John Gerard Smyth joined the Norbertine Fathers in Northern Ireland in 1945 where he was given the religious name of Brendan to symbolize his total conversion to Christ. The hundreds of children Brendan raped and sodomized would likely have a different name for him: The Celtic Diablo.
The Celtic Diablo sexually abused children in county Cavan, Belfast, Dublin, Scotland, Wales, Providence Rhode Island, Langdon North Dakota and anywhere he heard confessions – his primary access point to abuse children.
But there was a whistleblower. Father Bruno Mulvihill O.Prae.–beginning when he was a novice at Kilnacrott Abbey–told his Norbertine superiors in 1964 that Brendan Smyth was abusing altar boys. Norbertine officials disregarded that warning and instead sent Brendan to Providence, RI, where he went on to hear more confessions and abuse more children.
Solicitation in the confessional (crimens sollicitationis) is one of the most ancient, consistent and unabated crimes particular to Roman Catholicism. But little has changed: Even with all the documented history of children being abused in the confessional, last week Benedict XVI reaffirmed the need for Catholics to go to private confession, where the priest represents Christ and has the divine power to forgive sins. No where else but the confessional can a child perpetrator find a forum where the power differential is so great and the policy of secrecy pervades.
Like many priest perpetrators, Fr. Brendan Smyth O.Prae. was intentionally shuffled across dioceses, countries and continents. But Father Bruno Mulvihill O.Prae. remained on his tail. He spent his career reporting Smyth’s crimes to his own priors in Ireland, abbots in California, bishops in Ireland, the Papal Nuncio to Ireland and finally to Rome. In no other case has a priest dedicated himself to protecting children from a single serial predator.
While his actions did not get results, his efforts may not have been in vain.
Because of Mulvihill and decades of litigation in Ireland and the United States, we now know that Rome and the Congregation for Religious knew Smyth was a child molester as early as 1964. Cardinal Sean Brady J.C.D. (Archbishop of Armagh and Primate of All Ireland) conducted a canonical investigation and is keeping evidence under the “pontifical secret” while the public and Smyth’s victims await his production of the documents.
But we know this much so far: Not once but twice Brendan Smyth had his faculties to hear confessions rescinded because he was molesting kids. What did the Abbots, Bishops and Papal Nuncio do? They transferred him to parishes, dioceses and countries where no one knew about his past and no one could protect their children.
Reverend Brendan Smyth O.Prae. was finally arrested in 1991 and died in prison in 1997. But his superiors are still covering up for him and the men who protected him.
Who is the real Diablo?
Brendan Smyth was a monster, but the men who covered up for him are just as guilty. We know who they are because Father Bruno Mulvihill kept extensive documentation of every person he reported to about Smyth’s crimes. Although many of these men are deceased, the victims are still alive and still suffering. The more we know about what these men covered-up, the more we can help victims by holding responsible parties accountable.
The circle of eleven to remember:
- Abbot Colwell of Kilnacrott Abbey
- Bishop Russell McVinney of Providence, Rhode Island,
- Prior Philip Nash of Kilnacrott Abbey
- Bishop Justin Driscoll of Fargo, North Dakota
- Abbot Kevin Smith of Kilnacrott Abbey
- Archbishop Alibrandi – Papal Nuncio to Ireland
- Bishop Francis McKiernan of Kilmore
- Bishop Austin Quinn of Kilmore
- Abbot Ladislaus Parker O.Prae. of Saint Michael’s Abbey, Orange County California
- Abbot Benjamin Macken O.Prae of De Pere Abbey, Wisconsin
- Cardinal Sean Brady J.C.D. Primate of all Ireland