Former priest jailed for repeated indecent assault of a boy in 1970s

Man was trainee priest when he abused the child on six occasions, court told

The court heard that Walsh has 39 previous convictions, 34 of which are for previous offences of indecent assault. File photograph: Dave Meehan/The Irish Times

The court heard that Walsh has 39 previous convictions, 34 of which are for previous offences of indecent assault. File photograph: Dave Meehan/The Irish Times

 

Former priest Tony Walsh has been jailed for two years for repeatedly indecently assaulting a child 45 years ago.

Walsh (67) was a trainee priest when he sexually abused the child victim on six occasions inside a church in the 1970s.

Dublin Circuit Criminal Court heard that Walsh has 39 previous convictions, 34 of which are for previous offences of indecent assault.

The court heard he was most recently sentenced for indecent assault in 2018 to a term of imprisonment of five years with the final 18 months suspended. Prior to sentencing on Wednesday, Walsh had a release date of July 9th, 2021.

Walsh was convicted by a jury following a trial in May 2021 of six counts of indecent assault at a church in Dublin on unknown dates between September 1st, 1973 and July 1st, 1977. He had pleaded not guilty to all offences.

A Garda sergeant told Philipp Rahn BL, prosecuting, that the victim was aged between nine and 13 at the time of the abuse, while Walsh was a trainee priest in his early 20s.

The sergeant said the first instance of abuse occurred when the victim went for a walk near a girls’ school and saw there was an egg carton inside a window. He tried to knock the egg carton over by knocking against the window, but accidentally broke the glass and cut his finger.

He walked away from the school, but was then stopped by Walsh and told to follow him. He was led into a room in a nearby church where Walsh cleaned the cut on his finger and put a plaster on it.

Walsh then proceeded to molest the boy and forced the boy to masturbate him. He then told the victim to return to the church the next day.

Similar instances of abuse occurred on five further occasions over the next weeks, after which Walsh would tell the boy to return to the church again either the following day or week. The abuse came to an end after the boy returned to the church one day and Walsh was not there.

Mr Rahn told the court that during the trial, the victim was cross-examined on the basis that the defence were not disputing that he had been abused, but that he had misidentified Walsh as the abuser.

In his victim-impact statement, portions of which were read out before the court by the sergeant, the victim said he never settled in secondary school after the abuse occurred, being expelled from the school after he began acting out.

The victim said the abuse led to intimacy issues and that he was only able to be intimate with his wife when intoxicated, which led to their separation. He said he has felt shame as a result of the abuse, which has affected all aspects of his life.

He said he felt “sickened” having to be in the same room as his abuser during the trial. He said he will never forgive Walsh for having to give details of the abuse in court and that the accused could have pleaded guilty.

Five sentences

Judge Melanie Greally set a headline sentence of 18 months’ imprisonment for each count, taking into account that the maximum sentence for the offence was two years.

The judge said the only mitigating factor in the case was the accused man’s good conduct after going into custody.

Judge Greally sentenced Walsh to 12 months’ imprisonment on each count, ordering that the first five sentences run concurrent to each other and the final sentence run consecutive to the rest for an effective operative sentence of two years’ imprisonment.

After passing sentence, Judge Greally thanked the victim for the manner in which he gave evidence in the trial and conducted himself in court. She said she hopes this will bring him some relief and his recovery will continue.

The sergeant agreed with Simon Matthews BL, defending, that there has been “a considerable delay” in the case coming before the court and that the offences date back over 45 years.

Mr Matthews asked the court to take into account his client has spent 15 years in custody. He asked the court to take into account the totality aspect of the case and said it might have been dealt with at the same time as other offences.

Counsel submitted his client has helped fellow prisoners learn how to read and write while in custody.

Passing sentence, Judge Greally said this childhood trauma has had “an extremely destructive impact” on every area of the victim’s life. She said she was taking into account this offence was a breach of trust committed on a very vulnerable young person.

Judge Greally said the matter has been in the court system since May 2020 and from that point onwards, Walsh has had available to him the opportunity of facing up to the harm he caused and expressing some remorse.

She said this was an opportunity he chose not to avail of, so the victim had to go through the trauma of revisiting these events.

Judge Greally said she would be applying the principles of proportionality and totality, but “the very notion” Walsh should have these offences taken into consideration “as part of some sort of sentencing package” is not a matter the court will contemplate.

She said the victim is owed a sentence which will reflect the damage done to him as an individual.