THE former leader of the Catholic Church in Ireland will appear before an abuse inquiry in Co. Down later today.
Cardinal Sean Brady, who resigned last year on age grounds, will be questioned at the Historical Institutional Abuse Inquiry in relation to the Church's handling of paedophile priest Fr Brendan Smyth.
Led by Sir Anthony Hart and sitting at Banbridge Courthouse, the inquiry is focusing on issues arising from sexual abuse by Smyth in a number of children’s homes in the North of Ireland.
Cardinal Brady has previously faced fierce criticism over his handling of Smyth scandal.
He previously apologised for his mishandling of the case involving claims against Smyth but insisted his role during an internal Church inquiry was as a note-taker.
That Church evidence was never handed over to police, allowing Smyth to continue to abuse children before he was finally jailed in 1994.
Instead of being reported to the civic authorities Smyth was moved between parishes, countries and even continents where he continued to target children.
The only sanctions imposed were temporary bans on hearing confessions and celebrating Mass.
Earlier this week the inquiry heard how Smyth, in his own words never heard publicly before, had admitted to a doctor that he had abused hundreds of children.
"Over the years of religious life it could be that I have sexually abused between 50 and 100 children," he said. "That number could even be doubled, or perhaps even more."
Speaking earlier this week Counsel to the Inquiry, Joseph Aiken, spoke of how Smyth was convicted of multiple counts of sexual abuse of children in the North in 1994 and 1995 for offences that spanned several decades.
“Many of the convictions related to the sexual abuse of children in the children’s homes the Inquiry has already examined,” Mr Aiken said. “The De La Salle Boys' home in Kircubbin and Nazareth house and Nazareth Lodge in Belfast.”
He added: “Smyth was also convicted in 1997 of multiple counts of the sexual abuse of children in the Republic of Ireland.
"In addition, there have been further 17 allegations and indeed in some cases accepted instances of similar abuse being perpetrated by Smyth during periods he spent in Scotland, Wales and the United States of America.”
A total of 16 institutions in the North of Ireland are currently under investigation by the Inquiry in relation to allegations of historical institutional abuse and neglect.
The Inquiry will focus on what opportunities were missed to prevent Smyth carrying out the abuse of children, and whether these amount to 'systemic failings'.
Chairman Sir Anthony Hart said: “The abuse has already been described by a number of witnesses who have previously given evidence to the Inquiry, and as the Inquiry's policy is to avoid recalling witnesses to repeat evidence they have already given of their experiences.
“This module will, therefore, concentrate 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 steps taken or not taken to deal with Smyth amount to systemic failings within our terms of reference.”
Father Brendan Smyth was a Catholic priest of the Norbertine Order and was responsible for the sexual abuse of children in the North of Ireland, the Republic and further afield from the late 1940s to the early 1990s.
He died in prison in August 1997 from a heart attack.
Mr Aiken said: “The reality is that it will probably never be known just how many lives his compulsive offending blighted.
"His name and what is publicly known to date about the horrendous story of child abuse associated with him is notorious in this jurisdiction and beyond.
"As are some of the stories of secrecy and silence surrounding opportunities to stop him, such as the 1975 church investigation involving the now Cardinal Brady.”
He added: “It is a piece of Irish history you may think truly desiring of the title 'a public scandal'."
The Historical Institutional Abuse Inquiry was established in January 2013 by the Northern Ireland Executive to investigate the abuse that occurred in residential institutions in the North of Ireland over a 73-year period from 1922 to 1995.
More than 300 witnesses are expected to be heard over the course of the public evidence sessions.
The Inquiry will complete its hearings by mid-summer 2016 with a report expected to be submitted to the Northern Ireland Executive by January 17, 2017.
Counselling service connect is this week providing a free telephone-based counselling to anyone impacted by crimes committed by Brendan Smyth.
Survivors of abuse can freephone 1800 477 477 from the Republic of Ireland and 00800 477 477 77 from the North of Ireland and Britain.