Missing chapter of child abuse must be published
ANALYSIS: The latest priest child rapist from the Dublin archdiocese was named yesterday, thanks to the persistence of his victims, writes MARY RAFTERY
THE BAD, the ugly and, somewhat surprisingly, the good – or at least what passed for good in the morally bankrupt culture of the Archdiocese of Dublin at the time – are all to be found in the tale of Tony Walsh, one of the most notorious of the city’s paedophile priests, convicted yesterday for his repeated rape of one small boy and his sexual assaults on two others during the 1970s and 1980s. He is the subject of the missing chapter 19 of the Murphy report, redacted so as to not prejudice the trial which concluded yesterday.
To glean some insight into the enormous damage done by this priest, it is worth remembering again what the victim called “David” had to say on the RTÉ Prime Time programme Cardinal Secrets in 2002:
“When I have a dream, I am basically being raped again and again and again and I could not under any circumstances overstress the word ‘raped’. I am being raped in my sleep. It mightn’t happen every night of the week but it happens at least two or three times a week and I just don’t sleep because I just, the minute I close my eyes and get back into the sleep I’m getting raped again so I stay awake and I . . . What they do, they give me drugs to put me to sleep, or I take a bottle of whiskey if I don’t want to go near the doctor.”
David is from Ballyfermot and was raped by Walsh for over four years, starting when he was only seven. Walsh had the run of the local national schools, and that was where he first singled out David and many other young victims. With great pain and anguish to himself, David has spent years seeking justice for the enormous wrongs done to him. He has awaited the conclusion of yesterday’s case for over eight years – an unconscionable delay by any standards.
In what could be argued to be a gross abuse of process, the legal system permitted delay after delay in the various – entirely legitimate – ruses employed by Walsh to seek to quash the charges and postpone the trial.
David turned up to each of these hearings, hoping against hope for some sort of closure. Walsh persisted in his not-guilty plea, piling on the drip, drip effect of the torture of David’s spirit. Walsh has spent the past eight years out of jail by virtue of being allowed by a system to torment an immensely brave man who refused to give up.
The appalling reality throughout the years David was being raped as a little boy by Walsh was a veritable slew of senior and prominent clergy knew he was a paedophile. Any one of them could have saved David and all of Walsh’s subsequent child victims.
Ken Reilly was an altar boy at Walsh’s ordination Mass in 1978. They lived close to each other in Coolock on Dublin’s northside. Walsh started abusing Ken shortly after his appointment as curate in Ballyfermot. A few months later, Ken told his mother, Ena. She immediately informed her own parish priest in Coolock and also reported Walsh to Canon Val Rogers, the Ballyfermot parish priest.
Rogers then asked fellow Ballyfermot priest Fr Michael Cleary, the famous singer, entertainer and Late Late Show pundit, for help. Cleary turned up in the Reilly household at one stage and told Ken and his mother that Walsh had admitted the abuse, and that he (Walsh) was sorry. He then somewhat bizarrely took young Ken aside and proceeded to inform him of the facts of life.
But as the months passed, Ena Reilly could see that nothing was happening. Ken was becoming deeply disturbed, banging his head off walls until he bled. Walsh was going from strength to strength, appearing on television as a singing priest. One of his favourite acts was as an Elvis impersonator. There is something vilely obscene about the surviving footage of him grinding his hips, complete with his grinning, all-priest backing band.
What was even more disturbing, however, was Walsh was now in charge of the largest troupe of altar boys in the country, over 60, in what was at the time Dublin’s biggest parish. And chillingly, he was allowed preside over one of Ballyfermot’s most popular ecclesiastic events – the weekly children’s Mass.
Ena Reilly decided to take matters further. She approached one of the Dublin auxiliary bishops, James Kavanagh. He fobbed her off by telling her that these things happen, and she remembers he asked her to kiss his ring.
She then went to the chancellor of the archdiocese, Msgr Alex Stenson. She was told the then archbishop Dermot Ryan had been informed. But nothing changed. Meanwhile, Walsh continued his abuse. In 1986, the priest was eventually moved out of Ballyfermot. But it was only to another parish, Westland Row, where he gained access to a new population of young victims. He was convicted in 1997 for the abuse of two boys in this parish.
All through this time, Ena Reilly heroically continued her struggle to get someone in the Catholic Church to take her information seriously about the danger he posed to children. While he was eventually removed from parish work in 1988, it was to be four years and several complaints from further victims later before serious action was taken.
And here we come to the good bit, or at least what passed for it in the Archbishop’s Palace world of secrets and mental reservations – lies to you and me. The then incumbent, Desmond Connell, convened an internal tribunal which concluded Walsh be defrocked. Walsh did not deny sexually abusing the children. His defence was he was sick rather than guilty, and he appealed the decision of the tribunal to the Vatican. There it languished for a number of years, with Rome apparently considering that some years in a monastery might be more appropriate than a full removal from the clerical state.
It appears Connell argued strongly with the Vatican that Walsh be laicised. He deserves credit for this. The tragedy is for the four years he fought – Walsh was eventually laicised in 1996 – Connell kept the internal Dublin tribunal findings secret from the Garda, the health board and his own priests.
It is important to note that neither did any of the other bishops involved share their detailed knowledge of Walsh’s crimes with the civil authorities. These included two members of the tribunal which decided to defrock him – Bishop Willie Walsh, now retired, of Killaloe; and Bishop John McAreavey of Dromore – together with other Dublin auxiliary bishops.
To the eternal shame of each and every one of these bishops, this allowed Tony Walsh turn up in 1994 at the funeral of an elderly man in Palmerstown, posing as a priest. At the meal after the Mass, he attacked the 11-year-old grandson of the deceased in the toilets, sexually assaulting him.
The boy immediately told his parents and Walsh was arrested, pleaded not guilty, was convicted and sentenced to one year in prison. This was followed two years later by further convictions in respect of six victims, for which he received a six-year sentence and was released in 2001.
With all current charges against Walsh finally dealt with yesterday, the way is now clear for the publication of the missing chapter 19 of the Murphy report. This will provide a wealth of detail on the cover-up of abuse during the final decades of the 20th century, in Dublin and at the highest levels of the Vatican. Its publication, which requires formal court sanction, is a matter to which the Minister for Justice should apply himself with urgency.
It is the very least this society owes to David, to Ken and Ena Reilly, and to all of Walsh’s victims who have fought such a long, costly and painful battle for justice.
Mary Raftery, with reporter Mick Peelo, produced and directed RTÉ’s Prime Time programme Cardinal Secrets , which resulted in the establishment of the Murphy commission
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