A cardinal, several bishops and gardaí face damning criticism tonight over revelations a serial paedophile priest was free to abuse for 16 years.
A previously censored report revealed the Vatican wanted “Fr Filth” Tony Walsh sent to a monastery for 10 years, while Dublin’s Catholic hierarchy wanted him ordered out of the church in the early 1990s.
At one stage Cardinal Desmond Connell made an unprecedented plea to late Pope John Paul II to sack the showman abuser and Elvis impersonator.
Walsh attacked a young boy in the toilet of a pub in May 1994 after attending the funeral of his victim’s grandfather as clerics in Rome debated his future.
Archbishop of Dublin Diarmuid Martin said: “The report chronicles a frightening moment in the history of the church in Dublin.”
Another damning finding by the state inquiry revealed the archdiocese was more concerned about a Garda investigation into Walsh than the gardaí were themselves.
It branded Walsh as probably the most notorious child sexual abuser to have come to its attention, and likely to have assaulted hundreds of children.
Officers had been alerted to his attacks as far back as 1991 but a criminal investigation was effectively shelved because the Catholic Church was running its own inquiry.
Walsh, who performed as Elvis on his Holy Show tour, was last week jailed for a third time for child abuse. He got 16 years.
After his ordination in 1978 he was posted to Ballyfermot Parish in west Dublin. Two days after he arrived he was accused of a sex attack on a young boy.
His first attacks date to his time as a seminarian in the 1970s. The first attacks the church dealt with was in 1978 but he was not convicted of an attack for another 16 years.
Archbishop Martin, who has pushed for openness to address paedophilia scandals in the church, said Walsh was as bad a serial abuser as the notorious Brendan Smyth.
Controversy over Smyth’s stalled extradition brought down the Government in 1994 and has also damaged Cardinal Sean Brady, Primate of All Ireland, who secretly took statements from two of Smyth’s victims in 1975 without telling the authorities.
Archbishop Martin said: “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.”
In total three archbishops, Cardinal Connell, Kevin McNamara and Dermot Ryan, several bishops and seven priests were alerted to Walsh.
The latest chapter from the inquiry, headed by Judge Yvonne Murphy, said a major factor in the Vatican’s decision to push for monastery service appears to have been an inability to charge him by reason of paedophilia.
Maeve Lewis, executive director with support group One in Four, said she disapproved of defrocking priests because it allows them to go underground.
An auxiliary bishop in Dublin, Eamonn Walsh wanted the church to tell gardaí in 1990 that Tony Walsh was a paedophile.
The option was discussed by Cardinal Connell, auxiliary bishops James Kavanagh, Dermot O’Mahony, Donal Murray, Bishop Walsh and Monsignor Alex Stenson, an archdiocese expert on canon law and chancellor, at a meeting in May that year.
The report found that the idea “did not get very far”.
Another chancellor, Monsignor Gerard Sheehy, who dealt with Walsh’s case was found to be misguided and more concerned about avoiding scandal than understanding the impact of Walsh’s actions on victims.
Ms Lewis added: “The chapter also highlights yet again the sinister role of the Vatican in perpetuating the careers of paedophile priests.
“The prestige and image of the church superseded any concerns for the safety of children. As the recent Wikileaks documents show, this culture persists in Rome right up to the present day.”
The Murphy report found action should have been taken by 1979 at the latest.
Dublin-based clerics investigated Walsh in the early 1990s and asked Rome to laicise him (withdraw his clerical status) in 1993. Tony Walsh appealed in October 1993 and the Vatican called for the penalty to be reduced in June 1994, prompting the Cardinal’s plea.
The commission said: “This option of dismissing a priest directly by the pope is reserved for grave and clear cases and is regarded as an extraordinary remedy, even when the normal penal process is inadequate.”
Forty people complained of being abused by Walsh and he admitted to “using children for sexual gratification” once a fortnight over an eight-year period.
The report stated that Archbishop Dermot Ryan, head of the archdiocese in 1972-84, failed to properly investigate complaints against several priests, including Walsh.
In 1985 Walsh was moved to Westland Row, Dublin city centre, which his superiors regarded as a more restrictive area.
The report said they had “no idea of the enormity of his problems”, the “seriousness not fully appreciated” and they had tried to “avoid further scandal in Ballyfermot”.
It added: “There was an established clear danger to children and yet the welfare of children simply did not arise for consideration.”
A priest’s housekeeper reported Walsh on one occasion after finding condoms, syringes and her underwear, which had been used, in his room.