Report finds Walsh 'most notorious' child abuser
The Murphy Commission has described former priest Tony Walsh, who abused hundreds of children over almost two decades, as the "most notorious child sexual abuser" to come to its attention.
Chapter 19 of the Murphy report dealing with Walsh was published today, having been withheld from publication pending the resolution of court proceedings against him.
His conviction on December 6th paved the way for the publication of the 29 pages of the report referring specifically to him. He was jailed for 16 years, with four suspended, following his conviction of the sexual abuse of three boys from Ballyfermot during the late 1970s to the early 1980s.
The report says that only two days after Walsh’s first appointment to Ballyfermot parish in 1978, a complaint was received at Archbishop’s House that he had sexually abused an eight-year-old boy.
A vicar general, Monsignor Glennon, was asked to investigate the complaint. He accepted Walsh’s denials saying “he impressed me as telling the truth”.
The matter was dropped. The Commission found this complaint was investigated in a “fairly desultory way”.
A second complaint was then made by the mother of a boy who said he was abused by Walsh in 1978 and 1979. Again, no action was taken apart from Fr Michael Cleary, who was also based in Ballyfermot at the time, visiting the boy’s house to educate him on matters of male sexuality.
The Commission found that by March 1985 at least seven priests in the Dublin archdiocese were aware of concerns about Walsh’s behaviour. Monsignor Alex Stenson, then chancellor of the archdiocese, spoke to Walsh a month later.
He “denied nothing” according to Mgr Stenson but agreed to attend a psychiatrist.
The psychiatrist said he was “cautiously optimistic” a re-orientation method of treatment “channelling the drive appropriately” could be successful given the fact Walsh “had not the normal sexual outlets available to him by virtue of his priesthood”.
After a further complaint about Walsh in 1985, he was removed from Ballyfermot and appointed to Westland Row parish.
"My impression was that by moving him to Westland Row he would be in a more restricted situation insofar as he would be resident with a number of other priests," Mgr Stenson told the Commission.
The Commission found that it was difficult to understand how the seriousness of the situation was not appreciated at this stage when the archdiocese was aware of four specific complaints and a number of concerns.
“It is also difficult to conclude that the move was for any purpose other than to avoid further scandal in Ballyfermot,” it said.
The parish priest at Westland Row was not made aware of Walsh’s paedophilia.
In January 1987, the housekeeper at Westland Row said she had found condoms and syringes in Walsh’s room and said a number of boys had slept overnight in his bed. Walsh denied this.
Mgr Stenson again confronted Walsh in May 1988 after more complaints were made about him by parents. He “really opened up for the first time” according to the Monsignor and admitted being “involved” with boys in Ballyfermot over an eight year period. He said he was willing “to do whatever was required”.
In a statement at the time Walsh wrote: “I hate myself because of the hurt I have given to others but I also love myself. I know I have done more good in my 10 years of priesthood than bad”.
In May 1988, 10 years after the first complaint, the archbishop and auxiliary bishops decided to send Walsh for treatment in Stroud.
Therapists there found that “under no circumstances should he have any apostolate involving children” and recommended ongoing counselling.
On his return to Ireland he was appointed to help the chaplain in a hospital for older people. However, he began to resume his inappropriate behaviour. In August 1989, a couple complained that Walsh had abused their son at a fete in All Hallows.
He returned to Stroud where the psychiatrist who treated him said he “had made no real progress” over the four years between 1985 and 1989. He said removing Walsh from the priesthood would not solve the problem and “it might cause more problems”.
He suggested that a middle ground appointment be sought somewhere between a parish ministry and total isolation but with no involvement with children.
In April 1990, Archbishop Connell and Mgr Stenson told Walsh the only options open to him were voluntary laicisation or dismissal. His public ministry was ended but he was allowed to say Mass in private.
It was around this time the possibility of reporting Walsh to the gardaí was raised. This was not done. Instead, Walsh was given leave of absence for a year and sent to live in a rehabilitation centre outside Dublin.
By early 1991, he was back in Dublin, and more complaints began to emerge about him. At a bishops’ meeting in March of that year, it was decided to institute a penal process against him. Again the idea of getting gardaí involved was discussed but not acted on. Walsh was sent to Mellifont Abbey.
A Garda investigation began when a mother of a young boy reported Walsh for attempting to coax her son into his car.
Gardaí contacted Mellifont and were told Walsh was there because there were numerous allegations of paedophilia against him. No attempt was made by gardaí to investigate this.
In September 1991, Walsh was sent to live in the St John of God psychiatric hospital before being sent to a clinic in the UK.
Here, a remarkable tale then emerged according to the Commission. Walsh was allowed to roam the streets of a nearby city unsupervised. He dressed in priests’ robes and said Mass in local churches. He befriended a family with small children and attempted to abuse their 11-year-old son.
He was then sent back to Ireland and Mgr Stenson noted at the time: “The real problem is what do we do now?”
The process to dismiss Walsh from the clerical state began in January 1992, a full year after the decision was made to do so. He fought the process every step of the way. Complaints were received throughout 1992 from parents alleging Walsh befriended their children and behaved inappropriately.
In August 1993, Walsh was dismissed from the priesthood. He appealed that decision to Rome who upheld his appeal saying he should be reinstated provided he enter a monastery for a period of 10 years.
However, no monastery would take him. Archbishop Connell then wrote to the judicial body in Rome appealing their decision “as a matter of urgency".
In November 1995, Garda stations began collating all cases they had concerning Walsh. In 1996, Cardinal Ratzinger confirmed Pope John Paul II was dismissing Walsh from the priesthood. The DPP directed Walsh be tried in relation to six complainants and he was sentenced to six years in jail.
Further complaints about Walsh continued to emerge during the late 1990s and 2000s. He has never accepted that he is no longer a priest and continues to seek ways of appealing against the Vatican's decision.
The Commission found that by the time he was transferred to Westland Row in 1986,there was an “established clear danger to children and yet their welfare simply did not arise for consideration”.
The report said Walsh was "probably the most notorious child abuser to have come to the attention of the Commission".
Its said action should have been taken by the archdiocese at a much earlier stage but the Commission said it recognised that Dr Connell did act decisively once he became Archbishop.
The report said it was “notable” how charitable the parents who complained were, saying they simply wanted to ensure other children were not abused.
It said it was unacceptable that two gardaí who had concerns about Walsh failed to pursue a thorough criminal investigation. It added that the archdiocese should have informed the gardaí of all of its concerns but did not do so.