GLEN Walsh was the whistleblower Catholic priest who died alone in a Newcastle church building in November, only weeks before he was due to give damning evidence at the trial of Archbishop Philip Wilson.
He took his own life, aged 55 – a priest who paid a devastating price for reporting Hunter paedophile priest Jim Fletcher to police in 2004, while the archbishop kept silent about what he knew.
“The church turned its back on Glen,” said his brother, John, only weeks after Wilson was convicted in Newcastle for concealing Fletcher’s crimes, in a case that made headlines around the world.
“My brother was a good priest but he was completely shell-shocked after what happened in 2004. He was a shattered man. I watched as he became a shadow of the man he once was,” John Walsh said.
Father Walsh’s family has broken the silence imposed by the Wilson trial to reveal the agony they experienced after his suicide. The priest died only months after Maitland-Newcastle Bishop Bill Wright issued an extraordinary message to Hunter Catholic priests on February 10, 2017.
The bishop urged clergy to welcome Father Walsh back to the Hunter region.
It was more than a decade after the priest was “perhaps sent to Coventry” to live in Sydney and the Central Coast after reporting child sex allegations about Jim Fletcher to police in 2004, Bishop Wright noted.
He became something of a whistle-blower and he encountered the opposition and ill-feeling that whistle-blowers often do.- Bishop Bill Wright about Father Glen Walsh
“What is important to realise is that, essentially, Glen did the right thing,” Bishop Wright wrote.
“When he returns to live among us... he should be welcomed. Those who disagreed with his actions in the past will, I hope, be able to acknowledge that Glen did what he believed to be right then, and what we know to be right now. He did it at considerable cost to himself, and that needs to be respected,” the bishop wrote.
John Walsh said his brother Glen was “happy with Bill Wright’s comments”.
“It didn’t undo all the things done to him but at least he could see a way forward.”
But Father Walsh’s family and friends remain devastated by his lonely death and appalled at the church’s treatment of a priest who was ordained in 1996 after qualifying as a primary school teacher in the 1980s.
“You were just too good for this earth. Our church has let you down, but they cannot hurt you anymore. Rest now mate,” wrote friend Alex Ajaka after his death.
John Walsh said his brother was deeply troubled in the period before his death because of the Wilson trial. It would have been the third time in five years that he would be required to give evidence about events in 2004 to a court or inquiry. He was shattered after being cross-examined by the church in 2013 at the NSW Special Commission of Inquiry about reporting Fletcher allegations to Wilson and former Maitland-Newcastle Bishop Michael Malone in 2004.
In his evidence Father Walsh alleged Bishop Malone told him to “F… off out of my diocese and don’t come back” after the priest said he was going to report allegations by a second Fletcher victim to police. Bishop Malone strongly denied the allegation. He also denied trying to dissuade Father Walsh from reporting to police.
But he acknowledged he was “fearful of the negative effects for Fletcher of a further victim coming forward” after initially believing Fletcher would “beat the charges” involving just one victim.
Bishop Malone described Father Walsh as “a fairly difficult kind of person to deal with and I felt that he was inserting himself into a situation where he may muddy the waters a little”.
In her final report in 2014 NSW Special Commission of Inquiry chair Margaret Cunneen, SC, said she could not be “comfortably satisfied” about what was said during the conversation between the two men, but the second victim’s evidence was “important to the ultimate conviction of Fletcher”.
In Newcastle Local Court on May 22 magistrate Robert Stone found that Father Walsh also phoned Archbishop Wilson about the second victim in April, 2004. While Wilson expressed shock about the Fletcher allegations when they were reported by victims or their families, “he did not express shock to Father Walsh”, Mr Stone said.
The archbishop’s “shock” was “not a genuine felt emotion”, Mr Stone said.
Father Walsh lived in a car for a period after leaving the Hunter in 2004.
John Walsh shared a house with him for six months as his brother struggled. The priest also lived in a friend’s garage. For years he worked on and off as a priest, a teacher and a chaplain.
John Walsh watched his brother’s health deteriorate. Father Walsh suffered a cancer scare, a heart condition, a near-death experience after having several tumours removed, a blood clot in his leg that travelled to his lungs and he endured many years of chronic pain.
“Glen suffered for years, and a lot of it was stress-related,” Mr Walsh said.
He said his brother was ostracised by some priests but supported by several. He relied on the support of some Hunter parishioners who remained close until his death.
During the years away from the Hunter Father Walsh won money in a lottery and bought a home on the Central Coast, but sent considerable sums to house and support the poor in an Indian community where he also worked for a time.
In his final years Father Walsh wrote a number of letters to Bishop Wright about his desire to return to the Hunter.
In his February, 2017 message Bishop Wright acknowledged “Glen has for some time expressed a desire to come home to the diocese” and “we waited around for too long on a prospect of accommodation that ultimately fell through”.
He also acknowledged that in 2004 “Glen had to act on his own” in reporting Fletcher to police.
“By doing so, he became something of a whistle-blower and he encountered the opposition and ill-feeling that whistle-blowers often do,” Bishop Wright told Hunter priests.
John Walsh said his brother “knew who to steer clear of and who to associate with” in the final months of his life.
He wept at the thought of his brother’s final days, where he expressed increasing agitation about the prospect of working in Taree as a priest for a week and being cross-examined at the Wilson trial.
“Our father reassured him that he just needed to give his evidence as he recorded and recalled it, but Glen said ‘I just want to be rid of all this’. Glen said to mum and me that he was not looking forward to having to go to court again. He had just had enough,” John Walsh said.
Despite Father Walsh’s agitation, his death shocked and devastated his family.
“It just totally ripped the guts out of me,” Mr Walsh said.
“My sister Trish and I will never walk into a Catholic church again. They stand up there and lecture us, but they say one thing and then they do something else.”
His brother’s funeral was conducted by one of several priests who had remained his friend. Tributes from many lay people and former students who loved and honoured Father Walsh were a source of real comfort, John Walsh said.
“Before this all happened, Glen was rock solid in the mind. If you saw him in 2000 he was a strong man, a confident man, but they placed him in parishes after they’d moved paedophile priests on. Glen heard a lot of things, saw a lot of things that just shattered him, but when he tried to speak about it with other priests they just shut up shop,” Mr Walsh said.
“Child sexual abuse is like a bomb going off, the damage is widespread and there’s many victims, including families and friends. None of them should have had to go through what they did.”
Lifeline: 13 11 14.
Sign up for our newsletter to stay up to date.