Page last updated at 12:23 GMT, Monday, 15 March 2010

Profile of Father Brendan Smyth

Father Brendan Smyth
Father Brendan Smyth leaves court with two police officers

The head of the Catholic church in Ireland, Cardinal Sean Brady, is under pressure after confirming he was at meetings when two alleged victims of a paedophile priest signed an oath of silence.

BBC News Online profiles the child abusing cleric who is central to the issue, Father Brendan Smyth.

The image of serial child abuser Fr Brendan Smyth leering into a camera lens as he prepared to face justice for his crimes is seared in the memory of anyone in Ireland who saw it.

Smyth was at the centre of one of the first paedophile priest scandals to rock the Catholic Church on the island.

The Northern Ireland-born cleric was eventually convicted of dozens of offences against children over a 40-year period.

But despite allegations being previously investigated by church officials, including the current Irish primate, Sean Brady, as far back as 1975, it was almost 20 years before he was jailed.

Instead the cleric, a member of the Norbertine order, was moved between parishes, dioceses and even countries where he preyed on victims who were as young as eight years old.

As a priest in the Falls Road area of Belfast, he targeted four children from the same family. It was their courage in reporting the abuse to the police that led to his first conviction.

Extradited

In 1991 he was arrested and released on bail, before spending the next three years out of the reach of police in Northern Ireland, when he stayed at his order's Kilnacrott Abbey in County Cavan in the Irish Republic.

His case led to the collapse of the Irish Republic's Labour/Fianna Fail coalition government, when it emerged there were serious delays in his extradition to Northern Ireland in 1994.

When the priest finally appeared before a Belfast court, he was convicted of 43 charges of sexually assaulting children in Northern Ireland and was sentenced to four years in prison.

He was later found guilty of another 26 charges and given a three year sentence to run concurrently.

Upon his release from prison, Smyth was immediately arrested and extradited to the Irish Republic.

In 1997, the convicted paedophile again appeared before a judge - this time in Dublin - where he admitted to 74 charges of child sexual abuse over a 35-year period.

He had assaulted children in a hotel, a cinema, a convent and other venues across nine different counties.

Smyth died of a heart attack in prison in August 1997, just a month into his 12 year prison sentence.

The 70-year-old was buried in private in a pre-dawn ceremony at Kilnacrott Abbey.



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