Monday, December 20, 2010

Church keeps secrets
Cleric admits telling gardai of abuse 'wasn't on agenda'
By Louise Hogan
Monday December 20 2010

ABUSE victims last night reacted with fury as a senior cleric in the Catholic Church revealed that informing gardai was not part of their "agenda" as they dealt with allegations of sexual abuse.

Monsignor Alex Stenson -- who as chancellor in the Dublin Archdiocese met many victims of clerical abuse -- yesterday said there was not "so much a culture of secrecy but of very responsible confidentiality" within the church.

The church in Dublin has come under fire after a hard-hitting report said it had failed hundreds of children by allowing "notorious child abuser" Tony Walsh to continue his attacks for nearly two decades after they were first reported.

Msgr Stenson broke his silence in the aftermath of the publication of the shocking section of the Murphy Report divulging details of the pattern of depraved abuse carried out by the jailed ex-cleric Walsh.

Msgr Stenson blamed an oath to secrecy for not informing gardai when he was asked whether Walsh had any past history of alleged abuse.

He pointed to the findings of the Murphy Report in relation to him as he told the Irish Independent that he would "absolutely" be staying on as parish priest of Killester in north Dublin.

A spokeswoman for the archdiocese indicated that Archbishop Diarmuid Martin did not plan to remove Msgr Stenson as parish priest in Killester.

She said: "Msgr Stenson undertook a difficult role at a time when the Archdiocese did not have in place a policy for child protection and the Murphy Report chronicles in detail where responses were inadequate.

"The overall assessment of the commission was, however, that Mgsr Stenson 'performed his task better than other office-holders in the Archdiocese'."

Last night, abuse survivor Marie Collins said child sexual abuse was always a criminal offence within civil law and "as a member of society, Msgr Stenson had a duty to uphold civil law".

"It is a disgrace that going to the civil authorities was not on the agenda," Ms Collins said. "It is the height of arrogance to say it wasn't on the agenda."

She added: "The whole thing Msgr Stenson seems to ignore completely is he did not protect children from abuse."

Another abuse victim, Andrew Madden, said senior priests had "not done their best" and there were plenty of examples of occasions where they had not taken medical advice and recommendations for treatment.

Yesterday, Msgr Stenson said he had an oath to secrecy in his role as chancellor and believed the documentation was "deeply privileged".

The Murphy Report earlier stated some priests about whom complaints were made considered Msgr Stenson "was their scourge" and found he did try to ensure the priest abided by any restrictions placed on him.

The monsignor said he felt he had treated victims sympathetically but he "had an oath" and was not in a position to tell them there may have been other allegations.


Msgr Stenson said the amount of information he had in relation to Walsh compared to what was now in the public domain was "minor".

"I heard things on the (RTE) 'Prime Time' programme I knew nothing about which horrified me and were far worse than anything I had to deal with up to that point," he said.

He added that he was not aware of all the cases being dealt with by the Archdiocese.

"The impression is given that I knew about Tony Walsh's problems from two days after his ordination in 1978. That is totally false," he said.

"The first I heard of Tony Walsh's problems was in 1984/85," he said.

Yesterday, Msgr Stenson told the congregation in St Brigid's Church, Killester, that he was not offering an "apology for my life" but an explanation.

He later stated they followed the advice of psychiatric experts and "with hindsight" it was clear their understanding of paedophilia and the nature of reoffending had "grown" in the years since.

He said some priests were given "a green light" to return to ministry and others were not.

"On that basis, the archbishop made decisions which we now know sadly were wrong. We were following the best advice at the time. Now that is an explanation not an excuse," he said.


- Louise Hogan

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