Catholic World News

Irish report exposes 'most notorious' sex-abuse case

December 17, 2010

A priest who was “probably the most notorious child sexual abuser” in the Irish Catholic community remained active for years after Church leaders were aware of his misconduct, an official report shows.

Tony Walsh was accused of molesting hundreds of children before he was finally laicized in 1996, according to the “Murphy Report” on sexual abuse in the Dublin archdiocese. Walsh, who was convicted last week on sex-abuse charges, was the focus of “Chapter 19” of the Murphy Report, which had been withheld from publication until the legal charges against Walsh were resolved.

The Murphy Report shows that complaints about Walsh’s abuse of children began in 1978, but officials in the Dublin archdiocese continued to cover up evidence of his misconduct, and transfer him to new parish assignments, until finally in 1993 Cardinal Desmond Connell sought to strip him of his priestly status. When the accused priest fought that action in canonical court, the Roman Rota ruled that instead of being laicized, Walsh should be assigned to a monastery for 10 years. Three years later, after Walsh (who had obviously not been confined to life in a monastery) faced new charges, the Vatican approved his laicization. In their coverage of the Walsh case, and the release of the previously secret Chapter 19 of the Murphy Report, most secular outlets blamed the Vatican for the failure to rein in the notorious pedophile priest. But while the Vatican’s decisions can certainly be questioned, the historical record shows that Dublin archdiocesan officials were aware of Walsh’s predatory behavior for 15 years before the Vatican was asked to rule on a request for his laicization.

The later history of the Walsh case illustrates another problem that is routinely ignored by secular critics of the Church. After he was stripped of his priestly status, and even after he had completed an earlier prison term in 2002, Walsh continued to prey on children. His criminal career illustrates that the laicization of an abusive priest does not in itself protect children. If he had been confined to a monastery, Tony Walsh might not have been able to molest children; as an ex-priest, no longer subject to the control of the archdiocese, he operated under no disciplinary constraints.

Dublin’s Archbishop Diarmuid Martin, who has consistently been vocal in his criticism of Church leaders’ responses to sexual abuse, issued a statement saying that the details of the Walsh case added to the “already horrendous narrative of the Murphy Report.” Archbishop Martin said that “the road for renewal is for our Church to recognize what went wrong, to honestly acknowledge with no ‘buts’ and no conditionality the ravity and the extent of what happened.”

Archbishop Martin said that the release of Chapter 19 of the Murphy Report had prompted him to re-read the document. In doing so, he reported, he was struck by the “the way in which parents came forward with no sense of vindictiveness towards the Church, simply asking that the abuse stop, decisively and definitively. They weren’t out to ‘get the Church,’ but the Church they loved and respected failed them.”

The archbishop rejected the suggestion that Church leaders had not appreciated the gravity of sexual abuse at the time of the events. “Abusing a child was and is a crime in civil law, was and is a crime in canon law; it was and is a grievous sin,” he said. “The theology of the time recognized that rape and sexual assault of anybody is wrong. The theology of the time was well aware of compulsive and recidivist sexual activity. It’s difficult to understand that people acted differently when the victims were children.”

“The victims of Tony Walsh who bravely came forward to tell their story and others abused by priests in Dublin have done immense good for children, for society and indeed for the Church,” Archbishop Martin said. “We all have a debt in their regard.”

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  • Posted by: - Dec. 19, 2010 5:11 PM ET USA

    "...[T]he laicization of an abusive priest does not in itself protect children." True: it merely stops the priest form molesting in the name of the Catholic Church and of God--but that is absolutely critical.