Mark Murray in Verona
By Brian Mark Hennessy
In his final paragraph of his narrative at Santa Marta in 2014, His Holiness, Pope Francis said, “Jesus comes forth from an unjust trial, from a cruel interrogation and he looks in the eyes of Peter, and Peter weeps”. This is the reference to Peter who had thrice denied that he knew Christ – and the cock crowed as Christ had foretold that it would. That Cock continues to crow within the Catholic Church as clerics obfuscate, as secrecy covers the truth, as the avoidance of scandal denies justice, as Victims like Christ himself are falsely accused, ill-used, have suffering upon suffering heaped upon them by a sometimes un-Christian, malicious priesthood which is akin to that of the Pharisees and Saducees who were bent on preserving their hierarchical dominance, their self-deception of moral superiority and the comforts of their “way of life”. Peter wept for his sins of denial and gained Redemption. Yet, there will be no Redemption for those clerics of the Catholic Church who continue to deny the sexual abuse of children in their care.
The Comboni Missionary Order of Verona, Italy, have been severely wounded by the accusations of numerous incidents of sexual abuse of minors by clerics of their order – yet they show none of the repentance of Peter. They have not yet taken the trouble to undergo the rigorous and painful self-examination necessary to grow morally and spiritually enough in order to accept the reality that members of their Order abused kids and that they knew about, did nothing about it – and have concealed it and denied it ever since. The psychologist, Mary Gail Frawley-O’Dea, puts it well: “The earliest response of the (Church) institution is to preserve its long-held identity as a source of goodness and godliness. Yes, its leaders acknowledge in a vague way that of course there is sin within the church, but the sense is always that sin is somehow a general thing and not assigned to specified actors in the church drama. I sin, you sin, we all sin is an implied mantra that attempts to diminish the criminality and evil of priests who sexually violate kids, and of bishops (and religious Superiors) who protect perpetrators and cover up abuse. Church officials lie, deny and project blame on victims, on parents of victims, on a sexually liberated and sexualized culture, on bad apple priests, on the ’60s and on the media. They can see the enemy and it is not them”.
A British Admiral, famously, once put a telescope to his blind eye and announced, “I see no ships!” and he then proceeded to disobey his orders. The Comboni Missionary Order in their cruel, moral blindness have claimed, “I see no Victims!” and they have then proceeded to ignore every moral creed, Church Canon, Civil Law, obligations to the Bishops’ Conferences of the British Isles, their undertakings to Safeguarding Practices and their very own Code of Conduct. Their Redemption, that can only be gained through Gospel-inspired humility. Yet any repentance on their part is a far distant hope, as the following tale witnesses:
A meeting between Mark Murray, one of many Survivors of clerical sexual abuse at the Comboni Missionary Order’s Mirfield seminary, Yorkshire and his Abuser, Father Romano Nardo, had always been denied by the Superior Generals of the Comboni Missionary Order, but Mark never gave up on the possibility of the chance of achieving an understanding as to why the abuse had taken place – why this man who had so befriended him as a child – had then cruelly betrayed his trust and destroyed his innocence. Thus in April 2015, Mark Murray took it upon himself to journey from North Wales to Verona in Italy in a final attempt to confront his Abuser. Mark has been in trauma for the most part of his life. For his own peace of mind Mark needed to know “Why?” this priest, who had already admitted that he had taken the boyhood Mark Murray to his bed, had committed the long series of sexual crimes against him. He knew those crimes had taken place – because they happened to him – and the details of the abuse recurred constantly in his mind. Since Mark had first made the allegations of abuse, the Order had brought Mark’s abuser back from Uganda investigated the allegations and then confined him to the Mother House of the Order for some two decades so that he had no further contact with children – and that priest had accepted his confinement without apparent complaint. It can be logically deduced the neither such confinement by the Order nor acceptance of it by the abuser would have been reasonable behaviour if there was not good cause!
As Mark Murray arrived at the Verona Mother House, he walked through the open gateway and up the path and then straight in through their first set of sliding doors. There he asked the receptionist if he could go and pray in the chapel; she said that he could – and opened the next set of doors and pointed him in the direction of the chapel door. He entered the chapel and walked around it and then sat at the back on one of two chairs. He composed himself and then decided “This is it!” and that that was the moment he needed to face Father Nardo. So he went back to the receptionist and, using the name of Christophoro, the Italian equivalent of his third name, he asked her to see Padre Romano Nardo. He listened as the receptionist was speaking on her intercom and announcing to Father Nardo that Christophoro was here in the chapel. Whilst Mark was sitting there in the chapel, he was crying in his heart, not knowing what to do. Father Nardo was on his way and he was afraid of losing his courage at the last moment. Then the sound of a cuckoo, and the yaffing call of a Green Woodpecker distracted him, calmed him and gave him strength.
When Father Nardo entered the room, he looked at Mark Murray in complete shock. Then, after a few seconds Mark said, “ Do you remember me?” Father Nardo appeared unable to speak and initially stood in silence, saying nothing, but then mouthed inaudibly the word “No” and so Mark said “I am Mark Stephen Christopher Murray.” There was no response from the priest, who then sat down next to his unexpected visitor. The two remained there, side by side in silence, for a long time – each struggling to recall the events of the sordid past that they had experienced together. “Do you remember Mirfield?” Mark persisted. “Look at me! Look at me! Can you look at me?” After a while, Mark then said, “Do you realise what effect the abuse you did to me has had on my life, my wife’s life and my children’s life? You abused me. I spent many years thinking I would wake up one morning and start abusing children because I was abused by you.”. Father Nardo got off his chair and knelt on the floor mumbling : “If it is my fault that you bear a heavy cross, I believe I should ask the Lord for forgiveness, for having erred. I’m sorry. I’m very sorry. If what happened in your life was caused by me and if what you are saying is true, I am truly sorry and ask for forgiveness”. Mark Responded, “I came here to forgive you”. Mark Murray then told Father Nardo to get the Superior or someone in authority. Father Nardo left the chapel. Mark waited for about ten minutes and as Father Nardo had not returned, he went outside and discovered Father Nardo walking up and down the corridor. He was on his own and then another man appeared. Mark noticed that he was a member of the Order, but he recollects that this man had more the manner of a “Security Official” than a cleric. The “Official” could not speak English and so Father Nardo had to translate what Mark was saying to him. It was a surreal experience Mark later remarked. Mark asked the “Official”, if he knew who he was. Nardo translated and , yes, the “Official” knew his identity. The two clerics argued then about how Mark had managed to get in the house and why Father Nardo had come down to see him. Soon after this, Mark left saying that he would be back the next day to speak to Father Sanchez. As it was stated then that Sanchez, the Superior General, was in Rome, Mark said, “Get him to fly back from Rome. Get the Superior of this house here tomorrow. I will be back”. He left, shaking, crying and struggling to retain his self control.
The next day, Mark returned to the Verona Mother House of the Order and he was let in. This time a different Priest arrived who said that he was the Vice Superior of the house. He was surly in his manner and Mark was already on his guard for an unpleasant encounter. It was hot and Mark asked for some water. The response from the Vice-Superior was that there was no need for Mark to be there and he then threatened Mark with the Italian law of trespass for being on private land. When Mark asked the priest if Father Nardo was there, the priest said that he was not. The priest again threatened Mark with the force of Italian law and in a game of semantics, the Vice Superior changed tactics and said words to the effect of, “Father Nardo is not here. You can see he is not here. He is not in this room. Can you see him?”. After further unsatisfactory exchanges, Mark turned to leave with the Priest calling after him in slanderous and defamatory words to the effect that Mark was just another “money grabber”. Mark said that he would return in the evening at 6.00 pm. The Priest told him that the Superior of the house, who was apparently in Bari in the South East of Italy, had decided to come back early to see him and Mark should be happy that he had decided to do so. Mark responded, “How dare you tell me when I can be happy”. The Vice Superior laughed in sardonic derision at Mark and smirked as Mark turned to leave.
Mark returned at 6.00pm as arranged and introduced himself as Mark Murray. The Vice Superior and the “Official” arrived and Mark was led into a side room where he was to wait. Mark asked for a glass of water and said that he wanted to see the Superior of the House and the Superior General, Enrique Sanchez. At that point the “Official” left. The Vice Superior remained in the room standing. He rubbed his eyes, refused to answer questions and distracted himself by fiddling with the door handle. Mark told him that he was the most arrogant man that he had ever met. The Vice Superior laughed scornfully and replied that Mark was the first person in all his 75 years of life that had ever told him that he was arrogant. The Priest had not liked that charge of arrogance. Mark noticed how mortified and taken aback he was and so he said to the Vice Superior, “You have no empathy, nor understanding about the psychological abuse you and your order continue to do to many men that were abused by your priests at Mirfield. How do you sleep at night?” The Vice-Superiors response was, “I sleep very well”.
The “Official” then returned with the message that it was not the Superior of the House that Mark needed to speak to, but the Superior General, Enrique Sanchez, who was in Rome. The Vice Superior and the “Official” then went outside and had a conversation in Italian. On entering the room again, the “Official” informed Mark that the Order’s legal representative was on his way. He arrived about 5 minutes later – obviously having been briefed of Mark’s presence beforehand. Mark left the room and asked the legal representative if he spoke English, but the man intimated that he did not. Mark repeated that he wanted Enrique Sanchez “to come here to Verona and tell him why he was harbouring a child abuser in the Verona Mother House”. They were taken aback by this charge and they countered by threatening Mark again that he had broken the Italian law on privacy by entering a private house – to which Mark responded that he had entered through an open door. They then said that Mark had broken a law by not using his full name, albeit “Christopher” was one of his names and presumably, he can use which of his names that he wants, and they said that they were now on the phone to the Carabinieri. Mark left.
The Superior General never came to speak to Mark, but the Superior of the House, who had cut his holiday short arrived back in Verona and a meeting was arranged for the next day. On arrival, Mark noted immediately that the Superior had a more relaxed manner than his deputy and he introduced himself as “John” and offered Mark coffee. Nevertheless, it was a relatively brief meeting and the outcome was not positive. Mark said, “I saw Nardo yesterday” and the immediate response from the Superior was, “You are not supposed to see him.” Mark asked, “Why not?” and the response was, “Because he is here for a special reason – he is not well and so he cannot see anybody. The only person you should be in touch with is Father General. Here we want privacy; we are sick persons. We do not want you to encounter anybody here. I do not know anything (else). The only thing I know is we do not want you to meet anybody here.” Mark then said, “I met Nardo here two days ago.” and the rejoinder from the Superior was, “You were not supposed to – he is not well.” The Superior continued and asked, “Do you know Father Martin Devenish?” Mark’s reply was , “Yes.” “You deal with him?” inquired the Superior. “I do not.” was Mark’s answer and he continued, “He threatened me with the police last time I spoke with him.” The Superior then moved the conversation again – on to the inevitable subject – and asked, “How can the institute apologise? For what?” “The abuse!” Mark responded. To that the Superior said, “I cannot say anything.” Mark’s reply was, “That is all I get. Everyone says to me, “I cannot talk (to you). The only person that has talked to me was Nardo. You are not talking to me!”. “(That is) because I have nothing to say,” was the Superior’s response. Mark was feeling frustrated at the lack of any substantive response and stated, “You have a man here in this house who abused children!” The Superior replied, “And he is taken care of.” Mark continued, “I came two days ago and he came down stairs to see me!”. The Superior replied blandly, “Somebody made a mistake.” The Father Superior continued, “Rather than concentrating on an apology you should look towards the future with a positive attitude. (Being) here will not help you in any way. So it does not pay for you to stay in Verona because you (will) not see anybody.” Mark responded, “I am here until I see someone who apologises.” The reply from the Priest was, “You will be waiting in vain.” At this Mark asked in exasperation, “Why are (the Comboni Missionaries) so frightened of apologising? You (only) say you will pray for me!” The pious rejoinder of the priest was, “There is nothing greater than prayer.”It was not what Mark wanted to hear and he said in a determined tone, “It has not helped me!” Then the final words of the Father Superior were, in the circumstances, a lame, “I hope it helps!.”
Mark realised that since his arrival nothing had changed. Their cold hearts remained frozen. Their ears were still deaf to cries for help and the need for suffering to be addressed. The Order’s denials to his plight had been re-stated with the same indifference that the Order had displayed for years previously. It had been demonstrably stated, in fact, that his needs were subordinate to those of the paedophile priest who had abused him as a child and who had scarred his life ever since. He had been offered not one word of comfort or hope. He had received none of the assurances he had been seeking. There was no breakthrough, no offer of apology, no reconciliation, just prayers and more prayers. In an unwilling moment of frustration, resignation and a sense of failure, he said a curt, “Goodbye!” and left. Mark thought to himself “More prayers!” He did not want their prayers. He had had enough of their prayers over the years. Their prayers were just a convenient and pious “cop out” that shirked their true responsibilities to the Victims of this world. Their prayers had not assuaged his anxieties and suffering. An apology, just might have been the start of a new beginning. An apology turned out to be a hope too far!
The meetings described above are worthy of comment for what happened was not just a chilling exposition of the arrogance and pitiless behaviour of clerics in our own age, but it was a role reversal of sorts. The former Victim had metamorphosed and was now a man of courage. He had arrived unannounced in the den of the Abuser and those protecting him and he had suddenly caught them off guard. The Abuser, Father Romano Nardo, could not look Mark Murray, the Victim, in the face. When people avert their gaze they pretend not to see what they have just seen and pretend not to realise what they have just realised. For a man accused of crimes, his mind would then have harboured the fear of losing, in the future, the things that he now has. Father Nardo was wounded by the meeting and in trauma. He had suddenly had to deal with the confusion that his self-deception of a lifetime had been a lie. He had thought this moment would never come and that his life-time of comfortable self-belief would have continued until he was committed to his grave. He had made an “if” apology, but what was that apology for? He had not conceded his guilt. That would have destroyed him totally and he was not able to endure that. So his “if” apology was not a specific apology for crimes committed, but it took the form of a vague and evasive comment which had no precise meaning. In those moments, he had been faced with a myriad of mental tasks to grapple with. His mind was unable to grasp control of the unexpected dilemma of his “guilt” for crimes and suffering. So, he must have wrestled in his mind with his options, which were to remain silent or to walk away.
The Vice Superior of the Order, who perceived himself to be the giant in his own cloister, was diminished in stature and displayed the apparent, unconcerned behaviour that many men demonstrate when they are faced with unexpected and disturbing odds that had not been previously encountered. He suddenly could not continue to play his role in the Order’s game of “deafness to the cries of victims” any more and his contempt for the abuse Survivor was akin to those pointless efforts that are made when someone of self-perceived esteem is confronted by a degree of strength and determination to which he is unused. Thus he sought to retain control by derision and by taunting the Victim of his Order’s neglect, insensitivity and indifference. There is another word for this kind of arrogance. It is called “Revictimisation”.
The Superior of the Order’s Mother House was more relaxed and pleasant to Mark Murray. However, his words were not what Mark had wanted to hear for what he said in effect was. “Go Home. You will get nothing from us. Buck up and get over it!”. That is not the sort of advice one would expect from a concerned and well-intentioned pastor, but more the language of someone who is totally disinterested in the person being addressed. This is important to note in the overall context of this document. Mark Murray is a Victim who has contemplated suicide. The Comboni Missionary Order know this as it is in his statement. In the United Kingdom, suicides amongst men of all ages have been increasing year on year and currently they account for almost 80% of all suicides. It has been deduced by substantial research that one of the most significant factors contributing to male suicides is the pressure of society on men to repress anxieties and get on with life. “Man up!”, “Grit your teeth”, “Grin and bear it” and “Get a grip” are the common expressions aimed at men anguished by a dilemma or problem. Thus what this research reveals is that a man’s induced inability to talk about his anxieties to another person and his failed attempts to manage those anxieties within himself is one of the main contributory factors of a male person’s suicide. In effect, therefore, the Comboni Missionary Order’s failure to accept any responsibility for the abuse of minors at their Mirfield seminary, coupled with their determined efforts to have no dialogue with Victims about it at all is a most damaging strategy. Mark Murray had arrived in Verona after many decades of suffering from anxieties about his abuse. He needed to talk about it. He had made many attempts to get a dialogue going and one by one they had refused to talk to him. That continuous failure of care of the Order that had at times been hostile, is what had forced him to make his trek to Verona unannounced. What happened? He was told to go away and sort it out himself. That is not just devastating revictimisation. For some, such disinterested denial of dialogue could be a “death sentence”.
Unknown to the Order, the Italian Media Company, La Repubblica, had expressed a wish to cover the story of Mark Murray’s visit to Verona to seek dialogue with his Abuser. A co-operation on the visit thus ensued betweeen them and was ultimately revealed to the Order. The subsequent actions of the Order in the days following this confrontation appears to demonstrate that they may have glimpsed the realisation that their game of denial was at an end and that a new unpleasant and unfamiliar reality called the exposure of the “truth” was rushing towards them with gathering speed. Soon, the exposure of a sordid history of lies and cover-up might mean that their control of their little Veronese empire might be at an end and that then only moral oblivion awaited them. Their arrogance and pride and false self-esteem, in which they had found such comfort, had become the harbinger that would foreshadow their own ultimate downfall. Their response to Mark Murray’s visit and their fear of exposure to the world at large was to try to scare him off. Thus they informed La Repubblica news outlet who was running the story of Mark’s visit to Verona, that they intended to sue Mark Murray on the grounds that:
- Firstly, they claimed that Mark had entered the Mother House using a false name to gain entry, albeit Christopher is one of his names and he can choose, presumably, whichever of his names he wishes to use.
- They claimed that he was drunk, because their lack of understanding and empathy failed to assist them in the realisation that what they were witnessing was not drunkenness, but the reactions of a man whom they had denied for two decades – and that this venture to seek an apology, truth and reconciliation had taken enormous courage and emotional control – and thus there had been a severe toll on him in terms of strain, agitation, frustration. foreboding and fear of both failure and a loss of courage.
- They claimed that his drunkenness had forced them to call the Carabinieri – albeit they told him that they had called the police because he was trespassing on private property. In respect to that claim of trespass that had been made by them, they appear to have neglected that he had walked through an open gate and an open door and talked to the receptionist, who then allowed him to enter the chapel and who subsequently called Father Nardo to meet him. Moreover, their claim of trespass was stridently false in relation not only to the first visit of Mark, but also for the remaining visits, because the Comboni Missionary Order had agreed for him to return for further meetings at specific times, which he had done.
- They claimed he might return and injure Father Nardo for which there was not a shred of evidence – for the two had sat in silence side by side in the Chapel for most of the visit and had exchanged only a relatively few quiet words.
- They claimed that Father Nardo had now been victimised and that Mark Murray was the persecutor, albeit Mark Murray was only asking for an apology, which is what a Victim would ask for and he did not make any threats. Father Nardo may have suffered “trauma”, but he was not the “victim”. He was the Abuser of the Victim.
- They claimed that Mark Murray and all the other claimants associated with him, were only trying to extract money from the Order, albeit Mark Murray did not mention the word “money” once, but what he did say was that he wanted an “apology”.
Before these events, Mark Murray was invited, along with two other survivors, by the Catholic Safeguarding Advisory Service to address a Conference in Rome that will be attended by the English speaking Bishops of the world and by professionals and experts in the field of Clerical Child Abuse. After his invitation was announced, the Comboni Missionary Order of Verona, Italy, have, through the courts of Verona, initiated prosecution proceedings for crimes that Mark Murray committed against Father Romano Nardo and the Order whilst he was in their house in Verona. The journalist, Marco Ansaldo, who covered the original story in the Italian News outlet “La Repubblica”, has also been summoned. It seems that to save themselves from the difficult process of rigorous and painful self-examination, the Comboni Missionary Order of Verona, Italy, have decided to discredit both the Victim of Child Sexual Abuse and his Messenger.
As Mary Gail Frawley-O’Dea has said of Clerics of the Catholic Church who seek to conceal the sexual abuse of children, “I sin, you sin, we all sin is the implied mantra that attempts to diminish the criminality and evil of priests who sexually violate kids, and of bishops (and religious Superiors) who protect perpetrators and cover up abuse. Church officials lie, deny and project blame on victims, on parents of victims, on a sexually liberated and sexualized culture, on bad apple priests, on the ’60s and on the media. They have seen the enemy and it is not them!”
Well – the sexual abuse of children surely is a sin theologically, but it is also a crime – and covering up a crime and protecting paedophiles is complicity in the crime. The populations of the world understand that and civil institutions of the world acknowledge that in their legal systems. The Catholic Church and its Bishops and Religious Leaders cannot claim extra-terrestial exemption – and they will be brought to account – if not in the Law Courts that can impose sanctions – in the much more devastating Court of public opinion.