During the 1960s and 70s, and possibly into the 1980s, priests and brothers of the Comboni Missionary Order (formerly Verona fathers) sexually abused children as young as 11 years of age at their seminary in Mirfield, Yorkshire, United Kingdom.
A group of ex seminarians, The Mirfield 12, have successfully prosecuted a civil case against the Comboni Missionaries: a legal case remains outstanding. More ex seminarians abused by Comboni Missionaries have now come forward to pursue both legal and civil actions.
A culture of abuse existed at the Comboni Missionaries seminary in Mirfield. All of the abused have struggled to come to terms with the experience and to understand how it came about. Our concern was not only about the individuals who perpetrated the abuse but also the organisations which allowed this to happen, and is to this day in denial that any abuse took place.
A 2013 report from CEOP ‘The Foundations of Abuse:
A thematic assessment of the risk of child sexual abuse by adults in institutions’ provides some telling analysis of the way institutions operate to produce such fertile ground for child sexual abuse to take place. The key findings are below.
1) Children in institutional settings are not only at risk from adults who are inclined to abuse them sexually; but also from adults who either fail to notice abuse or, if they do, fail to report it.
2) Where institutions put their own interests ahead of those of the children who engage with them, abusive behaviours are likely to become normalised, potentially leading to sexual abuse.
3) The culture within an institution has a strong influence on the degree to which abuse might occur within it. Poor leadership, closed structures, ineffective policies and procedures together with the discouragement of reporting, facilitates a malign climate which colludes with those inclined to sexually abuse children.
4) Where institutions are held in high regard and respected by the communities they serve, positional grooming can be perpetuated, whereby offenders conduct social or environmental grooming and mask their actions by virtue of their formal positions within an organisation.
5) Potential risks from those with a sexual interest in children who pursue work in institutions can be mitigated by vigilant and effective leadership and management.
6) Intense loyalty and conformity of workers to the mission, norms and values of an institution can inhibit them from reporting concerns.
7) The historic nature of many cases currently exercising media attention, together with developments in safeguarding, might give a false perception that this type of offending can no longer occur. Offenders continue to exploit systemic vulnerabilities where they exist.
The full report can be accessed here