young boys in 1975.

Yet for another 18 years Smyth was able to gratify his paedophile insatiability.
Smyth’s exposure opened a Pandora’s Box for the church. It led to a trickle of disclosures about paedophile priests and how they were protected, which has inexorably turned into a flood of revelations that has horrified the Catholic faithful and is threatening to engulf and destroy the Irish church in its current form.

Cardinal Brady, in admitting his shame, said that “the Lord is calling us to a new beginning”.
He asked about that beginning: “Does it allow for wounded healers, those who have made mistakes in their past, to have a part in shaping the future?” (Yes it does if they have truly learned the available lessons and are willing to change to accomodate the lessons.)

Smyth was finally brought to earthly judgment when a Falls Road mother and father went to the RUC (Irish police) after he targeted four of their children. He was arrested in 1991, but after being released on bail went on the run for three years, staying for much of that time at Kilnacrott Abbey.

An extradition request was issued by the RUC, but it lay in the attorney general’s office for seven months, triggering a political crisis that led to the 1994 collapse of the Fianna Fáil/Labour coalition led by a mutually distrusting taoiseach Albert Reynolds and tánaiste Dick Spring.
A complex but catastrophic series of events unfolded, involving Reynolds, Spring and attorney generals Harry Whelehan and Eoghan Fitzsimons, which ended in Labour walking out of government. Smyth was the common destructive factor.

In 1994 Smyth was convicted of 43 charges of sexually assaulting children in the North and was sentenced to four years in prison. He was later handed a concurrent three-year sentence on another 26 charges.

When he was released, he was immediately arrested and extradited to the Republic where, in July 1997, he was sentenced to 12 years after pleading guilty to 74 charges of sexual assault of 20 victims over a 35-year period.

A month later he died of a heart attack in the Curragh Prison, aged 70.

One of his victims was so damaged by Smyth that he successfully campaigned to have the title “Reverend” removed from the headstone of the grave where Brendan Smyth lies in Co Cavan.
In death, he still tortures people.


  1. "We have seen and heard enough empty apologies, which remain empty because we've witnessed no real accompanying change."

    Amen, Colleen. We've had enough of all kinds of abuse from the hierarchy. It really does add up to a tremendous weight they have thrown at all of us. I am an adult now and need no such guidance from these terrible men who allowed this to go on for decades.

    I come from a "religious family" who were not priests and they did everything these Church leaders told them to do. Then they still manage to put the laity down whatever chance they get. They are unmerciful, blood sucking perverts who are running the Church straight into hell.

    May they rest in peace with Smyth and fellow pervs, which includes the US Bishops that don't give a rats behind about the people in this country and their health care. I am so pissed off at these deceiving, lying, conniving bishops!!!!

  2. I was speaking about my immediate family. We did have relatives who were monks and nuns.

  3. Sorry, I don't mean to hog up the comments section, but this really caught my attention what the psychologist said about Smyth. It really could be true for a lot of the priests in the Church too.

    “He was the kind of narcissistic person who was purely into his own gratification, who would repeatedly engage in harming other people, who did not learn from advice, sanctions or supports; a person who had a callous unconcern for other people and relentlessly pursued his own pleasure.”

    Sounds just like the Taliban Catholics of today if you ask me.

  4. Fantastic post, Colleen. Your introductory meditation on the growing pangs of a new-old Catholicism is brilliant.

  5. Sadly this can apply to all multiple victim abusers:

    Who is sicker - the repeat abuser, or his superiors who (obviously) KNEW of his sickness but did nothing to stop him, or throw him out of the priesthood?

    The answer is obvious.

    It would be easy to forgive one like Smyth IF there was only one incident - AND his superiors immediately took decisive action to stop him (and throw him out).

    A man like Smyth, so obviously out of control, is literally possessed. The demonic has a hold on him & the man cannot break free. He needs help - and Smyth got none.

    Thus his supervisors in the order & the dioceses in which he worked, are responsible for Smyth's own soul - as well as the scores of souls damaged by what he did.

    The enabling of one like Smyth was intentional. I am serious. At this juncture, there is no point in conjecturing that the enabling was a 'mistake'. It is the essence of demonic rituale.

    However he was 'created', Smyth was a demonic automaton. A Frankenstein-like occult creation; a virtual Manchurian Candidate. Details aside, there is no point in pretending otherwise.

    Not only was he enabled so that he could destroy the souls of his victims (and their now ruined families), but of vast numbers indirectly affected by the horror of his reality.

    In this, his order superiors & the Bishops & Vicars General of the various dioceses in which he worked....have served Satan well, by destroying the faith of many souls.

  6. Anon, we are certainly on the same wave length. Manchurian candidate indeed.

    Smyth so demonstrates the complete futility of our clerical elite when faced with honest to God evil.
    Stick their collective heads in the sand and pretend it's not staring them in the face.

  7. “Who is sicker - the repeat abuser, or his superiors who (obviously) KNEW of his sickness but did nothing to stop him, or throw him out of the priesthood? ----“

    “You’re as sick as your secrets.”

    Fr. Mychal Judge, OFM

    Jim McCrea