Cruel crimes of the singing priest
Tony Walsh’s abuse of one boy from 1978 to 1983 was so extreme that he was sentenced this week to a total of 123 years. On Wednesday the High Court is expected to release an unpublished Murphy report chapter dealing with Walsh. It contains shocking material
THE EXTENT OF Tony Walsh’s abuse of one young boy over the five years from 1978 to 1983, when the child, “David”, was aged between seven and 12, can be gleaned from the sentences imposed by Judge Frank O’Donnell in the Circuit Criminal Court last Monday: a total of 123 years.
Five of the 13 counts, for buggery, attracted sentences of 10, 12, 14, 16 and 16 years each. The remaining counts, for indecent assault, brought sentences ranging from four to nine years. As Walsh is to serve his sentences concurrently, 16 years is the maximum time he will spend in jail. It is the most severe sentence ever imposed on a clerical child sex abuser in the State. (Four years were suspended, as a psychologist’s report said it was unlikely Walsh would offend again.) With good behaviour Walsh could be out of jail in 2019.
Fr Brendan Smyth, probably Ireland’s most notorious clerical paedophile, was jailed for 12 years at the Circuit Criminal Court in July 1997. He died a month into his sentence. Another notorious abuser, the Donegal priest Fr Eugene Greene, was released in 2008 after serving nine years of a 12-year sentence.
But there were elements to the Walsh case that make it stand out and that highlight the bravery and persistence of the now 38-year-old man who pursued it for 17 years, since he first went to the Garda, in 1993.
Walsh spent eight years trying to stop his trial, exhausting the judicial-review process. He failed. He had failed also in another case in 1997. Then, after a round-the-houses judicial review, also under free legal aid, he pleaded guilty and served time.
In David’s case Walsh did not plead guilty and forced a trial. The jury last month found him guilty, unanimously and after just 94 minutes, on the 13 counts. The speed of the conviction was down to David himself, who, as Justice O’Donnell said on Monday, had been “an absolute stalwart” in his evidence to the court.
David’s victim-impact statement, prepared by the psychiatrist Prof Ivor Browne, includes the details of three shocking incidents. One took place in “a small tunnel” at the Phoenix Park, “towards the Furry Glen”, where there was “a small cream mattress”. David was raped there by Walsh. The boy “felt severe pain and cried a lot”.
Afterwards Walsh wiped him with “a purple sash (stole) he had with him”. When Walsh picked up his jacket “a small receptacle for holding Holy Communion wafers fell out of his pocket”. He brought David back to the presbytery, “put on Elvis records . . . and gave him a glass of Coke”. He then showed David “a Bible with pictures of hell and said if he told anyone he would burn in hell and never go to heaven and then he let him go home”.
Two of the original counts in the trial related to that incident, but Judge O’Donnell directed the jury to find Walsh not guilty of either, as David had given differing dates for it between his two statements to the Garda and what he insisted was the correct date in his evidence to the court.
Another cruel incident, in which Walsh raped the boy, whose wrists were tied to his ankles, as he lay over a coffee table at the presbytery, led to one of the 16-year sentences. On that occasion David was “crying loudly” and “hysterical”. Walsh, who had turned up the music to drown out the boy’s cries, took “about an hour to calm me down. I then went home”.
The third incident occurred on a holiday in the summer of 1982 in Inniscrone, Co Sligo. About 50 altar boys, including David, and many other children from the Ballyfermot parish choir were there. They were accompanied by Walsh and three other priests, including Fr Michael Cleary, then also serving in Ballyfermot parish and sharing a presbytery with Walsh. Walsh took David for a walk in the sand dunes, where he raped him. The sand caused David to bleed, so Walsh brought the crying child down to the sea, to wash the blood off. The saltwater stung the child’s wounds, as David told The Irish Times when recounting this episode some years ago. Again, he was “crying a lot”, and Walsh had to calm him down before he rejoined the others.
These were not isolated incidents. As Prof Browne said in the victim-impact report, they were described in detail “because they were particularly heinous”. But, he continued, “it should be stressed that over the five years, between the ages of seven and 12, that this abuse continued, David was raped anally and buggered by the priest on average a couple of times a week.” When David told his uncle what Walsh had been doing to him, his uncle also raped him “on a couple of occasions”.
It was partially thanks to Esther Rantzen that David’s abuse ended, he told The Irish Times. Coming up to his confirmation, he was at home watching TV with his mother. Rantzen was presenting an item about child sex abuse, and David began to cry. His mother asked what was wrong. He told her an edited version of what had been happening to him.
She went to the presbytery, accompanied by David’s aunt. Phyllis Hamilton, later revealed as Fr Michael Cleary’s partner, answered the door. She denied Walsh was inside. The women insisted he must be in, as his car was there and they thought they had seen him at a window. Hamilton went inside, and Walsh came to the door. He denied everything. As Prof Browne puts it in the victim-impact report, “then knowing the game was up, Walsh stopped abusing David altogether and terminated their relationship”.
Despite his awful experiences and equally awful history since the abuse ended, David, according to Prof Browne, remains “a highly intelligent and capable person”. Judge O’Donnell also recognised this in his comment last Monday and, again, in an observation he made about David’s intelligence and articulacy during one of many jury absences that Walsh’s counsel instigated.
A priest who had been part of The All Priests Show with Walsh in the 1970s and 1980s told The Irish Times that revelations about his former colleague had come as “the biggest shock”. Walsh became part of the show in the late 1970s, when his Elvis Presley impersonation act was “very popular”, the priest said. “Instead of joining the rest of us backstage afterwards, he’d usually be with kids in the front row. Parents thought he was great. It’s shocking how ignorant we all were about the whole catastrophe.”
High expectations: What is Chapter 19?
There is a general expectation that the High Court will publish the 29-page chapter 19 of the Murphy report next Wednesday.
Most of the report was published on November 26th last year. It detailed findings of the Murphy Commission following its investigation of the handling by Catholic Church and State authorities of clerical child sex abuse allegations in the Dublin archdiocese, made between 1975 and 2004 and involving a sample of 46 priests.
Two chapters, 19 and 20, were withheld, as court proceedings were pending against two men who were the subject of each. That remains the case where chapter 20 is concerned. With the jailing of Tony Walsh last Monday, however, the way now seems clear for publication of chapter 19, and of 21 other references to Walsh in the Murphy report. “David” has spoken to the commission about his abuse by Walsh.
It is also known from the report itself that it investigated the church tribunal in Dublin that found in 1992 that Walsh should be laicised on foot of allegations of child sex abuse.
It states that “only two canonical trials took place over the 30-year period [investigated]. Both were at the instigation of [then] Archbishop Connell and the Commission gives him credit for initiating the two penal processes which led to the dismissal of Fr Bill Carney in 1990”.
The report also says: “Archbishop Connell was one of the first bishops in the world to initiate canonical trials in the modern era. He did so in relation to . . . Fr Bill Carney in 1990.” The blank in the report indicates the missing name of Tony Walsh.
Sitting on the tribunal that laicised Walsh in 1992 were three canon lawyers: the recently retired bishop of Killaloe, Willie Walsh; the current Bishop of Dromore, John McAreavey; and Fr Paddy Corcoran. Bishop Willie Walsh has said he understood at the time that the archdiocese had told the Garda about the tribunal findings. It had not. Neither did McAreavey, Corcoran or Bishop Éamonn Walsh, who was aware of the tribunal and its findings at the time.
Tony Walsh appealed the tribunal decision to Rome, and the ensuing process took a further three years. In 1994, as that appeal progressed, Walsh sexually assaulted the 11-year-old grandson of a man whose funeral he attended dressed as a priest. The boy’s parents contacted the Garda. Walsh received a one-year jail sentence for the offence in 1995.
By then Rome had commuted Walsh’s laicisation. He would remain a priest but spend a decade in a monastery. When Walsh was convicted in the courts Archbishop Desmond Connell flew to Rome and insisted that Walsh be laicised. He was.