Former priest sentenced to 10 years for indecent assault of boys

 

A former priest who was an impersonator in Father Michael Cleary's All Priests Show was jailed for a total of 10 years at Dublin Circuit Criminal Court yesterday for indecently assaulting six boys in the 1980s. Tony Walsh (43) committed five of the offences in the presbytery of the Church of the Assumption in Ballyfermot, Dublin, where he was a popular curate during the 1980s.

Walsh, who stayed in an unnamed religious retreat house while on bail, pleaded guilty to 12 charges of indecently assaulting the boys between 1980 and 1986. The charges relate to offences of touching.

Judge Kieran O'Connor told Walsh: "You ingratiated yourself with the families of the victims and abused the boys. The offences are so grave I am satisfied the sentence you should serve is one of 10 years."

Judge O'Connor said he was aware the charge of indecent assault, which carried a maximum penalty of 10 years, had been replaced with a charge of sexual assault, with a maximum of five years.

"This has come up before. Despite all the pronouncements of all the politicians, they have reduced the maximum sentence to five years. This is something I don't understand," he said.

He imposed a six-year sentence on the first charge and a consecutive term of four years on the second offence. Terms of six years, to run concurrently with the first term, were imposed on the other charges.

The court was told that Walsh befriended the victims' families while a curate in Ballyfermot in the 1980s. He was also involved in the priests' variety show. He had convinced himself he was not harming the boys, who were aged from eight to 14, because he believed they would not understand what he had done to them.

Walsh had been very popular but was now very isolated. He had been removed from the priesthood and he found this a "shattering experience", a psychologist who was his counsellor told Dublin Circuit Criminal Court.

He sought help for his problem in 1990 and now understood the seriousness and implications of the abuse. He had learned to control his urges, the witness added.

Prosecuting counsel Ms Mary Ellen Ring said the injured parties felt the effect of the abuse could not be fully explained in the written impact reports submitted to the court.

Ms Ring said two sets of brothers were among the victims. She said five of the offences took place in the presbytery of the church in Ballyfermot, three occurred in the family home of one victim and one in another victim's home. A further two offences took place in a church residence in Westland Row and another in Kerry, when the victim was on a holiday organised by his local church.

The court heard that Walsh began abusing the boys after becoming aroused when a boy sat on his lap.

The victims had come forward individually by 1995 and when each time the allegations were put to him, Walsh returned days later with a prepared statement. While he denied some offences, he admitted other acts had taken place.

Defence counsel Mr John MacMenamin called the defendant's professional counsellors as witnesses. They told the court that Walsh had come to terms with his problem and was no longer a high risk. He understood how to control his temptation for boys.

Both psychologists said they did not think prison would be suitable for Walsh. In this artificial environment his problem would be hidden and he would have to learn to cope all over again on his release, they said.