Dec 18, 2010

The Vatican: Enabling Predators, Passing the Buck

Crossposted from Reflections Journal.

As discussed, the Vatican refused to cooperate with the Murphy commission in Ireland and was apparently indignant at the request. Disclosures like this most recent one could explain their reluctance to being exposed. Here is yet another case of the Vatican refusing to defrock a horrifyingly prolific pedophile; a serial abuser with hundreds of victims.

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 Catholic Church figures.

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.

There is plenty of blame to go around on this one; starting with Irish church officials who actively concealed Walsh's abuses from authorities and ending with the authorities themselves. Two gardaĆ­ (Irish police) dropped their investigation.

Msgr Alex Stenson, who is now the parish priest of Killester in Dublin, had been investigating Walsh’s paedophile tendencies for six years when gardaĆ­ sought to interview him about a complaint in 1991 made by the parents of a young boy who Walsh had attempted to abuse.

When asked by a garda if Walsh had a record of paedophilia, Msgr Stenson replied: “I evaded that but told him to proceed with whatever steps he thought he should take.”


The commission concluded that a criminal investigation which began in 1991 was “effectively shelved” because the church was carrying out its own investigation.

The church's internal investigation, however, was comprised of  "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.'"

In a pattern that will be familiar to anyone who has been following clerical abuse scandal, Walsh was simply passed around rather than stopped. Worse, after years of hit and miss investigation and psychological evaluation concluded that he was an irredeemable abuser, Monsignor Sheehy simply wanted to turn him lose on society, unsupervised and unprosecuted.

The commission said there had been repeated clashes between Msgr Stenson, who was praised by the Murphy report on a previous occasion, and his predecessor the late msgr Gerard Sheehy.

Msgr Sheehy was adamant that Walsh should have not been suspended but should have been persuaded to leave the priesthood.

Msgr Sheehy said at a 1991 meeting that it was an “outrageous suggestion” that the civil authorities should be called in relation to Walsh.

But even when Irish Church officials came 'round to the belief that Walsh had to be punished, the Vatican demurred, granting Walsh's request and refusing to defrock him.

An investigation into his behaviour began in the early 90s by Dublin-based priests but the report said Walsh fought the Church penal process at every stage.

The process to dismiss him as a cleric began in January 1992, almost a year after the decision to do so was made.

In 1993 Rome was asked to laicise him.

Walsh appealed and Rome allowed him to remain as a priest until Archbishop Desmond Connell wrote to the Vatican and begged the Pope to dismiss him.

It took an active police investigation of a crime so heinous -- robbing a boy of his innocence even as he was grieving the loss of his grandfather -- neither the police nor the Vatican could ignore the problem any longer.

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.

Even as a defrocked priest and ex-con, Walsh took to gallivanting about the Irish countryside, impersonating a priest so as to woo new victims. He finally won himself a stiff sentence earlier this month and is back in prison where he belongs.

There is no question that the Irish church failed miserably at the task of protecting children from predators. Instead, they protected the predators. It's a familiar story having played out in dioceses all over the world. (The recently exposed San Diego Diocese comes to mind.) But the Vatican, having stonewalled the Murphy commission, is no less culpable just because it avoided scrutiny. That in yet another case it refused to penalize a wanton criminal with laicization is embarrassing. And, once again, the Vatican failed to support a diocese when its officials, at long last, tried to the right thing. In light of all that, it's hard to view Pope Benedict's excoriation of the Irish diocese as anything but hypocritical.

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