Survivor: Irish priest committed abuse, destroyed family

Orginally posted on

From Drew Griffin, CNN Special Investigations Unit

Brookfield, Connecticut (CNN) — Ireland, one of the world’s most Catholic countries, has been reeling from the revelation that Catholic leaders there covered up child abuse, including sexual abuse, by priests for decades.

But not all of the victims were Irish.

The Emerald Isle exported many priests over the years. And that’s how one of Ireland’s most prolific, known child abusers ended up in Rhode Island in the late 1960s.

Helen McGonigle was 6 when, she says, the Rev. Brendan Smyth fondled, raped and sodomized her.

She says she remembers him, dressed in white priest’s robes, at the back sliding glass door of her bedroom.

“All I wanted to do was to escape, to fly away. There were little cubbies in my room — a twin bed with a headboard that had little cubbies,” she remembers. “I just wanted to be tiny enough to hide in those little cubbies so he couldn’t see me.”

McGonigle, now a 48-year-old lawyer in Connecticut, says Smyth abused her, her sister and even her mother over a period of two years.

She believes the abuse drove her mother mad and drove her sister to suicide.

“My mom’s breakdown was caused by this. There’s no question,” she said.

Her mother was found hysterical, half-naked, on her front lawn, screaming, “The pope owes me,” McGonigle remembered.

She was acting “like she was a rape trauma victim,” the lawyer said.

“I believe Smyth attacked her. I believe that’s what caused her breakdown,” she said.

“You have to understand my mom was also a devout Catholic. Her brother was a seminarian. So for the same person to be on the front lawn saying, ‘The pope owes me,’ she was really mad,” McGonigle said.

Brendan Smyth was ultimately convicted of dozens of counts of child abuse in the Irish Republic and Northern Ireland. He died in prison in 1997.

But his victims on two continents, like Helen McGonigle, are living reminders of the crimes of this pedophile priest at the center of a sex scandal in the Irish Catholic church.

By the time he reached Helen McGonigle and her family, this Irish priest had already abused dozens.

Records dating back to the 1950s show Smyth was moved from parish to parish: Ireland to Scotland to Wales to Northern Ireland to Rhode Island, back to Ireland, then to East Greenwich, Rhode Island, and Langdon, North Dakota — each time under a cloud of suspicion, or worse, after a family came forward to report the priest was an abuser.

Helen McGonigle says Smyth tended to abuse children in the same family.

“That seems to be a common pattern,” she said.

But McGonigle was never able to get her sister to tell her about abuse by Smyth.

“She couldn’t handle it. … I think she was asked by my mother not to say anything,” she said. “I mean, this is something that she probably swore to my mom that she would never bring up.”

Helen’s sister, Kathleen, took her own life in 2005.

McGonigle is now suing the Catholic Diocese of Providence, Rhode Island. The church is already paying for her therapy.

She says six others from her parish have come forward to say they, too, were abused by Smyth, including one of her childhood friends, a neighbor.

What she wants most of all from the church, she says, is an apology for destroying her family — and an acknowledgment that the church knowingly placed a pedophile into her parish. So far, she says, she has received neither.

The Diocese of Providence has refused to comment, citing two pending lawsuits involving abuse allegations against Smyth.

Smyth’s superior in Ireland admitted that the diocese where the priest was sent in the United States was not told of his history of abuse.

Smyth was finally arrested in 1994. He was sent to an Irish prison, where he died of a heart attack.


Germany’s Catholic sex abuse scandal reaches Pope Benedict

Originally posted on

A CATHOLIC MASS ISN’T normally a debating society, but sometimes enough is simply enough. At Sunday mass at the parish church in the Bavarian town of Bad Tölz, a pastor’s unspeakable past finally caught up with him. It was revealed last Friday that sixty-two year-old Pastor Peter H., who had been providing pastoral care at the church for the past two years, had been tried and convicted of sexual abuse in 1986. Not only had this conviction been kept secret, but the priest’s superior at one time – Joseph Ratzinger, the former Archbishop of Munich who is today better known as Pope Benedict XVI – had knowingly moved this known pedophile from parish to parish. He was finally sent to Bad Tölz in 2008 under the condition that he engage in no “children’s, youth, or altar boy work.” However, he did end up conducting two children’s services at the church and also took part in youth retreats.

As far as anyone knows, Peter H. did “nothing, absolutely nothing” wrong during his previous twenty-one year tenure in the town of Garching, nor is anything known about any inappropriate activities in Bad Tölz. Even so, Peter H.’s colleague, Pastor Rupert Frania, told the Süddeutsche Zeitung, “I would like to have known about this earlier.”

At yesterday’s mass, Pastor Frania substituted for Peter H. and began a homily regarding his friend’s case. But as soon as he cited the example of the Prodigal Son and the need for forgiveness, the congregation rebelled. A young couple that was scheduled to be married by the disgraced priest got restless. It appears that they had just learned about the priest’s past from the media. “I can’t listen to this anymore!” the man shouted. “You can’t keep changing the subject!” According to the Süddeutsche, some of the mass goers applauded, others told him to shut up. A debate ensued. For several minutes the congregation discussed the case, and continued after the mass was over. Peter H. has been suspended, effective immediately. His supervisor has submitted his resignation.

The newspaper recently discovered that in 1980 Bishop Ratzinger approved the transfer of the pedophile priest to Bavaria to work in a new parish. The man had gotten an eleven year-old boy drunk and forced him to fellate him. Once in Bavaria he was once more caught in the act and put on trial. Peter H. was sentenced to eighteen months in prison and fined €4,000. In 1982, Ratzinger moved to Rome to become head of the Congregation for the Doctrine of the Faith and essentially washed his hands of the matter.

This revelation is only the latest in an avalanche of appalling – and frankly mind-boggling – news for the Catholic Church in Germany and the rest of Europe. Ever since reports emerged of systematic sexual abuse at Berlin’s elite Canisius-Kolleg high school last January, stories of rape and fellatio perpetrated by Catholic priests in church-run institutions throughout the country have been bombarding the newspapers on a daily basis. It seems as if anyone who had ever been sodomized by a priest in the past fifty years has suddenly found his voice, making the Holy Catholic Church in this country appear like little more than a stiff-lipped pedophile ring.

But as usual in these cases, the cover-up is even worse than the crime, and for the first time the Pope himself has been implicated. The Church is closing ranks. Today, Archbishop Rino Fisichellal, president of the Pontifical Academy for Life, told the Corriere della Serra that “any attempt to draw the Pope and the entire Church into the abuse scandal is an act of violence and a sign of incivility. Benedict’s story, his life and his writings, speak for themselves.”

The pontiff is remaining silent on the charges against him, and this is probably a wise choice under the circumstances. There’s no knowing how much longer this crisis will last… and where it will stop. Just yesterday, new accusations were levelled at the management of the celebrated Regensburger Domspatzen boys’ choir, where it was reported that the endemic physical and sexual abuse the choirboys suffered there did not terminate in the 1960s, as previously believed, but continued at least until 1992. And who was the choir’s “extremely choleric and hot-tempered” director in those years? None other than Georg Ratzinger, the Pope’s elder brother.