Statement by Bishop William Walsh welcoming Pope Benedict’s pastoral letter

22 Mar 2010

22 March 2010

Statement by Bishop William Walsh welcoming Pope Benedict’s pastoral letter

I welcome the Pastoral Letter which the Holy Father has addressed to the people of Ireland in which he states that he shares “his dismay and sense of betrayal which so many people have experienced on learning of these sinful and criminal acts and the way in which Church authorities in Ireland dealt with them”.

In addressing victims of abuse he openly expresses his shame, remorse and sorrow for their suffering and his understanding of their deep pain. He knows that many of them find it almost impossible to even enter the doors of a Church but appeals to them not to lose hope in the healing power of Christ.

He reminds us as bishops that we have been responsible for grave errors of judgement and failures of leadership which has seriously undermined our credibility. He states that “only decisive action and complete honesty and transparency will restore the respect and good will of the people towards our Church”.

He appeals to all of us to join in prayer, fasting and reading of the scriptures over the next year for the grace of healing and renewal in our Church.

I acknowledge that some people have been critical of the omission from the letter of a direct apology for the role of the Vatican in the culture of secrecy which has been so damaging in this area. However I believe that the letter when read with an open mind and heart can be another significant step on the long road toward healing and renewal in our Church.

The letter points out that any such renewal must be centred on the person of Jesus Christ and be inspired by his example and teaching. That teaching invites us to commit ourselves humbly to the values of truth and justice, compassion and forgiveness and above all the deeply Christian value of love.

The Holy Father has asked us “to establish the truth of what has happened in the past”. In response to his request and indeed to the many requests I have received from journalists in recent days I wish to clarify my own story in relation to some of these issues.

On two occasions prior to my being appointed bishop of Killaloe I was asked by the then Archbishop of Dublin to act as one of three judges in a canonical process involving allegations of sexual abuse against two priests of that diocese.

In the first case, that of William Carney, our judgement was that the most severe penalty in Church law namely laicization or expulsion from priesthood be applied.

In carrying out the process we met with a number of complainants. When the complainant was still a minor he/she was always accompanied by parents. No commitment to secrecy was requested. I was made aware that the gardai and the diocese were already in communication about the case before the canonical process began. I did not understand it as part of my role therefore to liaise with the gardai in relation to the matter. If I were dealing with the case today I would do so. The two other judges in the case have since died. I am not aware of any further abuse by the priest after the canonical process was completed.

The second case in the Dublin diocese in which I was involved was also examined by the Murphy Commission. The relevant chapter is as yet unpublished for legal reasons. I am precluded by law from revealing anything related to this case until that chapter is published. I will then be accountable for my role when that occurs.

While I was not involved in any such process in our own diocese I too as a younger priest was part of that oppressive culture of secrecy and undue deference to ecclesiastical authorities. For that part and for the disastrously inadequate response of our Church to the heinous crime of child sex abuse I will always carry a sense of sadness, regret and shame. I again apologise to all victims of abuse but especially to any victim who may have suffered through any failure on my part.

Since I was appointed bishop in 1994 I am satisfied that I have tried to treat every victim with sympathy, kindness and the deep respect to which they are entitled. I have reported all cases to the statutory authorities – gardai and H.S.E. – and co-operated fully with them. My primary concern at all times has been to try to bring healing to victims.

This statement is based on my recollection of events of 20 years ago. I have asked the Dublin diocese to check that there are no errors of fact in it. If there are I will publish the necessary correction.


Bishop William Walsh is Bishop of Killaloe

Further information:
Fr Brendan Quinlivan, Diocesan Communications Officer for the Diocese of Killaloe, 061 924035
Mr Martin Long, Director of the Catholic Communications Office, Maynooth, 086 172 7678