A little more about the plight of Roman Catholics in St. Brendan’s Newfoundland who have been saddled with a convicted child molester as a part-time and potentially full-time priest.
St. Brendan’s is nestled in Cottel’s Island in Newfoundland’s Bonavista Bay. It boasts a population of approximately 170 souls, all Roman Catholic. There are 14 children in the one and only school, St. Gabriel’s. A doctor flies in every two weeks. The island is accessible by a 45 minute ferry ride from Burnside, Newfoundland. Click here for the google map
“Father Dino” is the parish priest at St. Gabriel’s Roman Catholic Church. Father Dino is Father Fernandino Villadiego, a Filipino priest ordained in 1993. Father Dino also serves in Gambo Newfoundland. He does not live in St. Brendan’s but arrives on Sundays to say Sunday Mass.
Father Dino was supposed to be leaving and returning to the Phillipines about a year ago. It was around this time that Father Michael Walsh, a convicted child molester, arrived in St. Brendan’s. The understanding of parishioners at the time was that Father Walsh was to take over after Father Dino’s departure.
When word got around that Father Walsh was a child molester many parishioners were upset. They did not want him at their church. Despite concerns of parishioners, Archbishop Currie (bishop of both St. John’s Newfoundland and Grand Falls) persisted and Walsh remained in St. Brendan’s.
Father Dino had health problems and/or passport problems of some sort. Whatever happened his departure was delayed and he apparently had surgery of some sort this summer. It is now anticipated that Father Dino will be leaving by Christmas. There is great concern that Father Walsh is about to become their permanent priest.
For the past year Father Walsh has assisted at Sunday Masses and ‘said’ weekday Masses on his own. It sounds as though he has also been hearing confessions.
Archbishop Currie has apparently said that Father Walsh could not offer the Sunday Mass on his own, but that he could do so if so requested on weekdays. He has done so on weekdays. He has also, I believe, offered Mass on Sundays on his own. However, there was also an instance in which Father Walsh was supposed to say the Sunday Mass – people complained – a deacon was brought in.
The Church rectory is behind the school. Father Walsh was allegedly not permitted to move into the rectory because of its proximity to the school. It is unknown who decided that he should not be living in the rectory.
Father Walsh was invited to an end-of- year school potluck and awards ceremony. Father Dino was not. Father Walsh attended the event.
Father Walsh lives/boards in a family home in St. Brendan’s. The word is that the lady’s daughter, who has small children and lives on the mainland, will not stay at her mother’s home when she returns to visit, this because she does not want her children around Father Walsh. The daughter and her children stay elsewhere.
Many parishioners are upset to be saddled with a clerical molester. Some will not attend church when Father Walsh is in the sanctuary. Others stipulated that they did not want him present in the church during their wedding Mass. Others have requested he not be present during the baptism of a child. Some, on the other hand, believe that Father Walsh has suffered enough and should be allowed to carry on his priestly functions in St. Brendan’s.
There is one strange story regarding a trip Father Walsh made to Toronto. This transpired sometime during the past summer.
Father Walsh apparently left by car for a trip to Toronto. No one heard from him for a week. Someone checked – Father Walsh never made it to Toronto. The word people got was that police found their priest sleeping on a park bench in Montreal. The understanding was that Walsh was disoriented and didn’t know where his car was. He had his wallet, but, he had no idea where his car was and had supposedly siad he was waiting for some nice lady to bring it to him.
Archbishop Currie allegedly flew a priest out to retrieve Father Walsh.
Later, when Walsh’s car was found, the car was shipped to Newfoundland. There are concerns as to who picked up the tab.
Some think it strange that, after this bizarre sorti, Father Walsh did not return immediately to St. Brendan’s but rather spent time in Grand Falls – then, suddenly, he was back in St. Brendan’s. There was never another word said about the Montreal incident, and Father Walsh apparently looked no worse the wear for his time on a park bench. There was some talk initially of Altzheimers, but seems no one takes that too seriously because Father Walsh regularly plays cards and Bingo without any problem.
Father Walsh has been in St. Brendan’s for more than a year. He still has Nova Scotia license plates on his car, and, in fact, just had his stickers renewed.
I wanted to pass those bits and pieces along. The situation in St. Brendan’s is a little different than in most communities. They are isolated. It is an extremely small community. They literally have nowhere else to go for Mass.
It is an outrage that Archbishop Currie has forced Father Walsh on these poor souls.
Enough for now,
This is a link to a pod cast of an edition of Rewind on CBC Radio with Michael Enright. Well worth a listen if anyone wants to get a sense of how some of the victims of priests in Newfoundland and their families have been affected not only by the abuse but by the response of the justice system and the people in their own communities. The focus is mainly on Brendan Foley and James Hickey.