Statement of Archbishop Diarmuid Martin
17 December 2010
Chapter 19 provides additional specific evidence to the already horrendous narrative of the Murphy report. It reports the tragic and shocking story of how a devious, predatory paedophile used the priesthood to gain access to young children and abuse them and how no-one stopped him for years.
Over the last few days I have read and re-read this chapter of the report. What struck me particularly was the way in which parents came forward with no sense of vindictiveness towards the church, simply asking that the abuse stop, decisively and definitively. They weren’t out to “get the church”, but the church they loved and respected failed them.
It was not just that the matters were not reported to the Gardai but the Archdiocese did not follow up its own commitment to stop the abuse. Tony Walsh was left in ministry, he was reassigned – he remained in contact with children, using his priestly dress and his membership of a priest’s show, where he was shown off as a priest, giving him constant access to young people. Unfortunately, some priests mistakenly supported his remaining in ministry.
Tony Walsh wriggled his way through every attempt that was made to contain him. The first lesson to be learned from this is that in the cases of serial compulsive paedophiles only decisive action is capable of stopping them. Cardinal Desmond Connell, to his credit, was among the first to recognise this. Procrastination and indecisiveness are a part of a climate in which paedophiles flourish. This is the importance of the current child safeguarding norms of the Church in Ireland which have to be supported by everyone. There is no room for revisionist thinking about these norms. Thankfully, there are hundreds of good people in our parishes who have gone through training programmes and give of their time to ensure that good child safeguarding procedures are making the Church the safe place that it is today.
It is true that much of what is narrated in this chapter took place many years ago. The context may or may not have been different. Abusing a child was and is a crime in civil law, was and is a crime in canon law; it was and is a grievous sin. Any form of sexual interference with a child is non- consensual, abusive and an act of violence. The theology of the time recognised that rape and sexual assault of anybody is wrong. The theology of the time was well aware of compulsive and recidivist sexual activity. It’s difficult to understand that people acted differently when the victims were children.
The Archdiocese of Dublin failed the victims of Tony Walsh and their families. I renew the words of apology I expressed in Ballyfermot last Sunday; I apologise unreservedly for the hurt caused and for the way the Church managed these matters.
The victims of Tony Walsh who bravely came forward to tell their story and others abused by priests in Dublin have done immense good for children, for society and indeed for the church. We all have a debt in their regard.
The fact that Tony Walsh was allowed to minister as a priest long after his paedophilia was identified is also a tragedy for good priests in Dublin whose vocation and life’s work in the name of the Gospel was tarnished.
Chapter 19 adds to the Murphy report but does not bring it to a complete conclusion. One more chapter remains incomplete. The report chronicles a frightening moment in the history of the church in Dublin. As I have said on other occasions, in many aspects the Church in Ireland had allowed itself to drift into a position where its role in society had grown beyond what is legitimate. It acted as a world apart. It had often become self-centred and arrogant. It felt that it could be forgiving of abusers in a simplistic manner and rarely empathised with the hurt of children.
The first step on the road to renewal is for our Church to recognise what went wrong to honestly acknowledge with no “buts” and no conditionality the gravity and the extent of what happened.
This statement and the full text Archbishop Martin’s Homily from Mass in Ballyfermot last Sunday are available on www.dublindiocese.ie