By Brad Edwards

(CBS) — The first time CBS 2 Investigator Brad Edwards dared do a story, nearly two years ago, on those alleging sexual assault by the famed Father John Smyth, his supporters rallied and railed against the reporting.

That was one accuser speaking up. Now settlements are happening in real time, one by one. It’s the startling fall for a man who was once one of the most popular priests in Chicago. CBS 2 has learned there are now 20 accusers, maybe more.

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Father John Smyth wasn’t just a man, his omnipresence enveloped Maryville Academy. He turned the once money-hemorrhaging albatross of an orphanage into a gold standard.

John Smyth

He had claimed his mission was all about the young people, “I’m happy to serve the children.” He also said, “…the children that come here blossom.”

On the Maryville campus, Father Smyth was celebrated by the venerated, the vulnerable and adored with a larger than life nine-foot-tall statue.

He spoke about the kids at Maryville, “They all thrived. You see them thriving.”

But, they didn’t thrive. They were suffering, according to one of Smyth’s accusers who described to CBS 2 what happened to him, “It was both oral, and … penetration.”

This Father Smyth accuser, Clarence George, has now stepped out of the shadows. “The worst of everything is the rape, right?”

George was neglected by his parents as a child. The system eventually led him to Maryville, a home for troubled children, in Des Plaines. The facility was run by the gregarious Smyth, who forfeited a NBA career to purportedly help kids.

At Father Smyth’s funeral in 2019, a priest said this: “God bless Father John Smyth and God bless the legacy of Maryville Academy” and celebrated Father Smyth’s memory, “We are so proud of the man we know as our friend and brother.”

But, was Father Smyth a brother, a minister, or a monster?

Attorney Jeanine Stevens represents 14 of the priest’s accusers. “He was a monster and a pedophile. Yes, hundreds of thousands of dollars have been paid by the Archdiocese because of what Smyth did,” she said.

The CBS 2 Investigators have confirmed, so far, four six figure settlements by the Archdiocese with Smyth accusers. All had similar stories. They were young Black boys, eventually placed in the care of the state’s beleaguered Department of Children and Family Services (DCFS) and then placed at Maryville.

That’s where they met Father Smyth. For the first time in their lives, they got attention and, in some cases, gifts and treats like basketball shoes, jewelry, candy, model toys and days off campus. Then it all changed.

Another victim, we’ll call Mark, told CBS 2 in 2019, “When I went home on the weekend, it was blood in my stool.”

Yet another victim, we’ll call Sam, described to CBS 2 his experience with Father Smyth, “He put his finger in my rectum.”

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Sam told us before the alleged abuse, he trusted Father Smyth and added, “I just thank God, I didn’t act out on what I thought, you know?” Sam told us he absolutely wanted to kill him.

Jeanine Stevens represents 14 Smyth accusers.

In mid-January, she told CBS 2, “So there’s so much about Smyth that’d I’d like to tell you about, but I’m not allowed to because of the protective orders that are in place.” She says what she’d like to tell us are things that are “…very bad.”

She questions why Smyth, alive and well when accusations first arose, was never interviewed by the Archdiocese, never interviewed by DCFS, and never interviewed by Maryville Academy.

“Why didn’t they get a statement from that man? Why didn’t they disclose to us what his story was? Why didn’t Smyth come out and deny that he had done any of these things. Because he did it,” Stevens said.

She said she’s angry, because, in part, it’s taken so long. Clarence George is one of her clients. He accused Father Smyth more than two years ago, before the priest died. George said the settlement process nearly broke him.

George said investigators wanted, “School records. They wanted doctor records, everywhere I ever worked, tax forms, I mean… It was a lot of scheduling meetings and then counseling. We would provide certain documents and that wasn’t good enough so we had to turn around and do it again.”

He told CBS 2 that it almost felt like he was the one being sued.

“I almost felt like I was on trial for something that I had done wrong,” he said and added, “It was almost to a point where they wanted you to say, ‘forget it.’ ”

George has turned his pain into a podcast to help others. “It’s called Hip Hop Therapy, where music is therapy,” he said.

An exalted Father Smyth led Maryville for three decades. The statue, coined ‘Standing Tall’, the name of his charity, stood on its grounds for two of those decades. A plaque there read, “It’s a symbol of commitment, compassion, uplifting service.” His accusers wanted the statue removed for good.

A 9-foot statue of Rev. John Smyth playing with a cihld was commissioned at Maryville Academy, which he ran from 1970 through 2004. Smyth was removed from the ministry in 2019, amid allegations of sexual misconduct, and died a few months later. (Credit: CBS)

And, it was, shortly after the CBS 2 Investigator’s first inquiries. Smyth’s Standing Tall Foundation removed it, unbeknownst to Maryville Academy. The Foundation told CBS 2 at the time, it needed a little TLC. We went back to see if the statue returned but it is still missing.

However, the plaque is still there.

Victims tell CBS 2 Maryville has agreed to dedicate a monument to them on its grounds.

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Maryville Academy refused to comment. DCFS told CBS 2 it does not investigate victims who come forward as adults. And, the Archdiocese said Smyth was too sick to be interviewed while he was alive.

Brad Edwards