UNITED KINGDOM INDEPENDENT INQUIRY
INTO CHILD SEXUAL ABUSE.
CATHOLIC CHURCH INVESTIGATION.
OPENING STATEMENT BY
DAVID ENRIGHT – HOWE & CO
I appear on behalf of F12, a Scottish survivor of the English Benedictine Congregation. I also represent 12 core participant survivors of the Comboni Missionary Order and F44, a survivor of the Christian Brothers. Together, they represent 20 per cent of the victim/survivor core participants in this latest investigation in a very long line of investigations into the Roman Catholic Church, but of course they are not a mere percentage, they are individual humans imbued with dignity, bravery and fortitude. They, like the other core participants in this investigation, hope and pray that this is the last time a public inquiry will have to be called into the Catholic Church. I echo counsel to the inquiry’s submissions: there are almost a million children in Britain who are educated in institutions run by or in which a church is significantly involved, and, therefore, this inquiry must determine what has been and what is the scale of child sexual abuse in the Catholic Church in Britain; are there cultural inhibitors in the Catholic Church that prevent effective child safeguarding; are there structural inhibitors in the Catholic Church and its separate law that prevent effective child safeguarding? A line must finally be drawn, and this inquiry must answer the question: can children be safe in the care of the Catholic Church?
Those I represent are men who were, and in some cases still are, devout Catholics. It is very difficult to explain to someone not brought up in a Catholic community the power and depth of influence the Catholic Church exerts over its members. Counsel to the investigation has alluded to this, and it is a chilling aspect of child sexual abuse within the Catholic Church that the abusers are not only men in positions of trust who wielded authority over children, they are also seen by the abused and their families as being spokesmen for the God they worship, men who are supposed to be the shepherds of their souls, men who hold the very keys to heaven. It is hard to imagine a greater hold that a child abuser could have over its victim.
F13 was abused at his Catholic primary school by Catholic brothers. He was abused by members of the English Benedictine Congregation at Pluscarden and Fort Augustus Abbey. We have heard of the movement of a paedophile from England to Fort Augustus this morning from counsel to the inquiry and Mr Scorer. On 8 November 2017, this November, the National Crime Agency’s Modern Slavery and Human Trafficking Unit issued a conclusive grounds decision finding that F13 had been a victim of modern-day slavery. This finding by the National Crime Agency in relation to participant F13 demonstrates the seriousness of the issues before this inquiry. Two days after the National Crime Agency issued this finding, the inquiry’s first witness, Dom Richard Yeo, visited F13 at his home, along with Bishop John Keenan. We would hope that counsel to the investigation will explore with Dom Yeo the reason for his visits to F13’s home in the wake of this finding and the immediate run-up to this hearing and, indeed, what the English Benedictines hope to do for F13 to bring him comfort and closure.
F1 to F12 are 12 core participant survivors of the Comboni Missionary Order. They attended a Catholic seminary school in Mirfield in Yorkshire run by that order, an order that specialises in missionary education around the world. They are a striking group of men, highly educated and articulate. They include among their number a retired senior officer of our armed forces, a retired executive of an international PLC, teachers, academics, businessmen and a highly regarded classical performer. Those men, or boys, as they were then, were hand-selected as some of the brightest and most devout children of their communities. They were selected also because, as 10- and 11-year-olds, they dreamed of becoming missionary priests. Quite a number went a long way down the road to taking religious orders.
One, F3, became a brother of the Comboni religious order and undertook missionary work in the most difficult circumstances of Idi Amin’s Uganda. All were abused by Catholic priests and brothers. In most cases, they were abused repeatedly over many months and, in a number of cases, years. They had led very sheltered lives in the Catholic families and communities they came from. They had no understanding of sex other than it was wrong, it was dirty, it was a sin. The culture of their school, their church and their faith was of obedience and, in particular, obedience to Holy Fathers. Over time, and as abuse continued, and as they grew, they came to have doubts. But as F6 explained his childhood dilemma to me, and he has flown a very long way to be here today, how could the hands that held the host, the body of Christ, aloft every morning in mass possibly do wrong? His words. F4 could also not bring himself to accept that the kindly Italian priest who tended to boys when they were ill could possibly do something wrong. He just couldn’t accept it. F4 described this to me, with tears in his eyes, how, as an adult, he would watch old-fashioned war films and the hero would be captured and subjected to torture and, gritting his teeth and taking his mind to another place, he would endure. F4 told me that every time he saw a scene like that, he was catapulted back in time to the infirmary at St Peter Claver Seminary College.
Other members of this group and F44 have similar accounts of how they were abused again and again and the terrible dilemmas and conflicts of their mind they suffered: how can this be happening if this holy man is doing it? These bright boys grew and so did their doubts and they began to speak up and, when they did, they did not stop speaking up. It is incredible the number of times these boys spoke up seeking support and protection, not just for themselves, but often to try to protect younger boys in the seminary college. It is incredible, also, the responses they received. After years of systematic abuse, F4 took a delegation of boys to see the college’s spiritual adviser and told him of the sexual abuse. The other boys were crying during that interview, but F4 was angry and he spoke out. The spiritual adviser stated he accepted the accounts of abuse were true. He told the boys he would look into the matter. He then swore them to secrecy and told them never to speak of it again. He did nothing. As F4 and the other boys turned to leave his room, the spiritual adviser stopped them and he reminded them that their abuser, this prolific abuser, may have availed himself of the sacrament of confession and, if he did, his sins were washed away and they, as good Catholics, must accept that.
F8 also reported the abuse he was suffering at the hands of the seminary’s vice rector to the seminary college’s spiritual adviser. The spiritual adviser told F8 to forget about the incidents and not discuss it anymore. F4 also went to a priest he trusted and admired. They went for a walk in the playground. He began to open his heart and, as soon as he did, that priest, his friend, told him, “Stop there” and would hear no more. F12 was also abused by the vice rector of St Peter Claver College. He told the father rector of the seminary about the abuse. The father rector asked no questions and took no action.
F6, who I have already mentioned, who has come a long way to be here today, attended the seminary college. Priests of the school abused him repeatedly as a young boy. Despite this, he was bright, he had a deep faith, he excelled and became the school captain, the head boy of the seminary school. When he was appointed to that position, he felt a huge sense of responsibility for the other boys, particularly the younger boys at the seminary, whom he knew were being abused just as he was being abused, and he felt, as school captain, he must act. So, once again, he led a delegation of older boys to see the spiritual adviser to tell him that the younger boys were being abused and that he felt a duty to protect them. The spiritual adviser did not take up the complaint on their behalf but he told the delegation of children that “You must go away, you must gather statements from the younger boys, you must take them to the Father Rector, but don’t tell him I told you to do this”. This priest, this spiritual adviser, sent a boy to do a man’s job, his job, but the boy he sent was up to it.
F6 gathered the statements of the abused boys and presented them to the Father Rector of the seminary. The Father Rector said that he would deal with the prolific abuser. He did not call the police. He did not launch an investigation. He did not inform the parents of the abused boys. He simply moved the abuser from the school and sent him to the oldest provincial house in London. From there, he was sent to Uganda, where he worked as the bishop’s secretary and was then appointed as the chaplain to secondary schools in Northern Uganda and became Scout Commissioner for Northern Uganda. The Father Rector to whom this report was made currently lives in the order’s house in Glasgow, he is in his 80s and is mentally well.
F5 was abused by a lay teacher employed at St Peter Claver Seminary College. It is believed this teacher was previously employed at Ampleforth. That teacher was removed from the school by the priest who was then the rector and who is now the financial director of a London province of the Comboni order and who lives in London.
F3 was repeatedly abused by another priest of the order. Despite this, he became a brother himself. But was always troubled by the abuse he and others had suffered. He raised it again and again with the order nationally and internationally. In legal correspondence, the order made clear admissions as to that abuse. Despite this admission, this priest was permitted to return to active ministry. When F3 challenged this fact with the Wrexham diocesan safeguarding officer and the Comboni Order’s safeguarding officer, he was assured the priest would not be allowed access to children but remained in the order’s other house looking after the sick and dying. However, the evidence shows this priest continued to work with children until as recently as 2014.
Later in life, these 12 men repeatedly sought to engage the Catholic Church over the abuse they had suffered and feared that children might still be suffering. They contacted and spoke to the most senior members of the order, all of whom had been at St Peter Claver College with them as fellow seminarians and as teachers. On one occasion, F4 was invited to the order’s provincial mother house in London for a meeting. He was told by one of the senior order members who had been at the school at the time when they were being abused that the abusing priests had hurt the Catholic Church as much as they had hurt the children. No, they did not.
The priests at the Catholic Church abused my clients, caused them wounds that never healed. They have never healed because the Catholic Church never admitted what happened fully, never apologised truly and never atoned. Of course it must be remembered, and it has been touched on today, that the abuse of my clients along with many of the other victims of abuse by Catholic priests was widely known of because they were reporting it regularly in the confessional, as indeed were the abusers. Why, then, was no action taken by the Catholic Church in relation to regular reports of abuse that were being given in the confessional and presumably still are?
The sacrament of confession is one of the seven sacraments of the Catholic Church. It is fundamental to the practice of the faith. Catholic priests are also required under Canon law to undertake confession. The Australian Royal Commission into institutional responses to child sexual abuse recently recommended that persons could be charged if they know, suspect or should have suspected that members — that a child is being abused. That recommendation included members of the clergy. The Archbishop of Melbourne was asked about this and if he would go to gaol rather than disclose matters disclosed to him in confession and he said, “I have said I would go to gaol. I believe this is an absolutely sacrosanct communication of a high order”. Why would the archbishop say he would go to gaol rather than reveal matters including child sexual abuse? Because, again, it is the law of the Catholic Church that he cannot. The Canon law states very clearly that a priest is wholly forbidden to use knowledge acquired in confession to the detriment of the penitent. That is to say, the sinner or the abuser. Furthermore, matters revealed in confession, including child abuse, cannot be used for the purposes of governance. Again, Canon law directs this. A person who is in authority may not in any way, for the purposes of external governance, use the knowledge about sins which has come to him during the confession. One could not think of a more serious example of a structural obstacle embedded in the law of the Catholic Church to child protection.
There have been many public inquiries here, in Australia, America, Ireland, Scotland, and it demonstrates that the Catholic Church has a modus operandi. It fails to report or record child abuse. It often shields abusers and simply moves them to another place. Often, the evidence has shown that this permits abuse to continue again. We have heard of this today in relation to Nicholas White. My clients seek truth, justice and accountability. But most importantly, they want to know that children in Catholic institutions now and in the future are safe from abuse.
So in conclusion, I return to the three questions that we and counsel to the inquiry say this inquiry must seek answers to: first, how big is the problem? Currently, we do not know, because the church has not, will not, or possibly is not capable of providing us with that information. However, in order to fulfill the terms of reference of this inquiry, the church must be compelled to produce the fullest picture possible. Secondly, are there structural inhibitors to child protection in the church? The answer to this appears to be yes. The refusal to divulge or act upon reports of child abuse in the confessional is an obvious example of a most serious structural inhibitor to child protection. But there are others. Finally, is the Catholic Church capable of enforcing good governance and high uniform standards of child protection? The answer appears to be: no. The Catholic Church is so opaque, so disparate, so full of separate bodies which are not answerable to any central authority, it is hard to see how, without huge reform, it can provide good governance and the high uniform standards of child protection. So the question this inquiry must answer is: can the many strands of the Catholic Church, culturally, structurally and inherently, provide a safe place for children in Britain