Murphy extracts show 'agonies' of Connell over abuse cases

 

RITE AND REASON:The latest material from the Murphy report casts Cardinal Desmond Connell in a more positive light, writes PATSY McGARRY

ONE OF the more torrid press conferences hosted by the Irish Catholic bishops was at Maynooth on April 8th, 2002. It followed the resignation of Brendan Comiskey. Among the bishops present was Cardinal Desmond Connell.

As evasive answer followed evasive answer, the media present grew tense and some reporters were shouting questions in frustration.

Cardinal Connell became distressed. “I am as human as any of you,” he said. It was “slanderous” to suggest his interest in the abuse issue was recent when “it is the issue which has devastated my period of office”.

Since becoming archbishop, he had removed two priests from ministry in connection with abuse and in 1995 he had a trawl through diocesan records done. It went back 50 years and he passed on to the Garda “the name of every priest and every complaint against such a priest”.

(This was not entirely accurate. As Murphy reported, the names of 17 alleged abusers were handed to the Garda in November 1995, when the archdiocese was aware of complaints concerning “at least 28 priests or former priests”).

The cardinal continued that he was not saying he had handled the issue adequately, but he had “suffered greatly” because of it. And he spoke of the difficulty in dealing with paedophiles. “They lie through their teeth. They are the most extraordinarily devious people,” he said.

His comments took people by surprise and calmed the situation. Then, as my colleague Frank McNally reported it, Cardinal Connell’s “final riposte as he left the room was almost a cry of pain”. “You people,” he began, before correcting himself with a sigh. “I’m very sorry, I shouldn’t say ‘you people’. But you come along and treat us as if we were utterly indifferent to what was going on. And I have gone through agonies over this thing.”

Chapter 19 and sections in Chapter 4 of the Murphy report, published for the first time last week, give a clearer picture of the “agonies” suffered by Cardinal Connell over the abuse issue.

The men he removed as priests were Bill Carney and Tony Walsh. By the time he became archbishop in March 1988, authorities at Archbishop’s House had been dealing with allegations against Tony Walsh for 10 years, none reported to the Garda.

It had been dealing with complaints against Bill Carney since 1983 and soon became aware of more; again, none reported to the Garda. By 1987, the archdiocese was dealing with complaints against 20 priests. This then was Connell’s inheritance.

As Murphy put it: “The commission has no doubt that he was stunned not just by the fact but by the extent of the clerical child sexual abuse with which he had to deal.” But it felt it “took him some time to realise it could not be dealt with by keeping it secret and protecting priests from the normal civil processes”. This, it felt, was most evident in his allowing Ivan Payne to continue in ministry after a complaint became known against him in 1991. But it made a point of acknowledging that “current (child protection) structures and procedures were put in place by Archbishop Connell”.

In June 1988, three months after be became archbishop, Cardinal Connell removed Tony Walsh from ministry and sent him for treatment to the UK.

He was never allowed back into parish ministry again. In April 1990, following further reports of suspicious activity, Cardinal Connell gave Walsh an ultimatum to go voluntarily or be dismissed. In February 1990 he gave the same ultimatum to Bill Carney.

As Murphy put it: “Archbishop Connell was one of the first bishops in the world to initiate canonical trials in the modern era.” It said: “The commission recognises he did this in the face of strong opposition from one of the most powerful canonists in the archdiocese: Msgr (Gerard) Sheehy,” chancellor of the archdiocese until 1975.

Msgr Sheehy “rejected the view that the archdiocese had any responsibility to report child sexual abuse to the State authorities,” Murphy said.

Carney was dismissed from the priesthood in March 1992. Walsh was dismissed in August 1993. He appealed to Rome. In June 1994, Rome commuted his penalty to 10 years in a monastery. He would remain a priest. But in the previous month, May 1994, Walsh assaulted another boy. It was reported to the Garda; Walsh was charged, and sentenced to 12 months. He appealed that too.

Cardinal Connell expressed disappointment to Rome at its decision to reinstate him.

In July 1995 Walsh was charged with yet further abuse offences. In November 1995 Cardinal Connell flew to Rome where he petitioned Pope John Paul to dismiss Walsh.

His petition read: “The archbishop humbly begs the Holy Father graciously to grant him this favour in the interests of the well-being of the church.”

It was successful. In January 1996 Pope Benedict XVI, then dean of the Congregation of the Doctrine of the Faith, on which Cardinal Connell served from 1992 to 2004, issued a decree dismissing Walsh. As Murphy noted Cardinal Connell’s initiative to personally petition the pope “was a novel one which created a precedent”.