Sunday 27 May 2018

Paedophile priest had links to other infamous child abusers

Fr Tony Walsh had worrying associations with other notorious predators around his parish

Former priest Tony Walsh Photo: Collins Courts
Former priest Tony Walsh Photo: Collins Courts
Maeve Sheehan

Maeve Sheehan

Last Monday, one of the worst offending priests named in the Murphy Report on clerical child abuse was found guilty of raping a boy with a crucifix.

Fr Tony Walsh, known as the singing priest, will be sentenced for his crimes later this month. During his trial, the court heard he already has 17 previous convictions for indecently assaulting a number of young boys and one girl.

Bill Carney
Bill Carney

Fr Walsh started out his priestly life in the west Dublin parish of Ballyfermot, then a growing suburb which was plagued by a succession of paedophiles from the 1970s to the 1990s.

Their time in the burgeoning suburb overlapped with that of another paedophile, Eamon Cooke, who lured the children of the area into the studios of his pirate radio station, Radio Dublin, down the road in Inchicore. Days after he died, he was named as the prime suspect for the killing of the missing schoolboy Philip Cairns, who disappeared on his way back to school in 1984.

In her report on clerical sex abuse in the Dublin archdiocese, which was published in 2009, Judge Yvonne Murphy found "worrying connections" between some paedophile priests, including Fr Walsh and another paedophile, Fr Bill Carney, both of whom spent their formative years in Ballyfermot. However, she found no evidence that they were part of a "paedophile ring".

While no evidence was ever found of a paedophile ring in Ballyfermot, the associations that connected the three infamous paedophiles who preyed on the children of that parish, and of other Dublin communities, are striking.

Radio host Eamon Cooke Photo: COLLINS, DUBLIN
Radio host Eamon Cooke Photo: COLLINS, DUBLIN

During his final years at Clonliffe College, Fr Bill Carney and his friend Fr Francis McCarthy visited children's homes around Dublin, offering to help the boys and girls with their school work and taking them out on day trips that later became overnight trips and holidays.

They started an altar boy circle at Clonliffe College. When Carney and McCarthy were ordained in 1974, Tony Walsh, who was still a seminarian, took charge of the altar boys, leading the trips to Clonliffe College.

Carney was posted to Ballyfermot Vocational School, and his friend McCarthy to Dunlavin in Co Wicklow. Carney used to visit McCarthy at weekends in Dunlavin, according to the Murphy Report. Victims later told the Murphy team that they were abused by both McCarthy and Carney.

"A boy who was initially abused by Fr McCarthy was subsequently abused by Fr Carney," states the Murphy Report.

Four years later, Tony Walsh was ordained in 1978 and assigned to Ballyfermot parish in July of that year. He was accused of abusing an eight-year-old boy when he was a seminarian within days of his arrival in the parish, according to the Murphy Report.

A year after he arrived, he was accused by another boy. When this boy's mother complained, Fr Michael Cleary, also a curate in Ballyfermot at the time, went to the boy's house to speak to him and "educate him on issues of male sexuality" and left.

Over the years, Fr Michael Cleary seemed to watch out for Walsh. Cleary was then a charismatic, celebrity priest who was the "warm up" act for Pope John Paul's historic mass on his visit to Ireland in 1979.

Like Cleary, Walsh was a singer too. He was in a group of singing priests who toured an act called the 'Holy Show' in which he did Elvis impersonations.

Fr Cleary had secrets of his own - a long relationship with his housekeeper with whom he fathered two sons.

Tony Walsh's housekeeper, who remembered seeing boys coming out of Tony Walsh's bedroom, later told gardai how she once saw Fr Michael Cleary breaking into Tony Walsh's room and having an argument with him. She didn't know what that argument was about.

Michael Cleary was the common denominator between Tony Walsh and Eamon Cooke. In the late 1970s, Eamon Cooke was running his Radio Dublin studios from his house on Sarsfield Road in Inchicore. Victims would later recall how he would lure children in by giving them sweets and allowing them to play in his garage packed with old television sets.

In 1978 - the year Tony Walsh came to Ballyfermot - Cooke was found out by one of his own DJs, James Dillon. An older girl who hung around the studios confided in Dillon that she suspected Cooke was interfering with a younger child.

Dillon got the older girl to make a recording of the younger child discussing what Cooke had done to her, gave the evidence to a priest and organised a staff walk-out from Radio Dublin. Cooke went on air to deny the allegations in a rambling two-hour broadcast.

Then Cooke "played his ace" by recruiting Fr Michael Cleary to present a show on Radio Dublin.

Siobhan Kennedy McGuinness, who testified against Cooke years later, wrote a book in which she described Cooke's monstrous abuse.

In it, she recalls that Tony Walsh and Michael Cleary shared a parish house at one point. On one occasion, to her disgust, Tony Walsh began massaging her shoulders in a way that reminded of her of Cooke.

As for Cooke, he became a campaigner against clerical child abuse in the 1990s. He helped a young woman who had been abused by Bill Carney for years to seek compensation from the Catholic Church, organising a campaign for her.

According to the Murphy Report, there were other worry overlaps in the lives of the paedophile priests.

In 1995, gardai interviewed Bill Carney's paedophile side-kick Frank McCarthy about Fr Tony Walsh. They were investigating a complaint from a victim who said he had been assaulted by Fr Tony Walsh in 1981 in the same presbytery where Frank McCarthy was then living. The victim said he told Frank McCarthy about the assault.

Bill Carney struck up an association with Fr Patrick Maguire, another convicted paedophile, who was sent back from Japan in disgrace.

Carney and Maguire used to take children on trips to a local swimming pool together. On one occasion, when one of his victims complained, Carney denied it, claiming that Maguire could vouch for him.

In 1995, Tony Walsh was convicted for the first time for abusing children. Bill Carney skipped off to the UK where he got married and set up a bed and breakfast in Scotland, until the publication of the Murphy Report in 2009 led to his past crimes catching up with him. He died in prison custody awaiting trial last year.

Eamon Cooke was convicted in 2007 on charges of child sexual abuse after a long battle to get his case to court. Days after he died in a Dublin hospice last month, while serving out a prison sentence, the story broke that one of his victims had come forward to gardai to implicate Cooke in the enduring mystery of the disappearance of Philip Cairns in 1984.

She has told them that Cooke picked up the 13-year-old in his car and took him to his Radio Dublin studio, where the boy was killed after Cooke struck him on the head.

Of course, Cooke didn't feature in Judge Yvonne Murphy's report on paedophilia amongst priests in the Dublin archdiocese. Her report was referred to gardai by Archbishop Diarmuid Martin, who asked them to take note of her finding that there were "worrying connections" between some of the priests she investigated.

The investigation never came to anything, it seems, as no hard evidence of a clerical paedophile ring has ever emerged. But one can't help but wonder what did the paedophiles of Ballyfermot and Inchicore know about each other?

And what did they know about each other's crimes?

Sunday Independent

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