Suzanne Breen
8 May 2012

‘John’ (who wishes to remain anonymous), his sister, and cousins could have been spared years of sexual abuse had Cardinal Sean Brady told John’s parents or police about Fr Brendan Smyth’s depraved activities when they were revealed by whistle-blower Brendan Boland.

Now living on Ireland’s Atlantic coast, John (52) is still tortured by the past and wants Cardinal Brady to resign immediately. He tells his story to Suzanne Breen.

He was like the pied piper. Father Brendan Smyth always arrived in our street with a lot of razzmatazz. He’d step out of his car, with a pocket full of sweets for us kids.

He was an outgoing, jovial man. He was forever engaging is horseplay with children. There was nothing sinister about him. Our parents had no reason to be suspicious. But he wore a mask. The most poisonous person imaginable lay under the friendly façade.

Smyth started sexually abusing me in 1970 when I was 10 years old. The abuse continued until I was 16. By that age, I knew what he was doing was evil. When he called at our house then, I’d get on my bike and ride up into the hills. I’d stay there hours until he was gone.

Smyth was a long-time family friend. He’d known my parents years before I was born. So when he asked to take me and some other boys away on trips, they thought it was a great idea.

The Troubles were in full flow in the North. We lived in West Belfast. There were shootings, bombings, hijackings and riots every day. My mother and father were delighted the priest was taking me away from all that madness for a few days.

He’d take me and other lads down South – to Dundalk, Dublin, Cavan or Cork. That’s where he raped us. My parents breathed a sigh of relief when I left in Fr Smyth’s car. They thought I’d be safe with him, away from the violent streets of Belfast.

There was no point in saying I didn’t want to go. I’d have been accused of being ungrateful. Had I said Smyth was abusing me, my parents would just have thought it was a crazy excuse to get out of the trips. I thought nobody would believe me. A priest was respected. You were told to be quiet when he was in the house. So I said nothing about the abuse.

The abuse affected my behaviour hugely. I wasn’t a normal young boy mucking around with his mates. I was a loner. I never made any close friends. I kept other lads at a distance. My mother worried about that. She wanted me to build friendships.

And I hated PE at school. I was always asking my parents to write notes excusing me from it. Boys normally love sport. But I didn’t want to go into the showers with the other lads. I wanted to keep my body parts private. I didn’t want anybody to see them.

I left school early without as many qualifications as I should have got. And I left home at the first chance possible. I moved into digs in another part of the city when I was 17. I just wanted to get away from our family home – the house Smyth visited. I was trying to escape but of course the abuse was always there in my head, haunting me.

Within a year, I started living with a girl. Fr Smyth heard about this from my parents. He wasn’t happy. He said we should be married and sent us on a ‘marriage encounter weekend’ run by the church. There, we were told to name a date for our wedding.

I never should have got married. I was in no state to commit to a wife but I just went along with it to keep my family happy. Smyth married us. It was sickening. My wedding day was the last time I saw him.

My marriage lasted only two years which isn’t surprising. I was a ball of anger, mostly I was angry at myself. I wasn’t stable in my mind. I drank heavily.

Sexual abuse doesn’t just affect the person abused. It has a ripple effect. It touches everybody around the victim. All my adult life, I’ve struggled to have relationships. I suffered mood swings. I’d be sullen or silent for long periods. Other times I’d just take off, disappear for days. And that doesn’t go down well with women. I wasn’t easy to live with.

I left Ireland in the 1980s. I moved to London and went back to college. I got qualifications and a good job I enjoyed in TV production. I met a girl and in 1988 I got married over there. It lasted five months. I’ve had other relationships with women since but after one broke up in 1993, I decided I’d never live with a woman again. I have to accept it just doesn’t work for me.

In 1989, my older brother Paul asked if Smyth had abused me. I told him he had. Paul said Smyth had abused him too and he was worried because the priest was still hanging around our family and was close to our four young cousins.

Paul confronted Smyth. At first he denied abusing us, then he became nasty. “And what are you going to do about it?” he smirked. Paul contacted the police and Smyth went on the run. We later found out he had abused my four cousins and my sister.

He was caught and charged by the RUC but he went on the run again. My family went to see Cardinal Cahal Daly to ask him if the church could help find Smyth and also to get answers as to how the priest had got away with decades of abuse. Cardinal Daly kept my family waiting two hours before he saw them. He was a very arrogant, uncaring man. He treated them like dirt.

Smyth was convicted of 74 charges of child abuse in 1997. Why during that court case didn’t Sean Brady come forward and disclose that he’d personally known about Smyth’s abuse since 1975? Why didn’t he put that information into the public arena?

A few months ago, BBC journalist Darragh McIntrye arrived at my mother’s door looking for me. Darragh revealed that in 1975, Brendan Boland had given Sean Brady – and two other priests who were part of a church inquiry into Smyth – my name and the name of other children abused by him.

I was distraught at this news. Sean Brady had our names and addresses and had done nothing. Had he contacted my parents or the police, he could have saved me from a further year of abuse and Smyth would never have been able to lay a finger on my sister or cousins.

Sean Brady behaved shamefully. A man of his calibre had the knowledge and authority to take action. He wasn’t a rookie priest just out of the seminary. He was a middle-aged man, a teacher, and a canon lawyer.

Brady says he didn’t act because he referred the matter to others higher up in the church and it was for them to deal with. It’s a very weak excuse. It reminds me of the guards in the Nazi concentration camps who said they were only following orders and were to low down the pecking order to help.

If a child in Sean Brady’s classroom misbehaved, he wouldn’t have referred the matter up the chain of command. He’d have called the parents to the school to talk to them. Yet a priest rapes children and Sean Brady doesn’t contact their parents?

Why did Brady swear Brendan Boland, a 14-year-old boy, to secrecy? Brendan was ordered not to speak about the abuse to anybody except priests. This wasn’t to protect children, it was to protect the church as an institution.

Brady wasn’t involved in a genuine inquiry. It was only an information gathering exercise by the church to find out who knew what.

Why wasn’t Brendan allowed to bring his father into that meeting? Had the RUC taken a 14-year-old boy to the barracks for questioning and denied him access to his parents, there’d have been uproar and rightly so.

At the meeting, Brendan was asked filthy, dirty questions like had he ever had an erection when Smyth abused him him, did he ejaculate, did he do these things with other boys. What sort of minds ask a vulnerable boy those questions?

I’ve watched Sean Brady on TV in recent days trying to look calm and collected yet emotional. It seems very rehearsed to me. I want him to face the horrible, gritty truth – to witness the trail of devastation his inaction caused.

I told my mother, a very religious woman and daily mass-goer, not to watch the BBC programme. But she did. The next morning, she was in a terrible state. She was in bed crying and said she didn’t want to go to Mass. She felt guilty for not protecting me.

She said she remembered Smyth pulling up at our house with Brendan Boland in the car and her sending me out to him. She’s no reason to be guilty. She acted in total innocence. I want Sean Brady to see the pitiful sight of a woman in her 80s torturing herself about her son’s abuse.

And yet the Cardinal, who has every reason to feel guilty, displays no such sentiment. He should examine his conscience and publicly admit that his inaction was wrong. He must also resign immediately. He has no credibility left. Clergy like him who knew of these historic cases carry too much baggage. They have a suitcase of excuses about what they did and didn’t do that doesn’t ring true.

I wasn’t just robbed of my childhood, I was robbed of my faith. I still can’t go back to Mass. We, the victims, continue to suffer because those like Brady who made wrong decisions selfishly cling to their positions and won’t resign.

The church today makes all the right noises on abuse but, at heart, it really hasn’t changed at all. Why hasn’t one priest or bishop criticised Cardinal Brady? Had a political leader acted like he did, there’d be calls from the party backbenches for him to resign. Yet there’s a deadly silence through the ranks of the Catholic Church.

Resign, Cardinal Brady. Give those of us who have suffered so much pain a bit of peace. We’re already serving a life sentence but by admitting you did wrong and stepping down, you’d ease our ordeal. While you cling to power, our torment is all the worse.


This article appeared in the May 6, 2012 edition of the Sunday World.