Monday, December 20, 2010

Bishops knew
Questions remain as eyes turn to two serving bishops and canon lawyers
PATSY McGARRY, Religious Affairs Correspondent

Mon, Dec 20, 2010

ANALYSIS: Chapter 19 reveals that by March 1985, seven priests were aware of concerns about Walsh

TWO SERVING bishops have familiar questions to answer following publication last Friday of parts of the Murphy report which dealt with former priest Tony Walsh. They are Bishop of Dromore John McAreavey and Auxiliary Bishop Éamonn Walsh.

Bishop McAreavey, who as a canon lawyer sat on the tribunal which defrocked Tony Walsh in 1993, has remained silent since chapter 19 and relevant sections of chapter 4 of the Murphy report were published last Friday. He has yet to explain why he made no effort to report Walsh’s known criminal behaviour to the gardaí then or afterwards.

Others who served on the tribunal with him from January 1992 were the recently retired Bishop of Killaloe Willie Walsh and the late Fr Paddy Corcoran.

All were canon lawyers.

Chapter 19 reveals that “by March 1985, at least seven priests of the Archdiocese were aware of concerns about Fr Jovito’s (Walsh’s) behaviour. At the request of Archbishop McNamara, (Chancellor) Monsignor (Alex) Stenson spoke to these priests”.

Did one of those “seven priests” include Bishop Éamonn Walsh?

He was dean at Clonliffe College (from 1977) when Tony Walsh was ordained from there in 1978. In the following decade Tony Walsh would admit abusing children while a seminarian there.

In 1985 Éamonn Walsh became secretary to the then archbishop of Dublin, Kevin McNamara. In March 1987 the archdiocese took out insurance against any possible future claims from victims of clerical child sex abuse. As the Murphy report puts it: “At this time, the archdiocese had knowledge of approximately 20 priests against whom allegations of child sexual abuse had been made, or about whom there were suspicions or concerns.”

In 1988 Msgr Desmond Connell became archbishop of Dublin. In April 1990 Éamonn Walsh became an auxiliary bishop of Dublin. In August 1990, to his great credit, he suggested at a meeting of the Dublin bishops that they should inform “the civil authorities” about Tony Walsh’s criminal activities, then known to the archdiocese for 12 years.

This was shot down.

In chapter 19 of the Murphy report, describing that meeting, former chancellor of the archdiocese Msgr Gerard Sheehy (deceased) wrote: “Bishop (Éamonn) Walsh made the outrageous suggestion that the Archbishop should inform the civil authorities about Fr (Jovito’s) homosexual orientation.”

Chapter 19 continues that “Bishop (Éamonn) Walsh told the Commission that his concern related to Fr Jovito’s paedophile orientation and not his sexuality in general.”

Recalling that August 1990 meeting last December, following publication of the Murphy report, Bishop Éamonn Walsh told this reporter: “ . . . 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”.

Still, it would be five more years before authorities in the archdiocese told gardaí about Tony Walsh’s activities (1995).

Also in attendance at that August 1990 bishops’ meeting were Archbishop Connell (retired), Bishop James Kavanagh (deceased), Bishop Dermot O’Mahony (retired), and Bishop Donal Murray (resigned).

Bishop Éamonn Walsh was appointed apostolic administrator of Ferns diocese in April 2002 on the resignation of Bishop Brendan Comiskey. He promised full co-operation with the statutory Ferns inquiry, which investigated the handling of clerical child sex abuse allegations there by church and State authorities. In the subsequent Ferns report he was praised for his co-operation.

However, it emerged later that, as it was completing its work, that Ferns inquiry came close to collapse in September 2005 when it was discovered that documents concerning allegations of abuse against 10 priests in Ferns diocesan personnel files had not been passed to it.

In July 2005, a woman approached One in Four with allegations concerning two Ferns priests the inquiry was investigating. The inquiry team was not aware of these allegations. They contacted the diocesan authorities, who supplied relevant files. It was then agreed that a trawl of all personnel files at the diocese was necessary. This uncovered documents concerning allegations against eight additional priests of which the inquiry was unaware.

At this point the Ferns inquiry team, chaired by former Supreme Court Justice Frank Murphy, considered bringing the investigation to an end, though a draft report had been completed.

It would have meant beginning all over again.

A special plenary hearing of the inquiry took place on September 2nd, 2005, to consider the situation. Bishop Walsh vigorously protested that an error in good faith had been made.

The inquiry team decided that omission of the new documents “was due to a regrettable error . . .”. It found that newly discovered documents relating to three priests did not come within its terms of reference and it did not fully investigate documents relating to the remaining five.

Bishop Éamonn Walsh is both a canon lawyer and a barrister at law. He has some clarifying to do.

© 2010 The Irish Times

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