Priest Sex Trial: Church Pledges Support to Scandal-Hit Parishes

The Sentinel
February 8, 2012

'APPALLED': Archbishop of Birmingham, the Most Reverend Bernard Longley, centre, with his press secretary Peter Jennings, left, and Canon Timothy Menezes, Vicar General of the Archdiocese of Birmingham, at a press conference yesterday. Picture: Malcolm Hart

THE head of the Roman Catholic church in the West Midlands has spoken out about the "horrendous" sexual abuse committed by a former priest.

Bede Walsh has been found guilty of carrying out 21 sexual offences against eight boys when he served as a priest in churches across the Archdiocese of Birmingham, including in Cheadle.

After finding Walsh guilty of 18 charges of indecent assault and one serious sexual offence at Stoke-on-Trent Crown Court on Monday, the jury yesterday finished its deliberations to convict him of a further two counts.

Walsh, aged 58, will be sentenced on March 9 and has been warned a lengthy sentence is "inevitable".

The Archbishop of Birmingham, the Most Reverend Bernard Longley, yesterday said the "horrific" case had "shocked and appalled" him.

Walsh has not been able to work in the community as a Catholic priest since 2004 and will now be defrocked.

A special parish visit will be made to St Giles', in Cheadle, to speak to parishioners and offer support on Sunday.

Archbishop Longley said in a press conference in Birmingham: "I wish to make clear that Bede Walsh has not been in active ministry as a Catholic priest since 2004, before any of the allegations associated with this conviction were made.

"Because of the seriousness of the offences committed by Bede Walsh, I will begin immediately the process of laicisation, which will lead to his removal from the clerical state.

"This is an horrific case which has shocked and appalled me, and it has cast a shadow over the lives of many people: victims and their families, fellow priests, and also the people of the parishes where he has served."

Walsh was arrested for making and possessing indecent images of children in 2004 and convicted the following year.

His first two victims made their complaints in 2006 and the rest came forward between 2008 and 2011.

Walsh was charged with 27 counts of sexual abuse on boys aged between eight and 16 in the 1970s, 80s and 90s.

He was acquitted of six of the charges during his 10-day trial at Stoke-on-Trent Crown Court.

Archbishop Longley thanked the victims for their courage in bringing Walsh to justice.

He said: "These are horrendous crimes, and I first want to express my deep sense of shame at what has taken place.

"It is the most serious betrayal of trust. I also want to express my profound sorrow, and deep regret to each of the victims, then children, now adults, for the abuse perpetrated by Father Bede Walsh, whom they and their families trusted as a priest."

In a direct message to the victims of the offences, Archbishop Longley said: "I thank you for the courage that you have shown in giving evidence to the court in order that these crimes might be brought into the light of day.

"I realise that this has been an indescribably difficult and distressing time for you, your families and friends. I recognise these crimes can cause deep and lasting damage.

"It is my sincere hope that as a result of this conviction, and with the help of God, you will now be able to begin to take up again the rebuilding of your lives."

Archbishop Longley added: "My thoughts and prayers are with each of you and the members of your families at this particular time.

"My door is open to you, and I am willing to meet with you, individually or with members of your families. It is right that you have the chance to tell me how the actions of Bede Walsh have affected you, and I am ready and willing to listen."

Archbishop Longley also stressed the Archdiocese of Birmingham has worked closely with the police, will continue to do so and has policies in place relating to child protection.

The Catholic Church declined to say anything other than that contained in the prepared statement and did not answer questions asking why Walsh was not defrocked after his first conviction.

One church-goer said: "It is impossible to comprehend that Bede was still classed as a priest up to this week. He may have lost some of his duties but he was not de-robed even after the disgrace of his first court case.

"There has been a lack of leadership from outside of the parish. People are confused; was something already known by the powers that be in the diocese when he left Cheadle in 1999? Was he being looked after by the Church?

"He was always an eccentric man, but he had the town eating out of his hand.

"He had his own sweet shop and ran his own children's disco and no-one ever batted an eyelid.

"What a complex person that in one moment he might pull off a remarkable act of charity or preach so eloquently from the Bible, while in the next who-knows-what was going on behind closed doors."


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