It has often been argued by supporters of Desmond Connell that he had been left to clean up the sins of the past and that he himself was relatively blameless. And there is indeed some truth to this. For instance, it was Connell who initiated the process to defrock two notorious Dublin paedophile priests, Tony Walsh and William (Bill) Carney, both of whom were subsequently convicted.
The sexual assaults on children of Walsh particularly were well known to numerous priests, monsignors and bishops, and yet none of them informed the civil authorities at the time. Even after the two priests were laicized, the information was kept secret, a decision by Archbishop Connell which was to have tragic consequences.
In 1995, a full three years after his defrocking, Walsh turned up to a funeral mass in full clerical garb. The celebrating priests had no idea that he was no longer a priest or that he was a serious danger to children. At the meal after the funeral, Walsh ingratiated himself with the family and then cornered the 11-year-old grandson of the deceased in the toilets, where he sexually assaulted him.
The distraught child immediately told his parents, who reported the assault to the Garda. Walsh was prosecuted and convicted. However, the Dublin Archdiocese never shared the wealth of knowledge it possessed of Walsh's crimes against children with the investigating Gardaí, either in this or in a subsequent case against Walsh in the late 1990s.
So, while Connell did take some action against a handful of criminal clerics, it was confined to internal sanctions. The law of the land was not considered relevant, and evidence of criminality was kept hidden from the civil authorities. This pattern of obsessive secrecy, combined with a decidedly hostile approach taken to victims who came forward to complain, are the hallmarks of Connell's tenure as Archbishop of Dublin. Both the secrecy and the hostility were calculated to keep hidden the practice of moving child abusing priests from parish to parish as soon as complaints were made about them. ‘Cardinal Secrets' detailed numerous examples of this, with often the parish priest left in ignorance about the criminal activities of his new priest, who frequently volunteered and was permitted straight away to take charge of alter boys or local schools.
It is a pattern that has become sickeningly familiar across the various dioceses of the country, and indeed the world. What will be most shocking about the report of the Dublin Commission is the enormous scale of what it will document. Among the largest dioceses in the world, Dublin is likely to emerge as one of the greatest conspiracies against justice within the Catholic Church today.