THE DISADVANTAGE OF PLAYING THE LONG GAME AND THE CRIMINAL AND SHAMEFUL CONDUCT OF THE COMBONI MISSIONARY ORDER OF VERONA, ITALY
(By Brian Mark Hennessy)
It goes without saying, that in matters of “concealment” playing the “long game” requires a strategy. If the latter is missing, it can go horribly wrong. The most fundamental difficulty with such a venture, especially if you are trying to conceal a matter of “guilt” or “complicity” for which there is evidence, is that one day your calumnious version of the “truth” may suffer from a very nasty shock called “exposure”. So the lie that you are trying to conceal, perhaps for as long as eternity, had better look like the “rock solid truth”. Lies will come back to haunt you if they are carelessly wrapped in the need for constant “denial”, impenetrable silence or the fog of obfuscation. Fog, you probably know quite well, has a habit of disappearing as quickly as it descends – and silence can easily be obliterated by a torrent of chatter. A well-planned strategy in the game of concealment may work for a while, but it might also unravel much faster than you could ever have envisaged possible. That is because in “time”, even a very long time, not you, but your successors, who know of the “calumnies” that once hid your denials of the “truth”, may not consider that it serves “their long game” to preserve “your long game” any longer. There is also that outside chance that an unexpected and unforeseen occurrence may devastate the walls and foundations of your well-structured, seemingly “impregnable” strategy. Concealment can be a very wearisome, protracted and messy game of uncertain and often complex, entangled outcomes. That is why initial, humble admissions of the truth are always the safer course as they ensure a speedy, albeit sometimes grubby, termination of the issues. Yet, this most simple and obvious of facts remains routinely ignored.
Forgive the long convoluted preamble, but most readers will have experienced that there are many examples of concealment in the history of great institutions that, in the course of time, the new faces on the block have sought either to downplay or to admit. Their tendency is to “bare their breasts” of an institution’s past sordid events when most of the original players in the transgressions and the subsequent, inevitable “cover up”, have disappeared into anonymity by being deceased or replaced. The trick for the new “honest” regime is to be able to “wash their hands” of the events by saying “Well, look, chaps, I am being honest about the facts, but I wasn’t around at the time. It was that inexcusably rotten lot of misguided liars before me who dunnit!” This strategy usually works quite well because at the moment that the stark, but unsurprising, truth is divulged, nobody will be around to carry the can. Most importantly (and the major benefit of a successful long game) is that nobody is around to claim damages from them either. It is assumed at that moment that everyone wins because the truth is “out” and some sort of fabricated apology has been made. In fact, it is only the institution itself that wins because they earn reputational points for being good guys! Everyone else is dead. Well, that is the theory, but does it always work well in practice?
Not always – because there is such a notion as the long term “reputation” of the institution to be considered! Moreover, any institution that repeatedly finds itself in the situation that it has to humble itself and apologise for its grievous and often hideous past crimes begins to look distinctly like an infamous den of atrocious sadism and chronic corruption. A brief look at a few examples from the recent annals of the Catholic Church can well illustrate incidents when the common-place long term Catholic strategies of denial were eventually exposed, or perhaps put more aptly, were “extracted” from them with all the pain of a dentist’s wrench. I do not have to go into much detail to illustrate the point. We all now know of the horrors of the Magdalene Nuns’ factory workshops that incarcerated women in regimes of forced labour in Ireland. We have heard in just recent years of the notorious complicity of Catholic priests and Nuns in Spain in the trade of selling off new born babies, reported to their mothers as “still born”, in order that those babes could be brought up as young Fascists of the Franco Regime. The abuse, by forced castration, of young choir boys to provide for the once fashionable castrati in the Catholic Church, even early in the last century, is another case of attempted cover up of an obscene and cruel practice. Indeed, I am a witness to this practice because one of my school fellows at St John’s Cathedral in Portsmouth was an acknowledged castrato at a time well beyond all the voices of the rest of us had raucously broken – and a century after the Vatican asserted that the practice of castration to produce castrati had ceased in the 19th Century. Nevertheless, despite denials, the Catholic Church forced castration of boys did not end there. A more sinister case of castration was ordered by Church authorities of the young sixteen-year-old Amsterdam boy named Henk Heithuis (1935-1958) who was in care at a Catholic Order’s school for boys. There Henk was abused by a priest – and when he complained, he was labelled as a homosexual and accused of seducing the priest. He was sent, subsequently, to a Catholic psychiatric unit and there he was brutally castrated as a treatment for his “perceived” homosexuality – and then discharged whilst still suffering from the resultant very serious psychiatric and medical conditions. Thus, despite what appear to be the Vatican’s current efforts to reform, at the very mention of the “Catholic Church”, the words “cruelty, chronic and endemic corruption” effortlessly rush to the forebrain’s of a goodly proportion of the World’s population. The restoration of “reputation” is the very longest game of all the “long games” – and whilst the Catholic Church continues to add shame upon shame, they will permanently remain a geological eon away from achieving it.
The list of abject cruelty is truly interminable, but to it, we must add the rampant, sordid, historical and omni-present crime of child sexual abuse in the Roman Catholic Church. It is a history of grim proportions and multitudes of victims, both living and dead, who have never had justice and never been able to bear witness to their personal tragedies. Instead, those victims have borne the brunt of downright lies, denials, obfuscation and silence by both those who abused them and those who covered up the abuse in order to save their own arrogant, narcissistic clerical institutions from widespread condemnation. We must not forget to mention, of course, that it is also in order to save themselves from litigation for compensation. What the institutions of the Catholic Church have not even started to achieve is the salvation of their reputation, but even that, in time they believe, will mend and by then they hope that the strategy for the “long game” will have reached its planned conclusion.
So it is, that even today, such victims whose lives have expired by age and illness and stress and suicide, continue to pass on to another world of perpetual silence. They can speak no more. That is also a much anticipated outcome of the “long game” strategy of the eternal Catholic Church. They know that every Victim is a temporary phenomenon and their accusers will, in time, accuse no more. They also believe that the names of the cruel, abusing clerics will likewise fade into history and be of no further concern nor embarrassment to them. They think, happily, that all will be done and dusted and put to eternal rest by “Old Father Time”. Yet, there are unforeseen exceptions to this general rule. Notably, one such exception is the case of the sexual abuse of child seminarians by Comboni Missionaries at their Mirfield seminary. The latter institution’s vain and forlorn hopes of future anonymity for all concerned will, most surprisingly for the Combonis perhaps, not come to pass. Why is that?
Well, I did warn above of the possibility of an unforeseen intrusion in the strategy of the Order’s “long game” that might just shake their walls sufficiently to set them tumbling down. In fact, it has already happened to a significant degree, but the Comboni Missionary Order of Verona, Italy, have probably not heard of any rumblings just yet. The rupture of the Combonis’ long term strategy has been a silent event which, contrary to all their anticipations, will have an increasing impact as time passes. The cause of the rupture is that someone, not even directly involved in the events that the Combonis have sought to conceal “ad infinitum”, has devised their own “long game’ with an indestructible strategy – and it is called the “Government Independent Inquiry into Child Sexual Abuse in the United Kingdom”. We all know, of course, that this Inquiry, which has been constituted, fundamentally, to learn lessons for the future safety and care of children, has had a rocky start. Some even dare to hope that it will never get back fully on to the rails. I doubt that that hope will ever come to pass. Yet, apart from the slow-starting Inquiry itself, the UK Government has already established another totally separate “long game” – and that is called the “Truth Project”.
The strategy here is that Victims and Survivors of and Witnesses to Child Sexual Abuse are able to commit to perpetuity the events that they have suffered at the hands of named Child Sex Abusers and Institutions. The current estimate of those who have made testimonials to the Truth Project is vast. Some 30,000 statements are projected in the medium term and it is envisaged that this may rise to 300,000 ultimately by 2020. These testaments relate to events which have been covered up, glossed over, disguised, concealed and hidden by Institutions. Amongst those Institutions of the Catholic Church that were obliged, but failed to protect and care for victims when they were children, is the Comboni Missionary Order’s Seminary at Mirfield, Yorkshire, England. I and many other ex-seminarians of that establishment at Mirfield have already submitted witness statements to this Truth Project. By doing so, the “long game” of the Comboni Missionary Order’s silence and obfuscation has been monumentally eclipsed by the “much longer game” of the very Victims of their abuse and cover up.
When I die, presumably at some time in the next decade or so, my Witness Statement will still be there in the annals of the Inquiry for all to see. Whilst I may not see justice in my life time and nor even the meanest admission of sorrow for the abuse that I suffered from the Catholic Order of Comboni Missionaries, my witness statement will not fade even when Ilkley Moor’s worms will have “come to eat me up”. So too, I note with insightful emphasis, that what will gather unexpected longevity in the Truth Project’s findings, will be the names of those accused of the crimes committed against myself and my young companions. In addition, those priests of the Order who were aware of the abuse at the time that it was committed and those in the decades since (such as a string of Superior Generals of the Order) who have continued to stay silent and to conceal or deny the truth, will discover that their names have also been permanently and justifiedly “incarcerated” within the inky bars of the bold type of the documents of the Truth Project. Their “long game” strategy of contrived obfuscation, lies, silence and the betrayal of the childhood innocence of myself and other boys at the Mirfield seminary has been a profound miscalculation. Neither their betrayal of the young boys in their care and nor their names will ever be forgotten.
As for the future, well, for my part, at this late stage in my life, I no longer wish for, nor need, any vacuous, insipid statements of apology from clerical lips that have been fouled by decades of constant prevarication. I see the Truth Project now as a monument to my “empowerment” and the only monument I seek. Yet, by default, it is also a permanent monument to the criminal and shameful conduct of the Comboni Missionary Order of Verona, Italy.