Bishop Eamonn Walsh faces further questions on child abuse

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You may have read the article I wrote for the Irish Times this week where I made the point that responsibility for covering up child abuse in the Archdiocese of Dublin was not limited to Bishop Donal Murray but had to be shared by all those in positions of leadership in the Archdiocese.

In particular I pointed out issues arising from the involvement of Bishop Eamon Walsh of a case in the Archdiocese of Dublin and questions about the level of cooperation he gave the Ferns Inquiry when serving as Apostolic Administrator in the Diocese of Ferns. Link here to that article.

Bishop Walsh was none too happy with the facts I laid in my article and responded with barely concealed fury. His response didn’t really deal with the issues raised, instead he accused me of trying to “speak  out if the other side of my mouth”. He went on to call into question my role as Executive Director of Amnesty. The article can be read here.

In the course of his diatribe he did however let slip some rather interesting facts.

For example he said:

But 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.

This is especiall interesting given that Bishop Walsh is both a qualified Barrister (lawyer) and a Canon Lawyer. Often bishops have told us that they did not fully appreciate fully understand child abuse, that they didn’t so much consider it a crime as a moral lapse of some kind. This rather ridiculous excuse has been used in an attempt to suggest that the cover up of these crimes wasn’t deliberate but the result of a mistaken and confused approach to the rape of children by priests. 

But Bishop Walsh has now made it clear that he, a person eminently qualified in the law, appreciated as far back as 1990 that sexual abuse was a crime and that the church should report such crimes to the police.

So the question which Bishop Walsh must now answer is simple enough. Why didn’t be do so?

Bishop Walsh was a member of the first Advisory Panel of the Archdiocese of Dublin established in 1996 to manage child abuse cases. Did Bishop Walsh ensure every case reviewed by the panel was referred to the police?

It appears he did not.

Mary Rafftery addresses this and raises a number of further questions in today’s Irish Times.

BISHOP EAMONN Walsh on Wednesday last made a series of revealing statements to this newspaper on issues of clerical child sexual abuse in both Dublin and Ferns. It is worth analysing these in detail.

Defending himself against those who have called for his resignation, he stated the following: “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.”

The strong implication here is that the archdiocese reported a specific priest to the Garda as early as 1990. This is a dramatic revelation, particularly as there is no reference to anything like it in the Murphy commission report.

Further, the behaviour of the Dublin bishops at this time was entirely aimed at covering up awareness and allegations of child abuse against their priests. The first time the Dublin archdiocese volunteered information on paedophile priests to the Garda was in fact a full five years later, when in 1995 archbishop Desmond Connell passed on the names of 17 priests (but omitted a further 11 against whom complaints had been made to the archdiocese).

A number of key questions now arise for Bishop Eamonn Walsh, particularly in the light of our knowledge of how the archdiocese applied the principle of mental reservation. Firstly, who precisely informed the Garda in 1990 about this priest, and what exactly was reported? If, as is likely, it was not the archdiocese, but rather a victim, or the parents of an abused child, what co-operation, if any, was offered by the bishops to the Garda?

Given the fact that Bishop Walsh was able to decide in 1990 that the priest was “a danger”, it can be assumed that the bishops had detailed knowledge of this priest’s criminal abuse of children. How much, if any, of this was passed on to the Garda, and when was it passed on?

Secondly, who else was present at the 1990 meeting to which Bishop Walsh refers? If it was one of the regular monthly meetings of all the Dublin bishops, what precisely was the nature of the discussion around reporting these matters to the Garda? What decisions were taken on foot of this? And, crucially, did Bishop Walsh actually follow up on his own suggestion and pass on what he knew about this abusing priest to the police?

Thirdly, Bishop Walsh refers to “a certain person” who “wrote in horror to the archbishop that somebody could even think that way” – a reference to Bishop Walsh’s own suggested reporting to the Garda.

Why does Bishop Walsh not now name this individual? In addition, if the bishop had concerns that information was being withheld from gardaí as early as 1990, what steps did he himself take personally to fulfil his own duty as a citizen to report all criminal activity of which he was aware to the civil authorities?

In relation to the Ferns diocese, the bishop claims an unblemished record. From 2002 to 2006, he was apostolic administrator in Ferns, and thus in charge of handing over the files to the non-statutory inquiry into child abuse established by the government and chaired by retired judge Frank Murphy.

As Bishop Walsh himself states, the Ferns report praises him for his co-operation. Also true is his claim that the report exonerated him in the matter of the last-minute handing over of internal diocesan files containing concerns and allegations against eight new priests. His tardiness was the “result of genuine errors of judgment”. Nonetheless, it meant that these allegations could not be fully investigated, and they appeared only as an appendix to the body of the report.

However, there is another, separate incidence of documentation withheld from the Ferns inquiry until the last moment. The Ferns report took a much sterner attitude to this case, a fact which Bishop Walsh does not mention in his recent remarks. The issue here was particularly serious as it concerned a priest (Fr Iota) still in ministry, a potential continuing danger to children.

The relevant file, which showed that the diocese had known Fr Iota was a child abuser as far back as 1970, was handed over to the inquiry by Bishop Walsh only after the victim (known as “Pamela” in the report) had come forward in the summer of 2005 and had contacted One In Four and Colm O’Gorman. This is despite the fact that the bishop himself had undertaken a complete review of all files upon his arrival in the diocese in 2002 with a focus on identifying any present and continuing risks to children.

The Ferns report states that it “was concerned that the details of this case were not communicated to the inquiry until its work had reached an advanced stage”. It added that the file’s contents “should have alerted the diocese to the existence of a potential child protection issue”.

In fact, Bishop Walsh had been in charge of the Ferns diocese for three years before any action was taken to protect children from this priest, who at the time was ministering abroad.

A full explanation for this three-year delay in dealing with a known child abuser remains to be provided by Bishop Eamonn Walsh.

It appears Bishop Walsh still has a number of questions to answer about his role in the managment of child abuse cases in both the Archdiocese of Dublin and the Diocese of Ferns.

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