WHY THE CASE OF THE COMBONI MISSIONARY ORDER WILL HELP IICSA SHAPE THE FUTURE PROTECTION OF CHILDREN FROM SEXUAL ABUSE
By Brian Mark Hennessy
Cardinal Pell is the Prefect of the Secretariat for the Economy of the Holy See and is widely reported as being the third-ranking Cardinal in the Vatican. Pell disputes his Vatican ranking as false, I should note first of all. Presumably that is because it would be unbecoming that the Catholic Church, widely regarded by most international economists as the richest institution in the world, had any interest whatsoever in wealth! After all had not Saint Matthew written in his Gospel: “You cannot serve God and Mammom”. That aside, Cardinal Pell is more infamous than famous in the world today for his appearances at the Australian Royal Commission – and for the “as yet untried” outstanding allegations of child sexual abuse against him..
I should say at the outset, that I am not a big fan of Cardinal Pell – but I know nothing of the veracity or otherwise of his claims of innocence regarding a host of allegations of sexual abuse when he was a young priest – and nor his alleged cover up of the crimes of other clerics when he was a Bishop and later Archbishop of Sidney. Whilst I can make no judgements about those affairs, I confess that I do not have much admiration for his comment to the Australian Inquiry when he responded to his knowledge of alleged abuse in 1975 at the Inglewood parish in the State of Victoria with the words, “It was a sad story, but not of much interest to me at the time”. When I heard those words as I watched that broadcast on live television, I gasped incredulously at his incurious aloofness to the sexual abuse of a child.
However, when Cardinal Pell, Australia’s most senior Catholic, appeared before the Australian Royal Commission into institutional responses to child sexual abuse he did say something that was true – well, almost true. He stated, “The Catholic Church was (in the past) more concerned with protecting its own reputation than helping victims of clergy abuse, and had a “predisposition not to believe” children who made complaints. At that stage, the instinct was more to protect the institution, the community of the Church, from shame. The Church, in many places has made enormous mistakes and is working to remedy those, but the Church has mucked things up, has let people down. I’m not here to defend the indefensible.”
What was wrong about Cardinal Pell’s comments above was not the content, but simply the tense. Whilst the Catholic Church claims that they have done much to rectify their past criminal record of concealment of child sexual abuse, have ended their protection of paedophile clerics from civic criminal action and have ceased their victimization of the very children who had been subjected to heinous abuse – many of their clerics are not yet on board that specific vision of St Peter’s fishing boat on a becalmed Galilean Sea.
To use an expression out of the very mouth of Cardinal Pell (that, incidentally, I have not heard since my youth) there are clerics in the Catholic Church today who are still “mucking” thing up and the Church knows that very well. Indeed, one Cardinal Archbishop, who is regularly seen in the marbled colonnades of the Vatican, was overheard in a church gathering very recently to have said in a conversation about the Italian Comboni Missionary Order of Verona that they are “fools”. Such a comment is not a shocking surprise to me given that I know that a 170 page document on sexual crimes committed by members of that Italian Religious Institute against child seminarians at Mirfield in Yorkshire, England, has been in the possession of the Vatican’s Congregation for the Doctrine of the Faith for nearly two years. Indeed, I know also that it has been read by that same Cardinal who is purported to have pinned the label of “fools” on the “Missionari Comboniani”.
The Italian Comboni Missionary Order, in their Roman Curia, their Verona Mother House and their United Kingdom Provincial Headquarters at Sunningdale in Berkshire continues to this day to live in that past described by Cardinal Pell. Their principle concern remains to protect their own reputation more than it is to help victims of clergy abuse. They still have a “predisposition not to believe” Victims who have made complaints. They continue to demonstrate an instinct to protect their institution from shame, continue to make the mistake of failing to work to remedy the errors they have made in the past – and continue, in Cardinal Pell’s words, “to muck things up and let people down”.
Considering that the Comboni Missionary Religious Institute will be coming under significant scrutiny shortly from the United Kingdom’s ongoing Inquiry into Child Sexual Abuse (IICSA) in their Catholic Church deliberations, it is hardly surprising that members of the most senior echelons of the Curia in the Catholic Church are expressing both their frustration and exasperation.
IICSA will be using the case of the Comboni Missionary Order’s United Kingdom Province and Italian Curia to determine how “not” to manage issues of child sexual abuse in the future. The fact is that the Comboni Missionary Order is “mucking” things up to this very day. Curiously, that is precisely why IICSA has a specific interest in that Religious Institute. It is most opportune for IICSA to have a live and kicking body with the continuing symptoms today of the disease they are investigating. That will assist them in determining the remedies for the prevention of that disease, its cure and, hopefully, through monitoring, education and cultural changes, its ultimate elimination in the future!