Scale of Walsh cover-up by church breathtaking
ANALYSIS:The list of senior clerics who knew of Fr Tony Walsh’s serial sexual abuse of children and did nothing to stop it is virtually endless
THE SCALE of the cover-up by the Catholic Church of the crimes of Fr Tony Walsh, as finally revealed in chapter 19 of the Murphy report, is breathtaking. It is more extensive than any other single case dealt with in the main body of the report.
Archbishops, bishops, chancellors, vicars general, parish priests – the list of senior clerics who knew of Walsh’s serial sexual abuse of children is virtually endless. From the very first complaints brought to the archdiocese, a bare two days after Walsh’s ordination in 1978, and for the succeeding 17 years, these pillars of the church sat on their detailed knowledge of Walsh’s abominable predations on children, shielding him from the law, deliberately deciding to keep his crimes hidden from the civil authorities. In the course of those 17 years, until the archdiocese finally decided in 1995 to co-operate with Garda investigations, Walsh abused well over 100 children according to the chapter published yesterday. Here we find out that archbishops Dermot Ryan, Kevin McNamara and Desmond Connell all had detailed knowledge of Walsh’s criminal activities.
Chapter 19 is full of references to discussions about Walsh at the monthly meetings of the Dublin bishops – during the years in question, they include auxiliary bishops Donal Murray, Dermot O’Mahony, James Kavanagh and Eamonn Walsh, together with Brendan Comiskey, Laurence Forristal, James Moriarty, Joseph Carroll, Patrick Dunne and Desmond Williams.
Of these, most are retired or deceased. bishops Murray and Moriarty resigned on foot of the publication of the substantive Murphy report last year. In fact, the only one still in office is Bishop Eamonn Walsh.
He and fellow auxiliary Ray Field famously tendered their resignations – with great reluctance – on Christmas Eve 2009. It emerged several months later the Vatican had refused to accept them and the two bishops remain in situ.
Bishop Walsh defended himself last December by claiming that “as far back as 1990, I wasn’t a month in the job as a bishop, and I stood up at a meeting and I said that not alone should the police, who were already informed about an individual, but we should say where he was living and the number of his car, because I felt he was a danger”.
That individual was Tony Walsh and this incident does indeed appear in chapter 19 of the Murphy report, where it is described as “the first time that the possibility of reporting to the gardaí was raised”. The suggestion was shot down by the archdiocese’s leading canon lawyer at the time, Msgr Gerard Sheehy, who described it as “an outrageous suggestion”. Also present at that meeting were archbishop Connell and bishops Kavanagh, O’Mahony and Murray.
Two key points emerge: first, that Bishop Eamonn Walsh (a trained barrister, incidentally) was sufficiently well-aware of the criminal nature of Walsh’s activities to know that he should be reported to the Garda; and second, that Bishop Walsh did not report him, and nor of course did any of his fellow bishops. It consequently shows an extraordinary detachment from reality for Bishop Walsh to have claimed last year that merely suggesting that gardaí be informed of crimes committed in some way excuses or exonerates him from responsibility for his part in the culture of cover-up in the Dublin archdiocese. The only other serving bishop involved in the Walsh case is John McAreavey of Dromore. While still a priest, he was one of the judges who sat on the internal tribunal in 1992 which decided to laicise Walsh.
Neither he nor his fellow judge, the now retired bishop of Killaloe Willie Walsh, saw fit to report to gardaí their knowledge of the crimes of Walsh.
Although Bishop McAreavey is not specifically named or criticised in chapter 19, it will be interesting to see if he can continue to maintain his stony silence on the matter.
And what are we to make of another senior cleric’s matter-of-fact reporting that he “evaded” questions from a garda? This was the chancellor or chief administrator of the archdiocese, Msgr Alex Stenson, recording his conversation with a garda about Walsh in 1991. A parent had contacted the garda, concerned about Walsh but with no hard evidence of a crime committed. Msgr Stenson had heard that the garda was asking around and rang him to find out how much he knew. In the course of the conversation, the garda asked Msgr Stenson if Walsh had a past record. “I evaded that,” recorded Msgr Stenson in his 1991 memo.
The chancellor’s evasion meant that the Garda Síochána remained in the dark about Walsh and his crimes. There is at the very least an argument to be made that this amounts to an obstruction of justice.
After all, who knows better than a cleric that a sin of omission is every bit as serious as one of commission? And lying (by omission) to the police should rank high on anyone’s scale of wrongdoing, even more so where the safety of children is concerned.
The gardaí themselves also stand condemned in chapter 19 for their failure to pursue investigations of Walsh in 1991 and 1992 on foot of concerns expressed by parents about contact between the priest and their children. In their defence, the Murphy report points out that there was no specific evidence of crime brought to their attention at this stage, and further that the archdiocese did not share any of its extensive information on Walsh.
Nonetheless, it is profoundly disturbing to read, for instance, that Msgr Stenson records in 1991 that a garda “assured me that there was ‘no question of prosecution’ ”. This same garda gave evidence at the internal church tribunal hearings on the laicisation of Walsh, and had dealings with the then Fr Willie Walsh (later of course bishop of Killaloe), when he arrived at Whitehall Garda station “stating that he had been appointed to carry out an internal investigation into the paedophile activities of Fr [Walsh]”.
It is clear that the Garda should now extend its own internal inquiries to include the Walsh case among the others unearthed by the Murphy commission where Garda investigations into clerical child abuse were inadequate. The results of these inquiries should be published in full.
It is vital for public confidence in the force that its past failures in this area be thoroughly exposed, and that rigorous procedures be in place to detect and guard against shielding either institutions or individuals from the full force of the law.
Mary Raftery produced and directed RTÉ’s Prime Time programme Cardinal Secrets, which resulted in the establishment of the Murphy commission