|Convicted Priest Poses No Threat to Parish, Archbishop Says
By Steve Bartlett
October 5, 2010
A St. Brendan’s resident fears the Catholic parish there will soon be taken over by a priest convicted of sexual abuse almost 20 years ago.
But the head of the Archdiocese of St. John’s says that’s not going to happen at St. Gabriel’s Roman Catholic Church.
“There’s no way will he ever be given any responsibility for any ministry on St. Brendan’s or anywhere else here in Newfoundland,” Archbishop Martin Currie told The Telegram.
“Take that to the bank.”
The priest in question is Father Michael Walsh, who is originally from the small community at the tip of Cottel’s Island, Bonavista Bay.
In 1991, he pleaded guilty to sexually abusing teenage boys in central Newfoundland.
Currie explained Walsh entered a rehabilitation program after the plea and later studied to be a hospital chaplain.
The priest served with the veteran’s unit at the Victoria General Hospital in Halifax until last year, when he returned to St. Brendan’s.
Currie said Walsh was told at the time not to reside in the parish house in St. Brendan’s or to “exercise any type of ministry.”
The archbishop added he didn’t think there’d be a problem because Walsh would be living with family.
But the priest’s presence has sparked some anxiety in the small community.
The concerned resident, speaking on the condition of anonymity, expressed concern Walsh would take over the parish because the current priest is leaving.
Reiterating Walsh will never be given that responsibility, Currie said three new priests are about to arrive and one will look after Gambo, Culls Harbour and St. Brendan’s.
The resident also questioned Walsh’s involvement in Mass, saying the priest had helped with services until recently. There were also concerns about his attendance at a school dinner.
Currie said Walsh was told he could sit with the other priest during services. As for him attending the school event, the archbishop said, “I can’t control him from going to a concert. That’s a civic event.”
According to the resident, St. Brendan’s has been divided over Walsh’s presence since a letter about the priest was published in The Weekend Telegram Sept. 18.
“When this came out in the paper, there were some people that did say, ‘Oh my God, hasn’t he suffered enough? Like, leave the poor man alone.’ Those were the kind of people I felt like smacking.
“Then you’ve got other people who say, ‘If this happens, if he’s still involved in the parish, then I’m cutting off. I’m not supporting the parish anymore.’”
The resident said others are anxious, but they’re not going to speak up because St. Brendan’s is such a small place.
Currie says he’s heard from a couple of residents and he’s taking measures to quell concerns.
He’ll visit the community Friday, to hear people’s concerns and celebrate Mass.
“What’s happening, and the sadness of it is, it’s tearing the community apart,” the archbishop said. “That’s what I’m trying to avoid. There’s no question. He’ll never be parish priest. He’ll never exercise any ministry. I may even tell him he’s not even to go to church anymore out there.”
But the St. Brendan’s resident is a little wary about Currie’s visit, saying the archbishop will meet with people one on one but many people will be reluctant to show up for fear others will see them or spot their car.
A public meeting would be more appropriate, the resident suggested.
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