DUBLIN — The Vatican tried to stop Dublin church leaders from defrocking a particularly dangerous pedophile priest and relented only after he raped a boy in a pub restroom, an investigation reported Friday.
Dublin Archbishop Diarmuid Martin said he fully accepted the findings of the latest chapter in Ireland's investigation into child abuse by Dublin priests who were shielded from the law by Catholic leaders.
Martin called Tony Walsh an "extremely devious man" who should never have been ordained a priest, and said the report highlighted how the church had grown too powerful and arrogant in 20th century Ireland.
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 and forced three Irish bishops to resign, although the Vatican refused to accept the resignations of Martin's two junior bishops.
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 Friday following the 56-year-old Walsh's Dec. 6 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 actually 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.
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 traveling 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 counselors in England, or assigned to duties that kept him away from children.
Martin, a veteran Vatican diplomat appointed to clean up the Dublin scandals in 2004, handed over the archdiocese's previously secret abuse files to the investigation. His predecessor, Cardinal Desmond Connell, had refused.
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-centered and arrogant. It felt that it could be forgiving of abusers in a simplistic manner and rarely empathized with the hurt of children."
He noted that, just two days into Walsh's first parish assignment in Dublin's impoverished Ballyfermot district in 1978, the priest was accused of molesting a boy.
"He probably should never have been appointed at that stage without investigating the matter," Martin 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 pedophilia.
"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 pedophilia 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 that church officials were handling the problem internally.
The report found that then-Archbishop Connell fought his own legal advisers to convene a 1993 canonical trial of Walsh that ended in his temporary defrocking.
But Walsh appealed to the church's appellate court, the Rome Rota, and won a reprieve. The Rota 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 restroom 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 that 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 restroom in February 1995 and received a 12-month sentence. He was later convicted of sexually assaulting several more boys and received a further 10-year sentence that was reduced in a 1997 appeal to six years.
During these criminal trials Connell wrote first to the Rome Rota explaining he could not find a monastery willing to house Walsh and could not reassign him to a parish overseas – a longtime church practice for managing pedophile priests – because he had been charged with crimes.
Finally he appealed in a letter seeking the personal intercession of Pope John Paul II to defrock Walsh. "The archbishop humbly begs the Holy Father graciously to grant him this favor in the interests of the well-being of the church," he wrote.
The report documented how the future pope, Cardinal Joseph Ratzinger, replied in January 1996 confirming that John Paul had expelled Walsh from the priesthood.
But after Walsh was paroled from prison in 2002, the report said, he continued to travel around Ireland masquerading as a priest and winning the confidence of children, more than 20 of whom reported sexual assaults.
He faced fresh charges when three more of his victims from Ballyfermot in the late 1970s and 1980s came forward. Last week he received prison sentences that total 123 years – the greatest ever imposed on a pedophile priest in Ireland – but the system will recognize only the first 12 years.
"I sleep better now that he is in prison rather than wandering the streets of Dublin," Martin said.
Walsh chapter of Dublin Archdiocese report, http://bit.ly/ej4yyf