Former Bishop used to cry after meeting abuse survivors

By Mark Hilliard
Irish Times
April 16, 2016

Retired Bishop Willie Walsh said he believed many abuse survivors had no one to talk to about their experiences. File photograph

Retired Bishop Willie Walsh has said he used to sit and cry in the aftermath of meetings with survivors of church sex abuse.

Admitting he did not in the beginning fully grasp the extent of the damage caused by abuse, the former Bishop of Killaloe said he found it very distressing to hear the experiences of those who suffered.

But, he acknowledged, he could rely on the ability to discuss the issues and their impact with others whereas this had not always been possible for survivors.

In a wide ranging interview on the Marian Finucane Show on RTÉ radio, publicising his book “No Crusader”, Bishop Walsh said he had spent more time crying as a bishop than during his life beforehand.

“I found the dealing with the whole issue of child sexual abuse and meeting victims, I found it really distressing and at times I just sat when they had gone, I just sat down and cried,” he said.

He had the support of advisors from the child protection committee with whom he could discuss the issues.

“I often felt that very often the survivor of abuse went away and maybe had nobody to talk to. But I did find it very upsetting,” he said.

“The reality was that at that time it wasn’t known. The whole thing was hidden in secrecy.”

Even while being aware the sexual exploitation of anybody, particularly children, was wrong and sinful, he said he “didn’t honestly have the grasp of the damage that it did” or of the potential for people to reoffend.

“Psychiatrists didn’t have the grasp either,” he said.

As various scandals developed in the church, Bishop Walsh said he himself had to ask two colleagues to stand down from their ministries, a task he found very difficult.

“Now that’s not for a moment in any way, and I would hope that any survivor of abuse wouldn’t think that I am softening the seriousness of it,” he explained.

“But obviously everybody has a story. All of us have stories. And sometimes men who abused were abused themselves as children. That does not excuse it but at the same time who am I to say, if I were abused as a child could I have abused? I don’t know.”

Bishop of Killaloe from 1995 to 2010, and now Bishop Emeritus, he had always been outspoken, even from the moment he was notified of his ascendancy.

Having received a phone call from the nuncio, he recalled: “I felt that I owed it to him in honesty that I had some reservations about my suitability to be a bishop.

“I would have had some reservations down the years about some aspects of church teaching, particularly perhaps areas linked with sexuality.”

He felt the church was very judgmental on homosexuality and on family planning and as a young priest, he had hoped the revision of Vatican II would precipitate some change.

“It was quite a difficult time when we discovered that there was no change in the official teaching.”

This period, he felt, marked the first time when a very large proportion of people began to doubt official teachings – a “major turning point” for the church in the 20th Century.


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