Archdiocese criticised for delay in confronting child abuser

Sat, Dec 18, 2010, 00:00

CHAPTER 19 FINDINGS:THE DUBLIN Archdiocese should have taken action years earlier against Tony Walsh, probably the most notorious child sexual abuser among its priests, according to the commission investigating clerical child sex allegations in the archdiocese.

In a section of its overall report published yesterday, the commission says it is aware of more than 40 named people who complained of abuse by the former priest and notes that he admitted to abusing many others. The report says it is likely that he has abused hundreds of children.

The section says there is no doubt that the archdiocese should have taken action at a much earlier stage, in 1979 at the latest. Walsh was not laicised until 1995.

It says the first complaints were treated in a desultory manner but recognises that archbishop Desmond Connell acted decisively after he was appointed in 1988.

Walsh has admitted using children for sexual gratification once a fortnight over an eight-year period, but the report says the evidence suggests that abuse continued after this period. The earliest allegations predate his ordination and the first allegation as a priest arose two days after his appointment.

A well-known Elvis Presley impersonator and member of a singing group known as the “Holy Show”, Walsh was described by archbishop Connell as a “confirmed paedophile” in 1995.

Chapter 19 of the report, which dealt with Walsh’s history of abuse, was published yesterday. At the time the original report was released in November 2009, the sections dealing with Walsh could not be published because he was facing criminal charges. The way was cleared for publication earlier this month after he was convicted on charges of the sexual abuse and sentenced to 16 years in jail.

Walsh now has convictions for abusing 10 children. Civil settlements have been reached with 21 complainants.

His first appointment was to Ballyfermot in July 1978, where two days later a complaint was received at Archbishop’s House that he had sexually abused an eight-year-old boy.

The report says this complaint was investigated “in a fairly desultory way” by msgr Richard Glennon, who accepted Walsh’s denial. It notes that msgr Glennon rarely if ever doubted the word of a priest in such cases.

In 1979, there was a second complaint from the mother of a 14-year-old boy in Ballyfermot. The only action taken was that Fr Michael Cleary was sent to the boy’s house to educate him on male sexuality. The local parish priest later acknowledged that the allegation had been “hushed up”.

The report says the failure to deal with this complaint is not so readily understandable. The complaint was being dealt with by different people, who may not have been aware of the first allegation.

In the 1980s, there were further complaints and by 1985, at least seven priests were aware of concerns about Walsh’s behaviour. At the request of archbishop Kevin McNamara, chancellor Msgr Alex Stenson spoke to the priests and then met Walsh.

Walsh admitted his involvement with the young boy in Ballyfermot and also admitted to another incident with a young boy in Wicklow. He did not challenge an allegation involving a young girl.

He was referred to a psychiatrist who recommended medication, electric shock treatment or a “reorientation method to channel the drive appropriately”. Walsh took the last option at the “lesser of the evils”.

Another allegation surfaced that he had indecently assaulted a young girl in Ballyfermot, which he denied. No further inquiries were made and he was removed from Ballyfermot and appointed to Westland Row parish. The report describes as astonishing a letter sent by the archbishop thanking Walsh for his “dedicated work” in Ballyfermot.

By 1985, it says, the archdiocese knew that Walsh was a serial abuser. Walsh’s transfer to Westland Row was clearly an attempt to avoid further scandal in Ballyfermot. “There was an established clear danger to children and yet the welfare of children simply did not arise for consideration.”

In 1986, Msgr Stenson asked Walsh to reconsider his involvement in entertainment and public appearances in the media but he continued with his singing career.

Msgr Stenson continued to receive fresh allegations about Walsh. In May 1988, 10 years after the first complaint was made, archbishop Connell and his auxiliary bishops decided to send Walsh to Stroud, a church-run treatment centre in the UK.

He was removed from his position in Westland Row the following month.

A psychologist in Stroud said Walsh would always be dangerous and could not be let near children. In November 1988, he signed a contract with the archdiocese undertaking not to go near children or visit Ballyfermot.

He was appointed to help in a hospital for older people but soon resumed his old behaviour.

Archbishop Connell gave him permission to solemnise a wedding in Ballyfermot in 1989 but refused permission to tour with the Holy Show in the UK.

In April 1990, archbishop Connell and Msgr Stenson met Walsh and gave him the option of voluntary laicisation or dismissal. But after former chancellor msgr Gerard Sheehy intervened on his behalf, he was given leave of absence for a year. A suggestion by Bishop Eamonn Walsh that the Garda be informed “did not go very far”, the report states.

Yet more allegations came in about Walsh and in March 1991 the Dublin bishops decided to start a penal process. They also discussed informing the Garda but did not do so. He was sent to Mellifont Abbey in Co Louth.

Later that year, the mother of a young boy called gardaí after Walsh asked her son to get into his car. When gardaí asked if Walsh had a criminal record, Msgr Stenson evaded the question, he noted later. Msgr Stenson’s failure to tell gardaí about other allegations meant they were unaware of the “bigger problem”, the report says.

Walsh was sent to a UK clinic, where he was allowed to roam city streets unsupervised. He dressed as a priest, introduced himself to local clergy and said Mass in local churches.

The process to dismiss him started in January 1992, almost a year after the decision was made to do so. He fought it at every turn.

In August 1993, after yet more allegations emerged, the verdict that he should be dismissed was given. He appealed to Rome, which in June 1994 allowed his appeal on the penalty. He was allowed to remain a cleric, but had to enter a monastery for 10 years.

That year saw further complaints to the Garda and the first media reports. Still, msgr Sheehy advised archbishop Connell: “I think it important that every one of us should at this stage avoid any excessive reaction – no matter what the civil law may say.”

In 1995, the District Court sentenced Walsh to 12 months in jail for sexual assault, but he appealed the conviction. Archbishop Connell sought to have him dismissed and in January 1996 cardinal Ratzinger issued a decree confirming his dismissal.

Walsh received £10,500 (€13,335) in severance pay in 1996 and was jailed after a second conviction the following year. On December 6th last, Walsh was sentenced to 16 years, with four suspended, for abusing a further three victims. This cleared the way for publishing chapter 19.