Self confessed paedophile priest Fr Brendan Smyth found peace with God, an inquiry has been told.
In a letter written in 1995 after his conviction for sexually assaulting more than 40 children in Northern Ireland, the west Belfast-born priest said he hoped his victims could also find solace and lashed out at the media for adding to their distress.
Smyth, who died in jail in 1997, wrote: “I have welcomed the prison sentences imposed by the courts as a fitting means of paying my debt to society.
“I would like to take this opportunity to express my deep sorrow to anyone who has in any way suffered as a result of my actions and also to those relatives, friends and members of my religious community who suffered because of the media treatment of these matters for a long time now.
“I have been at peace with my God and I trust they too will find a similar peace.”
The letter was among a vast volume of documents produced to Northern Ireland’s long running Historical Abuse Inquiry (HIA), which is examining whether systemic failings allowed Smyth - a member of the Norbertine order - to perpetrate the abuse over more than four decades between the 1960s and 1990s.
Retired judge Sir Anthony Hart is leading the HIA probe, one of the UK’s largest inquiries into physical, sexual and emotional harm to children at homes run by the church, state and voluntary organisations.
The inquiry is sitting at Banbridge Courthouse in Co Down.
In another letter, written from his cell at Magilligan prison in Co Londonderry to former Catholic Primate Cahal Daly in December 1994, Smyth denied causing damage to the Catholic Church.
He said he had only admitted “wildly exaggerated” and “false” allegations to spare the reputation of the church.
“Whatever my sins and failings, and there are many of them, it is not they but the media reporting of them which has created an atmosphere of mixed shame and embarrassment.,” Smyth wrote.
“I pleaded guilty to wildly exaggerated and in some cases false allegations to try to limit the media coverage. In that I admit I failed dismally.”
Despite complaints being made to the church authorities from the 1960s onwards, Smyth - described as a remorseless and compulsive sexual predator - was not reported to police until the 1990s.
Instead, he was moved between parishes, dioceses and even countries where he preyed on victims who were as young as eight.
Joseph Aiken, counsel for the inquiry, said: “Today, the type of failure that we are looking at would lead to a veritable storm.
“The panel will want to consider whether there can there be any justification for the chronology that I have just laid out, because the inevitable consequence was that not one of the children in the children’s homes we have been looking at in the inquiry would have been abused if the opportunities presented to deal with Smyth’s behaviour, had been taken.”
The inquiry was told about a number of victims, including a 14-year-old girl who was raped by Smyth at a Dublin hotel in 1973. He had befriended her recently widowed mother.
Although the girl’s mother reported the incident to her parish priest, Father Tom McKiernan, she was reluctant to go to the Gardai because she did not want to get Smyth into trouble.
In documents supplied for the hearing, Fr McKiernan said he was shocked and enraged by the crime and reported it to the Bishop of Kimore, the late Bishop Francis MacKiernan.
He said: “My anger wouldn’t allow me to rest. This man had criminally assaulted a young girl.”
But, he did not go to the police because he did not want to break the confidence of the mother.
Details of another victim, who was an altar server in Co Cavan and was abused at the age of 11 or 12 in 1955, were also released.
When he spoke out in 1957, his mother did not believe him and said he had the “devil in him”. Although the boy’s father did believe him, he too warned against speaking about it - saying he would be carted off to Monaghan and declared insane.
Mr Aiken added: “That might explain the type of mindset at the time.”
Meanwhile, correspondence from Smyth’s superiors at Holy Trinity Abbey, Kilnacrott in Co Cavan, revealed they had been aware that allegations about deviant behaviour from his early religious career, but hoped he could be treated.
In 1994, Abbott Kevin Smith said: “Father Smyth’s behaviour has perplexed and troubled our community over a number of years.
“We always hoped that a combination of treatment, Father Smyth’s intelligence and the grace of God would enable Father Smyth to overcome his disorder. We did not adequately understand the compulsive nature of his behaviour or the serious damage it could cause.”
Three years later, in an interview with the Royal Ulster Constabulary (RUC) in 1997, Abbot Smith said he had not gone to the civil authorities because he did not know paedophilia was a crime.
He said: “I did not realise it was a criminal offence. At that time I did not know what paedophilia was.”
Abbot Smith, who is still alive, declined to provide additional assistance to the inquiry, it was revealed.
Yesterday, the inquiry was told that suspicions about Smyth’s behaviour had been raised in the 1940s and that a senior cleric in Rome, who advised against ordaining him, was over-ruled.
It also emerged he had received psychiatric treatment including electric shock therapy, in Northern Ireland, the Republic of Ireland and England from as early as 1968.
Smyth died from a heart attack in prison in the Republic of Ireland in August 1997.
His abuse has already been described by a number of witnesses who have previously given evidence to the inquiry.
This week’s module is concentrating on an examination of what opportunities there were to prevent Smyth carrying out the abuse of children and the inquiry panel will consider whether any action, or inaction, amounted to systemic failings.
Tomorrow, the inquiry is expected to hear from Fr William Fitzgerald - a member of the Norbertine order.
Former Catholic Primate Cardinal Sean Brady is due to give evidence on Thursday.