Vatican shielded priest until rape of boy in toilet

THE Vatican tried to stop Dublin church leaders from defrocking a particularly dangerous paedophile priest and relented only after he raped a boy in a pub toilet, an investigation has revealed.

• Paedophile priest Tony Walsh's former church in Ballyfermot where he was priest for seven years. Picture: PA

Dublin Archbishop Diarmuid Martin yesterday called Tony Walsh an "extremely devious man" who should never have been ordained, and said the report showed how the church had grown too powerful and arrogant in 20th century Ireland.

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A state-ordered investigation into Dublin Archdiocese cover-ups reported last year that Catholic officials had shielded scores of priests from criminal investigation over several decades and didn't report any crimes to the police until the mid-1990s. The findings sent shock waves through the church.

A chapter dealing with Walsh was censored from the original report because he was still facing a criminal trial. The Department of Justice published the chapter yesterday following 56-year-old Walsh's conviction for raping three boys over a five-year period three decades ago. He received a 12-year prison sentence.

The investigators - a judge and lawyers acting independently of the Irish government - concluded that Walsh raped and molested hundreds of boys and girls while serving as a Dublin priest from 1978 to 1996, a reign of terror that church leaders never effectively stopped.

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They described Walsh as "probably the most notorious child sexual abuser" of the 46 cases they investigated covering the years 1975-2004. Walsh often performed as an Elvis impersonator in a travelling Catholic song-and-dance production popular with children called the All Priests Show. The report found this increased his easy access to victims, as did his interest in scouting groups and taking altar boys on visits to the Dublin seminary, Clonliffe College.

The fact-finders based their conclusions on previously confidential Dublin and Vatican documents and interviews with key church figures that took five years to gather. They found that Dublin Archdiocese leaders spent several years arguing over whether Walsh should be defrocked, sent to England for help, or assigned to duties that kept him away from children.

Archbishop Martin, a veteran Vatican diplomat appointed to clean up the Dublin scandals in 2004, handed over the archdiocese's previously secret abuse files. His predecessor, Cardinal Desmond Connell, had refused.

Archbishop Martin said the church concealed child abuse easily for so long because its power in 20th-century Ireland "had grown beyond what is legitimate. It acted as a world apart.It had often become self-centred and arrogant."

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He noted that, just two days into Walsh's first parish assignment in Dublin's impoverished Ballyfermot district in 1978, he was accused of molesting a boy.

"He probably should never have been appointed at that stage without investigating the matter," the archbishop said.

Instead the report found that the church made only patchy, ill-coordinated efforts to look into a string of abuse complaints against Walsh until 1986, when he was transferred to another Dublin parish "to avoid further scandal in Ballyfermot".

There, the parochial house's maid reported finding copious evidence that Walsh was abusing boys in his room and using her own stolen clothing. A senior legal official from the church interviewed Walsh several times about his paedophilia.

"He denied nothing," the Dublin Archdiocese's chancellor and canon lawyer, Monsignor Alex Stenson, wrote after one 1985 interview. He advised Walsh to see a psychiatrist.

The report found that the Dublin Archdiocese should have reported Walsh to police by 1979 when evidence of his paedophilia was already evident. But it also faulted police for repeatedly deferring to church authority.

Detectives in 1990 and 1992 received reports that Walsh was molesting children - once when he was spotted trying to coax a boy into his car - but dropped interest after being told church officials were handling it.

The report found that the then Archbishop Connell fought his own legal advisers to convene a 1993 canonical trial that ended in Walsh's temporary defrocking.

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But Walsh appealed to the church's appeal court and won a reprieve. The judges reinstated him as a priest and ordered Irish officials to reassign him to a monastery for 10 years.

In May 1994, Walsh sexually assaulted a boy in a pub toilet following the funeral of the boy's grandfather. Months later, a Dublin mother accused Walsh of driving her son to the brink of suicide after abusing him while "baby-sitting" one night.

Police finally opened an investigation in earnest. Church documents showed Monsignor Stenson ordered Walsh to stay away from children and no longer wear the priest's uniform - or risk having his pay reduced. Walsh was convicted of attacking the boy in the pub toilet in 1995 and received a 12-month sentence. He was later convicted of sexually assaulting several more boys and received a further ten years, reduced in a 1997 appeal to six years.