A Tale of Three Cities by Brian Mark Hennessy
- An Archbishop’s Apology in Minneapolis, USA.
Reporting in the National Catholic Reporter (NCRonline.org.) , Brian Roewe (email@example.com) relates a story of events that resulted in a revision of a civil settlement concerning the sexual abuse of three minors by a diocesan priest. This event is notable for readers of this blog in that it has significant “dis-similarities” with the attitude of the Comboni Missionary Order of Verona, Italy, in relation to the manner in which allegations of child sexual abuse are best handled and how lessons must be learned.
The original charge had been served against the St Paul-Minneapolis Archdiocese – and the allegation was “a failure to protect children” on the part of the archdiocese in relation to three minors who had been sexually abused by a former priest, Curtis Wehmeyer. The charge against the archdiocese was made, Attorney Choi stated, because, “It was not only Curtis Wehmeyer who harmed children, it was the archdiocese as well – and today, through the leadership of the new permanent Archbishop, Bernard Hebda, that direct and public admission of wrongdoing has now been made.” The charge was thus amended to state:
“Curtis Wehmeyer was a priest in this Archdiocese. The Archdiocese admits that it failed to adequately respond and prevent the sexual abuse of three Victims. The Archdiocese failed to keep the safety and wellbeing of these three children ahead of protecting the interests of Curtis Wehmeyer and the archdiocese. The actions and omissions of the archdiocese failed to prevent the abuse that resulted in the need for protection and services for these three children.” Archbishop Hebda later stated publicly, “Today. We humbly acknowledge our past failures and look forward to continueing down that path to achieve those vital, common goals that together we all share. To the victims and survivors, the faithful and the entire community, we pledge to move forward openly, collaboratively and humbly, always mindful of our past. We will never forget.”
- How Priests of the Comboni Missionary Order Stood by and Watched Children Drown in Shallow Water in Mirfield, Yorkshire, England.
Stepping back in time to the Comboni Missionary Order’s Seminaries in England, some 18 boys allege that Priests of the Order (and lay staff employed by them) perpetrated some 1000 acts of sexual abuse against them – each act of abuse a crime in its own right – from the late 1950s to the early 1980s. They claim that eight priests of the Order, including the Provincial Superior and the Superior General of the Order were aware of the abuse – which had been reported to them by the Victims on 23 occasions and by parents of Victims on 3 occasions. Apart from the statements of the Victims, some 50 further witnesses have provided statements. In addition 5 statements were made to the West Yorkshire Police who subsequently determined that crimes had taken place. Unsuccessful attempts on a number of occasions have been made to extradite the one living priest against whom crimes are alleged. Three living priests of the Order are known historically to have been aware of the abuse, but currently they have sought to deny it.
In respect to Fr Valmaggia, who abused his office as the Infirmarian to molest countless seminarians, multiple incidents of abuse have been documented throughout the period from 1958 to 1967. Ten reports of that abuse are known to have been made during the period 1966 to 1968. It was not until 1969 that any action was taken against Fr Valmaggia, at which time he was moved within the UK Province to the Novitiate at Sunningdale in Berkshire before later being incardinated to a Parish in the Diocese of Como, Italy. Needless to say, the abuse that took place after the first known report in 1966 could have been avoided if action had been taken by the Comboni Missionary Order at that time. No action was taken and, consequently, further crimes of sexual abuse, that could have been averted, were perpetrated unnecessarily against seminarians who were minors.
In respect to Fr Pinkman, who displayed the classic symptoms of a predatory paedophile, multiple incidents of abuse have been documented in the period from 1964 to 1967. Eight reports were made throughout the period from 1965 to 1968. Again, it was not until 1969 that action was taken against him – when he was transferred within the UK Province to Westminster. Subsequently, Father Pinkman was sent to the Missions in Palestine.
In respect to each of the two priests above, no Inquiries appear to have taken place. No Victims at Mirfield were invited to give accounts. No reports were made in 1969 to the Local Constabulary regarding the allegations of his crimes against minors and nor were Welfare Authorities advised. No reports were made to the Vatican Curia under the terms of Canon Law that required it.
In respect to Father Romano Nardo, a paedophile who committed masochistic and macabre sexual crimes veiled in religious overtones, multiple incidents of abuse took place in 1970 during which time he managed to ingratiate himself into the homes of some of his victims and abused them there also. His “cumuppance” took place when one Victim was seen leaving Father Nardo’s room early one morning in 1969 by Father Luigi Cocchi (based at Mirfield from 1969 to 1973) who had seen the boy must have reported it – for father Nardo, who had been assigned for a short period to Mirfield to learn English, was transferred immediately to the Missions in Uganda. Only the Superior General has jurisdiction over postings to the Missions. It is certain, therefore, that the request for his earlier than scheduled and immediate movement to the Missions must have been notified to the Superior General – who then condoned it. Moreover, again, during the subsequent 27 years of Father Nardo’s Mission in Uganda he would have had unfettered access to minors. Again, no Inquiry to which any of his Victims were invited to give evidence was ever held. However, in the years of 1996/1997, the Comboni Missionaries held an internal inquiry to investigate the allegations of serious assault then made by Mark Murray. The Inquiry concluded that Father Nardo had, in masterful understatement, merely “acted inappropriately”. This was confirmed in a letter dated 17 May 1997.
The failure to take any action against the perpetrators of the abuse at that time – and their failure to report those crimes to the Police as they were obliged to do, constituted arrestable and imprisonable offences. Yet, those priests to whom abuse had been reported chose to do nothing at all and their criminal indifference and criminal inaction, which led to further crimes of abuse against more seminarians, was nothing less than the equivalent of watching those young, helpless Victims slowly drown in shallow water before their very own eyes simply because they did not want to feel the discomfort of getting their feet wet.
- How the Comboni Missionary Order’s Curia Threw Stones at a Victim of Clerical Sexual Abuse at Verona in Italy.
And so we come back to the present – and to Verona in Italy to where some months ago a Victim of the alleged criminal paedophile priest, Father Roman Nardo, had made a journey to seek some kind of understanding as to why he had been abused, to seek an apology and to offer forgiveness. This Victim had been cruelly abused at the Mirfield seminary – and it is realistic to say that since the time of that abuse in 1970 his life has been one of distress, confusion, consternation and despair. On a number of occasions he had asked to meet with his abuser, but such a meeting had been refused repeatedly by father Enrique Sanchez, the Superior General of the Order – who was more concerned with the welfare of the paedophile priest that the Order harboured in its midst than the welfare of the suffering Victim. Ultimately, all members of the Order that the Victim contacted refused to meet with him or even speak to him. The Provincial Superior, Father Martin Devinish of the London Province, had even stated to him that if the Victim contacted him again, he would be reported to the Police for harrassment. The ex-Superior General of the Order, Father David Glenday, who is currently the Secretary General of the Union of all the 200 or so Male Religious Orders of the Catholic Church at the Vatican in Rome told him, “I will listen, but I will not answer you!”. Father Robert Hicks, who had been aware of abuse at Mirfield for decades, had said when contacted by the Victim, “I cannot talk to you because my dinner is going cold!”
So what happened to this Victim seeking dialogue, succour and understanding when he arrived at the Comboni Order’s Mother House in Verona, Italy? Well, he did meet his abuser, Father Nardo, in the Chapel of the Mother House. They spoke quietly for some five to ten minutes together. There were long periods of silence and much reflection. The Priest asked for forgivness for the lifetime of suffering that the abuse had caused to the Victim – and the Victim had forgiven his Abuser. To all intents and purposes, at that stage, the visit could have been gauged as a success – but the Victim had not anticipated what followed.
The Vice-Superior of the Mother House arrived and accused the Victim of trespassing on private property – albeit the Victim had walked through an open door and had spoken to the Receptionist and was shown into the Chapel to await the arrival of Father Nardo. The Vice Superior then said that he had called a lawyer and the Police – and as the Victim left to avoid any furtherconfrontation – the Vice Superior shouted after him that he was just a “Money-grabber”. Meeting the Superior of the House the next day, the Victim was told that he was never ever going to get an apology from the Order for the abuse (which he did not deny): “You will wait in vain!’ he was told. Then, incredulously, shortly after his arrival back in the United Kingdom, the Victim received a summons from the Criminal Court of Verona, Italy, and was indicted with three charges: “stalking and interference in the private life of the alleged criminal paedophile that had abused him as a child – and trespassing on the premises of the Comboni Missionary Order’s Mother House at Verona, Italy!”
Instead of the dialogue, succour, understanding and an apology from the Comboni Missionary Order that the Victim had hoped for, he was insulted and pelted with metaphorical stones by members of the very same Order who had failed to protect him and had watched him drowning in distress and confusion when he was a child in their care. Unlike the statement made by Archbishop Hebda in relation to the paedophile priest and the failures of the Archdiocese of Minneapolis, the unwritten statement by the Superior General and Curia of the Comboni Missionary Order appears to be:
“Romano Nardo is, and John Pinkman and Domenico Valmaggia were priests of this Order. The Order does not admit that it failed to respond and prevent any fabricated, alleged sexual abuse of the eighteen so-called Victims of these priests. The Order has categorically not failed to prioritise the safety and wellbeing of those eighteen children ahead of protecting any perceived interests of Romano Nardo, John Pinkman and Domenico Valmaggia or of the Order itself. There were no actions, nor omissions of the Order that contributed to any failing of the Order to prevent any alleged abuse – and, therefore, any need for dialogue, protection, apologies and services for these so-called victims are superfluous and unfounded. Today, we proudly proclaim that we did not fail in the past and look forward to continueing down our path of success to achieve our vital goals. To the alleged, dishonest, so-called victims and survivors, we pledge not to move forward openly, nor collaboratively and nor humbly, – and we will always behave as arrogantly as we have done in our past – which is to lend a deaf ear to their whining cries. We will endeavour to forget that any allegations against members of the Order were ever made. We will sue anybody who contradicts this statement. ”
Well – that’s how they do it in Verona Italy! Strange place – the Catholic Church. They haven’t really got it together have they! Unfortunately – this is not a bit funny – and I should not be flippant. The lives of eighteen children were ruined by the cold-hearted arrogance of this narcissistic, elitist, protectionist, so-called Christian Order of Verona, Italy – and yet, nobody in the Catholic Church – not a single Bishop in these British Isles – and nor the Vatican who are fully aware of the plight of the Victims of the Comboni Missionary Order – have ever uttered a word about this human tragedy.
Brilliant piece once again Brian. It seems to me that the Catholic leyity must uphold the Christian values while the clergy merely preach them .A classic case of do as I say and not as I do.
Your efforts to bring these matters to the attention of the order and church’s hierarchy are legendary as has been their response with only two exceptions that spring to mind.
Fr Charles has stepped up to the line on numerous occasions,but unfortunately a lone voice in the desert. If I was still a catholic Charles would give me hope that the church is moving with the times and has a useful place and purpose in the 21st century.
Fortunately or unfortunately I have lost my faith and now class myself as a humanist,that is I believe that human nature is intrinsically good and moral , what buggers it up is religion.
I wonder how many of us have lapsed?
By the way Charles gets my vote for the next pope or bishop at least
We fully support Mark Murray in his quest for justice and condemn totally the actions and lack of humility, honesty righteousness of the Fathers. If this abuse had been carried out by Joe Bloggs who would well have been in prison now instead we see Frs Pinkman and Nardo who were predartory abusers walk free because they had a white collar around their necks. I would also like to add that those who knew of these horrible acts and kept silent are just as guilty. For too long we have allowed these priests the freedom to ruin people’s lives. But no longer it is time we stood up to be counted. We too have left the Roman Catholic Church because of abuse and been told by an archbishop to be quiet. We are now Ecumenical Catholics and are no longer afraid to speak out.Mother Francesca FSBS And Sr. Peggy
Hi Degs…Don,t use phrases like”I have lost my faith,or “lapsed”.That gives the impression that “They” are right and that you are not good enough ..”They are the ones peddling fairy stories and brainwashing and filling children,s heads with tales of an invisible man in the sky whom you must love and at the same time fear..the exact definition of Sado-Masochism by the way…To quote the late ,great George Carlin..”I was a catholic until i reached the age of reason”..Bring the bastards before the courts like the dog- collorwearing Gary Glitters that they are but as for their philosophy and “beliefs”,,get rid of them as if you were brushing some dandruff from your shoulder