“THE BROTHERLY CARE OF PERSONS IN CERTAIN SITUATIONS”
(By Brian Mark Hennessy)
Call it euphemism, circumlocution or genteelism, the title of this tome is hardly what you would expect to find in a Religious Order’s Code of Conduct that deals with the subject of Child abuse. Nevertheless, that is exactly what it is – and if any reader is interested in studying it – I can make an analysis of this Code available to them. The Code was produced in 2005 by a committee of Comboni Missionaries headed by Father David Kinnear Glenday.
David was a good friend of mine when I was a young seminarian at the Comboni Missionaries’ St Peter Claver College in Mirfield, Yorkshire, England in the late 1960s. He is a Scot with a large sense of humour. I went on to the Novitiate at Sunningdale in Berkshire as I was more senior to David and I have not seen him since. After a couple of years, I left from there as I struggled to understand myself following incidents of continual sexual abuse by a priest over a period of two weeks when I was admitted to the infirmary at Mirfield – and then at Sunningdale being forced to witness meetings between a priest of the Order and a nun of a nearby convent as they expressed their love for each other – playing “footsie” beneath the table and holding hands over the table at which I also was required to sit. David, to get back to him, became the Provincial of the London Province, the Superior General of the Order and is now the General Secretary of the Union of the two hundred or so Superiors General of male Orders of the Catholic Church at the Vatican – and he is also a member of a Pontifical Commission. He is doing fine, obviously, for now – but he has certainly changed since he was the lad I knew.
It was David who, as I have already said, headed the Committee that re-wrote the Code of Conduct. He may not have invented the shamefully euphemistic title of the section dealing with matters of child sexual abuse in the Code, but he certainly was responsible for perpetualising its existence. The Code as a whole has some 24,000 words. I read it carefully and produced an analysis of the language and discovered that there was a problem of imbalance within the overall text. For example, it used the word “Truth” on just 10 occasions, but it used the word “Scandal” – in the context of avoiding it – 19 times. “Truth” and “Scandal” are hardly compatible bedfellows in the same context. It uses the word “Sin” on 47 occasions, but in all the 24,000 words of the Code, the word “crime” is not used even once. That is a remarkable omission in the context of the fact that within that Code of Conduct there is a very full chapter that deals with Child Abuse – which in international law is a “crime”. Indeed, in the document entitled, “The UN Convention Against Torture”, child abuse is described as a “form of torture on account of its cruel, degrading and punitive nature” – and the Vatican has accepted that definition. I cannot help but note that, in the context of child abuse, that “crime” may be a “sin” in theological terms, but in a document that deals with “child abuse”, the word “crime” should be used to describe it. Steeling sweets is a “sin”. Stealing innocence is a heinous, inhumane and depraved “crime”.
Why do I mention this now? Well, in the past week we have heard two people, who in my book have considerable dignity and moral authority within the Vatican, discussing this very matter of “sin” and “crime”. They came at the subject from different starting points and appeared to be saying opposite things. They were not, in fact, I am certain of it, but the problem is that those listening – who live in opposite camps of a great divide on the subject of how “clerical child abuse” should be managed in the Catholic Church – might be able to draw the conclusions that they wish for, rather than those intended by the speakers. I will explain.
Marie Collins is an Irish laywoman and a member of the Pontifical Council for the Protection of Minors. Marie is also an abuse survivor and is confident, where some others are not, that the Commission, under the guidance of Cardinal Archbishop O’Malley of Boston is on the right track. Marie admits that they have not won all the battles that they had wished for. One such example is the disinclination of Pope Francis to authorize the establishment of a tribunal to judge whether or not negligent bishops, in the matter of managing child sexual abuse, should be dismissed. In an interview with the National Catholic Reporter, Joshua McElwee, Marie expressed some reservations about whether or not new powers to be given to the Curia Congregations would actually lead to more accountability. Where Marie was more hopeful was in the matter of advice given to new Bishops attending formation courses at the Vatican. These meetings presented the chance, Marie explained, to impress upon these new bishops from around the world “the importance of treating a perpetrator (of child sexual abuse) – not just as a sinner – but as a criminal who is a danger to children” – and that these criminals do not only harm their victims, but the entire Church around the world.
I believe that Marie was expressing the convictions of the whole Commission on these matters and what she said was most astute – for it reflects most specifically that the Bishops and Orders of the Church – like the Comboni Missionary Order of Verona Italy – show no balance in their treatment of clerics who abuse children. They smother abusing clerics with copious pious filial love whilst protecting them from the allegations of the Victims against whom the abusing clerics committed crimes. They seek to avoid – often at considerable length and cost – the criminal justice processes to which the Victims are entitled. Some, such as the Comboni Missionary Order of Verona, Italy, have even attempted to defame a Victim in the Courts with criminal charges in the recent past – in their extreme anxiety to protect the Abuser from the criminal processes that the “World” demands. The Catholic Church, despite what some of its adherents seem to believe, cannot appeal to an extraterrestrial body in the basic human rights matter of child sexual abuse. Yes – forgive the cleric of their sin if he or she is contrite – but yield the cleric up to Civil Justice procedures to pay the human price that the civil legal jurisdictions of the world demand for a crime. During the process of a trial and after – yes – assist the cleric spiritually if the cleric wishes – but they have no right to protect the cleric from that process. Should they seek to protect the cleric – they also condone the crime – and that is what the Comboni Missionary Order have done: a series of their Superior Generals – from Glenday to Sanchez to Tesfaye – have condoned crimes of child sexual abuse by protecting the alleged criminal from justice.
I said there were two persons of singular dignity and moral authority at the Vatican who, in the last week, had approached this matter of sin and crime from opposite ends. The second was Pope Francis. This last week he said, “Judging and Condemning a brother who sins is wrong. Be merciful, just as your Father is merciful. We do not have the power to condemn a brother that errs”. Now – it would be very easy, but categorically wrong, for some eager clerics to extrapolate from that statement that, for example, it was merciful and therefore, quite right to protect an alleged paedophile priest from justice because he had already expressed sorrow for his sins. If they do believe that – they are simply kidding themselves! That is not what Pope Francis is saying at all, but he does go on to say that “Mercy expresses itself above all in forgiveness”. Again – Pope Francis is not talking specifically about the forgiveness that a Confessor imparts to a Sinner confessing. He is talking about the forgiveness by a Victim of a transgression to the very person who had transgressed against that Victim.
That leads me to reflect for a moment on the recent visit to Verona in Italy of Mark Murray, an alleged Victim of a priest, Father Romano Nardo of the Comboni Missionary Order. Mark Murray went to see his abuser at the Verona Mother House in order to understand why the priest abused him as a 14 -year-old child. He spoke quietly in the Chapel with the priest, alleged to have abused him, and that priest expressed his profound sorrow to Mark Murray – who then forgave him. That is the bountiful Christian mercy and forgiveness of which the Pope spoke.
The surprise reaction of the Comboni Missionary Order’s Superior General and Curia to Mark Murray’s visit to Verona, however, (not Father Romano’s reaction – as far as I am aware), was to allege three criminal acts against Mark Murray in the Verona Criminal Court: stalking, trespass and interference in the personal life of Father Romano Nardo. The Judge at the Tribunal Proceedings wanted to archive the allegations as they were insubstantial, but the Comboni Missionary Order insisted on an appeal against the Judge’s decision. At a subsequent hearing, the Judge threw out each of the charges stating there was no criminality involved at all in the visit of Mark Murray to his alleged abuser.
“The Christian must forgive”, the Pontiff has exhorted, “Why? Because he has been forgiven”. Mark Murray showed himself to have Christian virtues by forgiving Father Nardo. Contrary to what Pope Francis was saying, however, the Comboni Missionary Order has sought, for two decades, to protect the Alleged Abuser from rightful Justice – and now mercilessly tried to trash the Victim. This surprise reaction of the Comboni Missionary Order to try to defame a Victim of child sexual abuse, Mark Murray, with false criminal charges begs the question: To what creed do the Comboni Missionary Order adhere? Their actions are most certainly not within Christian traditions and teaching – and I sincerely doubt that Pope Francis would approve of their false, defamatory and vindictive actions. Somebody at the Vatican needs to do something about these errant priests.