Bishop Willie Walsh is probably the best of the Irish Catholic hierarchy. He’s an affable, humble and self-effacing guy. He believes in reaching out to his people and he goes among them as an equal. He has a genuine sense of empathy with others and he is never arrogant, unlike so many of his colleagues.
Willie, as I said, is probably the best of them.
Fr Con Desmond came to Willie, his bishop, in 1995. It was just after Father Brendan Smyth, the notorious child-rapist, had been arrested. The country was enraged with the clergy and talk of clerical sexual abuse was everywhere. Fr Desmond was bothered by this new climate, with good reason, as it later turned out, and he turned to Willie Walsh for advice.
Now, put yourself in the Bishop’s place. Here comes this guy who works for you, and he says Willie, I’m bothered by this new climate. People are very annoyed at priests for raping kids and I want to tell you about something I did a few years ago.
What would you think he was trying to tell you? You’re the Bishop, and you’re thinking, Climate against raping kids. OK. You’re also thinking, He wants to tell me something.
Let’s see. What could it be? Maybe he didn’t pay his TV licence? Ah no.
OK then. Perhaps he stole some toffee-apples from a blind shopkeeper? No, Ted.
Right. Possibly he had two pints and drove home, the rascal? Nyet!
OK then. One last go. I know. I have it now: he knocked on a door and ran away! Ah-aaaaH!
Look, says Willie to this priest, I hope you’re not going to tell me anything about shagging kids, because if you do, I’ll have to tell the cops.
Father Con pauses for a second. Ah Jesus no, Willie. I was just going to say that I didn’t pay my TV licence, I stole a toffee-apple, I drove drunk and I rang a doorbell.
Right, says Bishop Willie. Off you go then.
Later on, Willie sent Fr Desmond to a shrink who said he was no danger to children.
That’s grand, says Willie. Carry on as a priest, visiting schools and hospitals, and blessing swimming pools. I’ll say no more about it.
Fr Con Desmond was recently convicted of sexually abusing a child in 1982.
As I said, Bishop Willie Walsh is probably the best of them. Imagine what the rest are like.