The “Truths” that are Hidden by Clerical Masters of Understatement

(Written and posted on this Blog by the authorised contributor: Brian Mark Hennessy)

Archbishop Aldo di Cillo Pagotto of Paraiba in Brazil Resigns

Writing in the National Catholic Reporter, (which can be accessed on-line at NCRonline.org.), Lise Alves reports on the resignation, recently accepted by Pope Francis, of Archbishop Aldo di Cillo Pagotto of Paraiba in Brazil. The retirement from Aldo’s bishopric was accepted on the grounds of Canon 401.2 which covers many issues from poor health to “grave”, but unspecified causes.

Curiously, the Vatican has not specified the grave matter that  led to the resignation. Nevertheless, the Archbishop of Paraiba himself vaguely admitted that he had made errors – one of which was, in his own words of explanation: ” I made the mistake of being too trusting.  I gave shelter to priests and seminarians in order to offer them new chances in life. Among those were some who were later suspected of committing serious derelictions.” (“Derelictions”, we should note, is Vatican Canon Law “speak” for sexual abuse).

Lise Alves reports that some of the clerics taken in by Pagotto had been accused of “paedophilia” –  a word which the Archbishop seemed reluctant to use. In all probability his reluctance stems from the un-challenged claim that Archbishop Aldo was well aware, at the time he gave shelter to those  priests and seminarians, that the accusations of child sexual abuse against them were already known to him.

Paedophile Priests Suspended

Another piece in the Catholic National Reporter (by Catherine Lagrange, Dominique Vidalon and Gareth Jones) reports that the Roman Catholic Cardinal-Archbishop of Lyon, Philippe Barbarin, has announced that he has suspended four priests accused of paedophile activities and that their cases “are known” to French judicial authorities.

Curiously, this Cardinal was equally obscure about the details for he said in his statement that the un-named four had been working in the Lyon region in central France – but he would not say where. Apparently, according to Barbarin, other un-named priests are the “object of special measures”, but he would not elaborate what those measures were and nor the reason for those measures.

Prior to those announcements, the French Gendarmerie had questioned Cardinal Barbarin for more than 10 hours over the activities (in the early 1990s) of a pedophile priest, Father Bernard Preynat, and why Barbarin had not reported the facts to the civil authorities in the circumstances that such a failure to report a crime is an offence in France.

Meanwhile, several victims of alleged paedophile abuse have made complaints against Barbarin to the authorities for leaving accused priests in place, but Barbarin has denied any wrongdoing. He has acknowledged, however, mere “errors of management” in respect to the appointment of some priests.

Cardinal Barbarin’s Errors of Management

The “errors of management” of Cardinal Barbarin are a direct parallel to the excuses of Archbishop Aldo di Cillo Pagotto of Paraiba in Brazil who pleaded that he had simply been “too trusting”! These deliberately understated reasons for their failures beg the question as to what planet do the senior clerics of the Catholic Church inhabit in their spare time?

We are talking about criminal paedophiles who sexually molest and abuse children.  These criminals have been molly-coddled, pampered, cosseted and secreted within the walls of Catholic Church establishments – instead of being reported and handed over as alleged criminals to the legal authorities of the Civil States who have jurisdiction.

Bishops Guilty of Looking the Other Way

I cannot help but note that in June, Pope Francis warned that bishops guilty of looking the other way or covering up child abuse by priests within their dioceses could be removed from their duties. He has also said that protecting paedophile clerics is a “crime”.

So, in these cases, if the Archbishop of Paraiba and the Cardinal-Archbishop of Lyon have protected paedophile priests or seminarians from the jurisdiction of the legal authorities within their dioceses, why has the Vatican Curia not stated it specifically?

The Vatican does not constitute the “Church” in its totality. If a crime has been committed – then it is a crime against the whole “Church” – and thus all members of that “Church” have a right to know the details of crimes committed within and against the Church!

Vatican Curia Pussy-Footing

These episodes appear to be yet other Vatican Curia acts of “pussy-footing” confusion in which they wave a big rhetorical stick one day – and then camouflage the damaging details the next.

In today’s world, the Vatican must treat all members of the Church – both lay and clerical – as adults who are capable of a surprising degree of discernment – and not as the children of the Edwardian era who were to be “seen, but not heard” and in front of whom “delicate matters” were discussed only in obscure, coded, hushed whispers.

Those days are long since gone – and are unacceptable in the Catholic Church of today.

Comboni Missionaries Paedophile Priests

Closer to the home of this blog, there are parallels to the above within the Comboni Missionary Order of Verona, Italy, whose paedophile priests, past and present, have never been handed over to the civil authorities – but who instead were moved rapidly out of the jurisdictions of the law enforcement agencies of the states in which their crimes were committed.

In some cases they were sent to distant Mission territories, in another case to the smallest of parishes in an Italian mountain diocese – and in a current case one, Father Romano Nardo, is confined to a “secret location”.

The nature of Fr Nardo’s crimes have been known to the Comboni Order since 1970, but he was then whisked out of the United Kingdom’s legal jurisdiction the day after reports were made to the Order by one of their own clerics, Father Cocchi, (who saw a boy in his pyjamas coming out of Romano Nardo’s room at an uneartthly hour one morning).

Father Romano Nardo’s Child Abuse Accusation

Thirty years later, when that same Victim confronted the Order with Father Romano Nardo’s historical criminal acts of child abuse in detail, the Order recalled Nardo from the Missions.

Eventually, it was admitted by the Comboni Missionary Order, in a letter dated 17 May 1997, that an Inquiry had concluded, in true clerical masterful understatement, that Father Nardo had “acted inappropriately by taking the boy to his bed and teaching him to make the sign of the cross”.

That statement is devoid of the detail of the baptismal rite of mutual purification of genitals in which the child was induced to participate – and it does not mention the naked child lying upon the naked body of the priest who was breathing the Spirit of Jesus into the boys mouth.

That sign of the cross, to which they refer, was engraved on the priest’s torso by a sharp implement, the sight of which caused the boy to attempt to emulate it by self mutilation in order to be closer to the God of that priest.

No Extradition of Father Nardo

The latter, Father Romano Nardo, who is alleged to have committed such masochistic and macabre sexual crimes veiled in religious overtones against a series of young boys at the Mirfield seminary in Yorkshire England,  has been prevented from extradition to the United Kingdom by doubtful claims over two decades that he is not fit to travel.

I use the word “doubtful” in the following context which is that: after almost 27 years working in Africa, Father Nardo (who returned from Africa late 1995 at the age of 54 to attend an internal Comboni Inquiry into the allegations against him), would, according to correspondence forwarded to the Victim by Father David Glenday, the Superior General of the Order in 1997, “be able to return to active ministry in the missions within a month”.

Yet in 1999, after his further four years sojourn in the peaceful, green valleys of the pleasant city of Verona, Italy, the Superior General, Father Enrique Sanchez stated in correspondence that Father Romano Nardo was unable to travel because he had become “worn out by many years working in Africa”!

Was it, perhaps, that this sudden loss of health was something to do with the fact that in 1999 the West Yorkshire Police had wanted to question Father Nardo about criminal charges of child sexual abuse – that he had already admitted he had perpetrated ?

Mother House in Verona

The Comboni Missionary Order of Verona, Italy, has rigorously confined this cleric to the Mother House in Verona Italy since 1997 (almost two decades to date) so that he “does not have access to children”. Father Nardo, currently aged 72, has agreed, apparently, to this confinement – which is to last, it seems, until the end of his days.

I ask myself “why would the Comboni Order confine him for so long and why would Father Nardo accept his confinement for acts committed in 1970 which were merely “inappropriate”? Such “life imprisonment” is in excess of many State law authorities’ penal punishment limits for a single, albeit dispicable, crime of child sexual abuse.

Clearly, as in the cases of Archbishop Aldo and Cardinal-Archbishop Barbarin, the Superior Generals of the Comboni Missionary Order (that is Fathers David Glenday and Enrique Sanchez) who are closely associated to the decision of the long confinement of Father Nardo, are, in true clerical, tradition, “masters of understatement” in matters of criminal child sexual abuse.

Call it Sexual Abuse not Inappropriate Behaviour

They need education – and so I offer it here: the abuse perpetrated agaist seminarian Victims of Father Romano Nardo at Mirfield were not acts of “inappropriate behaviour”, but serious and heinous crimes of sexual abuse against children.

So grave are such crimes that the United Nations Convention against Torture actually described child sexual abuse as a form of torture on account of its cruel and punitive nature – and, unsurprisingly in 2014, even the Vatican agreed to that definition. The truth is that Father Romano Nardo is alleged to have abused many boys – and in the cases of some – he destroyed their lives and, subsequently, the lives of their families.

Father Romano Nardo is, thus, an alleged criminal that Fathers David Glenday and Enrique Sanchez have actively protected and in the case of the latter, prevented from facing questions by the law authorities of the United Kingdom. They are thus allegedly complicit in his alleged crimes – which they have sought to downplay, in true clerical fashion and deceitful understatement, as merely “inappropriate behaviour” .

Father Tesfaye Tadesse Gebresilasie

Moreover, the current Superior General, Father Tesfaye Tadesse Gebresilasie, (to whom the Comboni Survivors pleaded for dialogue when he was elected, but from whom they received no response), is still intent on the further destruction of victims of child sexual abuse – as is witnessed by the scurrilous and malicious accusations he has authorised to be heaped on a victim of that abuse at a hearing in the Verona Criminal Court.

Why has Father Tesfaye, the Superior General of the Comboni Missionary Order and his Curia committed themselves to this action? It is to deflect the “truth” of the scale of child sexual abuse within that Order ever being fully uncovered.

It is to disguise to the Vatican and to the Worldwide Catholic Church their complicity in harbouring a paedophile so as to protect themselves from the implementation of the Ecclesial action of dismissal from the clerical state under 401.2 of Canon Law.

Rightful Justice for Abuse Victims

It is to deter further Victims from telling their stories and seeking rightful justice. I declare, however, that both he – and the Order have already failed in that venture – for the allegations of 1000 crimes of child sexual abuse committed by clerics of the Comboni Missionary Order of Verona, Italy, at the Mirfield Seminary, Yorkshire, England and their every attempt to deny them and hide them are now known globally – from the Vatican to the furthest reaches of each continent.

“No! No! No!”, I hear Father Tesfaye exclaiming, “The case in the Verona Criminal Court against the Victim of alleged crimes of child sexual abuse is nothing to do with me. It has been brought by Father Nardo’s own Court appointed legal Guardian”.

Well, yes, technically it has, but it has the fingerprints of Father Tesfaye and the Comboni Missionary Order Curia all over it. Indeed it has their big footprint right in the middle of it – as I will explain. The claim, which is, I suggest, factually devoid of every grain of truth whatsoever anyway – is that of “tresspass”.

Abuse Victim Walked Through Open Gate

The charge against the Victim who walked through an open gate which had no signs stating “No Entry” in sight, the Victim who walked through an open door and spoke to the Receptionist, the Victim who was shown into the Chapel by the Receptionist and who contacted Father Nardo on the Victim’s behalf to see him – and the Victim who returned on two occasions at agreed times for further meetings – cannot be brought against the Victim by a Legal Guardian appointed by the Court on behalf of Father Nardo. Why?

Well it is quite simple really : Father Nardo is not the registered owner of the Verona Mother House and its grounds. The Comboni Missionary Order, or a legal entity nominated on its behalf, is the registered owner of the Verona Mother House. Only the registered owner, or the legal representative of the registered owner, would be able, technically, to bring a charge – even this false charge – of trespass against the Victim.

Nardo’s Legal Guardian

Of course, it may be that the Legal Guardian appointed by the Court is the Comboni Missionary Order in disguise. In fact such a deception would be par for the course of an Order that has endeavoured to deflect all criticism of its behaviour for decades.

That is beside the point. Father Tesfaye and his Curia have overlooked this small detail. That charge of trespass, implanted within a case said to have been brought on behalf of Father Nardo by his Court appointed Legal Guardian, is the big footprint of the Comboni Missionary Order itself.

Indeed, I suspect that Father Nardo knows little or nothing of this legal case brought technically by his legal guardian on his behalf in the Verona Criminal Court.

Abuse Victim Bashing by Comboni Missionaries

It is brought, duplicitously, I suggest, by the Comboni Missionary Order itself to deflect from itself any criticism that the Comboni Missionary Order is engaging in one of their regular bouts of “victim bashing”!

When a storm suddenly threatens, it is wise to change tak and alter the windward direction of sail. Failure to do so has consequences.

If the Comboni Missionary Order of Verona, Italy, continues to protect paedophile criminals, whilst lashing out against distressed victims seeking succour and understanding, events will surely come to overwhelm them.

Advertisements

Hell, Hope and Healing — part three – by Mary Gail Frawley-O’Dea – paraphrased and abridged for this site by Brian Mark Hennessy

Healing through Post Traumatic Growth

(Note: Mary Gail Frawley-O’Dea is the author of “Perversion of Power: Sexual Abuse in the Catholic Church” and a psychologist who has been working with sexual abuse survivors for 30 years. In the American Catholic Journal entitled the “National Catholic Reporter”, (which can be accessed on-line at NCRonline.org.), Mary Gail Frawley-O’Dea has published the third of four parts of an article entitled “Hell, Hope and Healing”. Mary’s article has been paraphrased and abridged for this site by Brian Mark Hennessy)

 

Too many children and teens are faced with soul-battering betrayals, abuse, neglect or terrifying family dynamics that send normal developmental pathways, including those related to the brain, off the rails.

If healing can occur from the truly devastating consequences of adverse childhood experiences — including sexual abuse by clergy — can survivors also experience meaningful growth through their confrontation with trauma? Can post-traumatic growth also occur in institutions that fostered abuse, as well as in the advocacy organizations that have worked on behalf of survivors? Let me be very clear: No one ever is “better off” because they were abused or suffered other adverse childhood experiences (ACEs). Every child and adolescent is entitled to a “good enough” childhood where suffering is manageable and betrayal is minimal. Unfortunately, too many children and teens are faced with soul-battering betrayals, abuse, neglect or terrifying family dynamics that send normal developmental pathways, including those related to the brain, off the rails. At the same time, none of us gets from the cradle to the grave without a full measure of suffering in some way or another. Studies have shown that the meaning we derive from our suffering and how we carry the remnants of that suffering into the future determines to a great extent what kind of life we live and how fulfilled we are by it.

Through a tragic loss of innocence early on in life, these survivors accept that life is not fair and therefore demonstrate greater resilience when it is not.

 

Over the last decade or so, researchers have begun to study post-traumatic growth, defined by Lawrence Calhoun and Richard Tedeschi, University of North Carolina, psychologists and post-traumatic growth experts, as “positive psychological change experienced as a result of the struggle with highly challenging life circumstances.” Trauma survivors who achieve post-traumatic growth develop a perspective on life that is balanced and pragmatic. Through a tragic loss of innocence early on in life, these survivors accept that life is not fair and therefore demonstrate greater resilience when it is not. They embrace the reality that there really is no justice for a survivor of ACEs because a shattered childhood can never be returned whole. Continued anger and resentment for them is, as the saying goes, like swallowing poison and hoping the other guy dies; these survivors do not want to give more of their soul space to the trauma or to those who caused it. Post-traumatic growth thus engenders a greater appreciation of life and a changed sense of priorities that privilege living and loving and making life work. While trauma survivors who experience post-traumatic growth maintain a clear sense that really bad things can happen in life, they also feel that having survived the original trauma(s), there is not much else they cannot handle. Again, that does not mean that they will not hurt — terribly sometimes — but they have a confidence forged in the fires of trauma recovery that they will also survive and even thrive through future losses, betrayals and traumas.

“Victimization occurs when a person or group exerts destructive power over an innocent person or group”

.

When adverse childhood experiences are exposed, perpetrators, abusive or neglectful families, enabling institutions and others are often traumatized also. Here it is important to differentiate between “victimized” and “traumatized.” Trauma is a response to an experience, including but not limited to one that is victimizing. Even a perpetrator can be traumatized when she/he is exposed for victimizing another. Life is changed forever. Shock, anger, fear and other post-traumatic symptoms may ensue, including minimization, denial and dissociation. A central issue here is whether individuals or groups can engage with a traumatic experience in a way that promotes growth. Or do they harden defenses and avoid the kind of self-examination, pain and mourning that a victim has to endure in order to heal, become resilient and grow? Post-traumatic growth here emerges primarily from rigorous self-examination and a painful mourning process. The Catholic church is an institution traumatized by the sexual abuse crisis. The earliest response of the institution was to preserve its long-held identity as a source of goodness and godliness. Yes, its leaders acknowledged in a vague way that of course there is sin within the church, but the sense was always that sin was somehow a general thing and not assigned to specified actors in the church drama. I sin, you sin, we all sin was an implied mantra that attempted to diminish the criminality and evil of priests who sexually violated kids, and of bishops who protected perpetrators and covered up abuse.

Church officials lied, denied and projected blame on victims, parents of victims, a sexually liberated and sexualized culture, bad apple priests, the ’60s, the media. They had seen the enemy and it was not them.

It is still happening today, as when Germany’s Cardinal Gerhard Müller recently excoriated the Oscar-winning movie “Spotlight.” In his mind, the movie led to the generalization of blame for sexual abuse by some priests onto the shoulders all priests, and it was too hard on bishops who did not respond appropriately to reports of abuse. To be fair, another prelate*, Malta Archbishop Charles Scicluna, once the Vatican’s chief prosecutor and deeply involved in investigation of the sex abuse crisis, said that all bishops and cardinals should see the movie to understand that reporting the crimes, not silence, “will save the church.”

Arrogance and clericalism abounded as a church official worked hard to restore power, control and an idealized view of the church and its clergy.

The 2,000-year-old monarchy refused for a very long time and, in some places, still refuses to embrace self-examination and mourning, and it hoped that this, like so many past scandals, would just blow over. It didn’t and it hasn’t, and that’s a good thing. There is also now a papal commission mandated to develop policies and procedures on sexual abuse. Victims, experts and clergy on that commission are talking with each other and are listening to each other. They are getting to know each other as people and not as straw figures. They are determined and most are hanging in even when the going gets discouraging. Many are justifiably doubtful about the ultimate success of this commission, but its members deserve suspension of judgment about the outcome until there is one, and they deserve support for their mission.

It is too soon to tell whether the hierarchy of the Catholic Church can or will grieve and repent enough for the destruction visited upon all of the people of God through sexual abuse of its youth.

Still, it is too early to determine if or when the church will do enough self-examination, engage in enough honest investigation of all the root causes of sexual abuse, and submit to a thorough enough mourning for the church that never was and can never be again. It is too soon to tell whether the hierarchy can or will grieve and repent enough for the destruction visited upon all of the people of God through sexual abuse of its youth. It would be indicative, for example, of real post-traumatic growth and institutional change if bishops and provincial superiors were clearly instructed to report all known or suspected abusers to secular authorities like the police and child protective services.

If church officials who cover up abuse lost their jobs, it would reassure Catholics that the church is convinced that covering up abuse is just as sinful and criminal as committing it.

Perhaps the most hopeful sign of potential change is the election of Pope Francis. The cardinals knew who he was when they elected him. And he has not stopped surprising. Although he has been imperfect, contradictory and even at times infuriating when it comes to sexual abuse, he also has attacked the kind of clericalism and ecclesiastical arrogance that fueled decades, even centuries, of the vilest sexual violations of the young. Welcoming the homeless into the Vatican; washing the feet of women; caring for the incarcerated; taking a relatively passive position on homosexuality; embracing other religions and even atheists as fellow travelers; rehabilitating previously excoriated “dissenters”; chastising bishops to get out on the street and pastor; modeling humility, humor, joy and mercy; reminiscing with the press about once having been in love.

 

All are death by a thousand cuts to the hierarchical hubris that enabled priests to soul-murder the young, with bishops and provincial superiors serving as accessories.

Whilst there are reasons to hope and reasons to remain doubtful that the church is capable of post-traumatic growth, it is understandable that many victims and advocates judge change to be too slow and too circumspect.

(If any Comboni Survivor recognises the impacts of adverse childhood experiences and feels that he needs professional assistance, then they may contact Mark Murray on this site who will strive to assist by suggesting appropriate counselling services. Alternatively, Survivors of childhood abuse can seek the assistance of their local General Practitioner Doctor who will be able to refer them to an appropriate specialist).

The Overwhelming Cost of Denial — by Brian Mark Hennessey

The Overwhelming Cost of Denial

The Comboni Survivors know well enough just how much money the Comboni Missionary Order of Verona, Italy, (formerly known as the Verona Fathers), are willing to spend on defending themselves against allegations of child sexual abuse perpetrated at their Mirfield seminary – for it shows up in their annual accounts presented to the Charities Commission. Clearly, they are happy to spend hundreds of thousands of pounds in legal processes to continue the lies of their denial. It begs the question: “Why not take the simple, moral Christian way of admitting the truth that they know fully well, having dialogue with the Survivors of that abuse and apologising as an Order for the destructive impacts with which the Survivors have had to cope for half a century to date – and continue to endure today?” The answer is abundantly clear. They live a life of pretence and self-deceit. They are, simply, not moral Christians. They have no regard for “Truth” – and they do not care one jot for the Survivors.
They are not alone. George Joseph writing for the Guardian says that the US Catholic church has poured millions of dollars over the past decade into opposing accountability measures for the child victims of clerical sexual abuse. The lobbying funds have gone toward opposing bills in New York, Pennsylvania, New Jersey and Maryland that would extend statutes of limitations for child sex abuse cases – or grant temporary civil windows for victims whose opportunities for civil action have already passed. Under existing law, child victims sexually abused in New York, for example, have until the age of 23 to press civil charges, but those abused across the border in Connecticut have until the age of 48. In Maryland and Pennsylvania, victims cannot enter into civil suits after turning 25 or 30 respectively, but across the border in Delaware they can do so at any age.
The amounts expended by individual diocesan Bishops on the lobbying exercise are not small. George Joseph says that since 2007, the New York bishops’ lobbying arms have poured more than $1.1m into “issues associated with timelines for commencing certain civil actions related to sex offenses”. It amounts to nearly half of their total compensation for lobbyists in that period on a variety of other issues such as abortion and same-sex marriage etc etc.. During this same time period, other bishops’ conferences spent millions on lobbyists in states where the church is also actively opposing similar legislative proposals regarding statute of limitations for sex offences. Pennsylvania, Maryland and New Jersey spent more than $5.2m, $1.5m and $435,000 respectively on top lobbyists in the state capitols. That’s nearly $8 million for starters in just a few States!
David Clohessy, a director with the Survivors Network of those Abused by Priests commented, “Many child sex abuse cases are done gradually, under the guise of love or sex education, and so what happens is most victims don’t even realize until literally decades later. The overwhelming majority of us rationalize it. That’s how we as survivors cope with this stunning betrayal. We cope with it by denying and minimizing it.” Despite the momentum stemming from the scandal, local observers expect the Catholic Church will continue to lobby vehemently. “If the bishops continue to win,” says Clohessy, “many victims will “behave in destructive ways because they were violated as kids … And we, as society, tell them ‘tough shit’.”
What appears to be overlooked in these desparate attempts by the princes of the Church to defend themselves from the facts of the depths of depravity that have existed for so long within their sacristies and cloisters is the simple question: “Where does all this money being expended in legal processes to protect themselves from having to admit the truth come from?” The answer is simple. Disproportionately wealthy Corporate Catholicism has derived every panny, cent and peso from its hard-working and obedient Christian followers for centuries. Many of those followers are desparately poor. The Corporation has been able to invest these funds with a stock-broker’s zeal. The success of the clerics of Catholicism in this field has been so great – that with the spirit of agrandisement of a worldwide conglomerate – they have the funds in their bank vaults to throw at this deceitful charade.
Yet, have these corporate clerics ever asked the humble donors of the pennies, cents and pesos if it was OK with them to expend such disproportionate funds in order to avert the possibility of criminal paedophiles being brought to justice? Moreover, is it right to take such measures of gross expenditure, ultimately, to avoid compensating the Survivors of depraved child sexual abuse for their endless wretched years of harmful impacts? In my book, the Bishops and the Superiors of the Religious Orders are entitled to expend those pennies, cents and pesos only on matters relating to Christian values. To spend millions in order to deflect the possibility of having to admit the truth and scandal of child sexual abuse within the Catholic Church is not a Christian value. Ultimately, it is not just downright arrogance and gross hypocracy to embark on such an exercise simply in order to perpetuate their own eletist, clerical self-esteem – but it is also, unequivacally, shameful theft from the pockets of the willing, but beguiled poor.

HELL HOPE AND HEALING

Hell, Hope and Healing

Note: Mary Gail Frawley-O’Dea is the author of “Perversion of Power: Sexual Abuse in the Catholic Church” and a psychologist who has been working with sexual abuse survivors for 30 years. In the American Catholic Journal entitled the “National Catholic Reporter”, (which can be accessed on-line at NCRonline.org.), Mary Gail Frawley-O’Dea has published the first of four parts of an article entitled “Hell, Hope and Healing”. This parapharse of Mary’s article has been posted on the Mirfield Memories site by Brian Mark Hennessy.

___________

Foreward: Comboni Survivors of sexual abuse who access this site may be helped by accessing Mary’s vast experience that is clearly established within those articles, the first of which has just been published. With appropriate acknowledgement to Mary and the National Catholic Reporter I have paraphrased extracts from that first part below. I have no doubt that, in varying degrees according to their experiences, Comboni Survivors will recognise in themselves some of the long term impacts that will have been caused by their adverse childhood experiences when they were child seminarians at Mirfield Yorkshire. Those adverse experiences at the hands of one – and in some cases more than one – corrupt Comboni Missionary cleric may have been sexual – but they may have had other causes also – and thus their experiences may have resulted in a complicated and diverse range of impacts. I do not suggest that each individual survivor will have experienced all or even some of the possible, specific impacts listed below. Every distinct individual survivor will have had unique experiences and will have been impacted differently.

____________

Much of what Mary Gail Frawley-O’Dea relates derives from her own experience and research, but that experience has been enhanced by a study of more than 17,000 Americans in the period 1995-7. The research was conducted to determine how many had been subjected to adverse childhood experiences and what symptoms and disorders they suffered that differentiated them from those patients who did not have such histories. The data indicates that only a little over one-third of subjects had no adverse childhood experiences at all. For the remainder there was a clear correlation between the symptoms and with the frequency and/or intensity of each particular stressor. To put these statistics in perspective, the percentages as extrapolated for the population of the United States at the time of the research suggest that over 50 million of the population were sexually abused before the age of 18.

Mary states that it is now known that adverse childhood experiences can have major effects on every aspect of human functioning. Symptoms and disorders increase commensurately with the greater number of types of adverse childhood experiences to which a survivor has been subjected – and to the frequency at which those experiences have occurred. Notably, Survivors have more medical problems, are on more medications, and use the health system more than others in the population. Scientists now believe that much of this stems from a surfeit of stress hormones coursing through the bloodstream and compromising the immune system. Stress hormones are great in an emergency, but they are supposed to go back to normal levels when the crisis is over. Kids who are being abused or neglected are in emergency mode so much of the time that their stress hormones are always high, stay high into adulthood, and do physical damage over time.

This results in the person’s inability to successfully modulate emotion so she or he may swing from states of intense affect to those marked by numbed passivity. Our ability to judge the true danger of a present-day situation is damaged; we may confuse people around us by overreacting or underreacting to current situations. Often the adult survivor’s history is littered with unsuccessful friendships, work relationships, and romances that confuse and hurt both them and those around them.

For those who have experienced sexual abuse specifically, normal sexual functioning is elusive. Even sex with a beloved partner can trigger flashbacks or terrifying emotional states that interrupt sexual encounters or lead us to avoid sex. Sexual abuse survivors may blame their bodies and sexual responses for the abuse and can be too ashamed to be comfortably sexual.

Heterosexual boys abused by men may be tormented with doubts about their sexual orientation. On the other hand, homosexual boys who are sexually abused are robbed of the opportunity to grow gradually into their sexuality; instead, the perpetrator imposes it on them.

Survivors often have a fractured sense of self. One part of the traumatized child may be formed as a precocious individual who can learn, make friends, get a job later in life, and obtain an education. Another aspect of the person, however, remains a frightened, grief-stricken child who emerges when conditions are reminiscent of the original trauma. For victims of priest abuse, for example, a Roman collar, someone clicking rosary beads, or certain hymns can evoke childhood memories. The survivor, no longer firmly rooted in the present, may experience the memories, fears and bodily states he or she felt at the time of the abuse.

Most survivors think that they were somehow responsible for what happened to them. They believe that they should have stopped it! Depending on the nature of the adverse childhood experience, survivors feel dirty, ashamed, worthless and self-loathing. Often they take their guilt, rage and self-hatred out on themselves through self-destructive behaviors like substance abuse (which also deadens psychic pain); promiscuous and unprotected sex; walking alone in dangerous areas at night; cutting legs, thighs, arms and pubic areas; tearing out eyebrows and hair; hustling or prostituting; or making suicidal gestures. Sometimes they die. In fact survivors are almost three times as likely as other individuals to make at least one serious suicidal gesture in their lives.

Research indicates that many survivors turn away from religion and even from God. People develop their image of God through the way they are parented early on and through religious experiences they may have. Their capacity for awe, for experiencing wordless times of wonder and transcendence, depend in large measure on the nature of their early relationships. When these are betrayed through abuse, neglect, witnessing domestic violence, or serious dysfunction, their capacity to surrender to the ineffable that is God may be destroyed. The especially heinous aspect of sexual abuse by priests and the depravity of the cover-up and unapologetic stance of bishops and provincial superiors often renders asunder the young person’s ability to look to God for comfort and mercy. Instead, the priest as God to the child or adolescent has become a criminal transmitter of evil. One patient who was sexually abused by a priest remarked : “It taught me that there is a lie in the world. As I grew up and gave up on my piety, I grew to hate the smells, sounds, feelings of church. … My spirituality and ability to believe in a higher power were destroyed.”

(In Part 2 of this series, Mary Gail Frawley-O’Dea will focuss on hope and healing for survivors of sexual abuse. If any Comboni Survivor recognises the impacts of adverse childhood experiences and feels that he needs professional assistance, then they may contact Mark Murray on this site who will strive to assist by suggesting appropriate counselling services. Alternatively, Survivors of childhood abuse can seek the assistance of their local General Practitioner Doctor who will be able to refer them to an appropriate specialist).

The Independent Inquiry into Child Sexual Abuse (IICSA) — by Brian Mark Hennessey

The Independent Inquiry into Child Sexual Abuse (IICSA) — by Brian Mark Hennessey

The Mirfield 12 Group of child aspirants to the priesthood, (referred to as “Comboni Survivors” henceforward in this article), who have made historical allegations of sexual abuse that was perpetrated by clerics of the Comboni Missionary Order against them at their seminary boarding school at Mirfield in Yorkshire in the 1960s and 70s, have committed themselves to seek “core participation” at the Independent Inquiry into Child Sexual Abuse (IICSA). The Inquiry has also become commonly known as the “Goddard Inquiry” after the appointment of Justice Lowell Goddard of the New Zealand Judiciary as the Chair-person. The format of the investigation will be broken down into a number of groupings, one of which will examine abuse in institutions of the Roman Catholic Church.

The formulation of the Inquiry process had a rocky start within the Home Office. This is not particularly surprising given the very broad range of institutions which had failed in one way or another in managing historic cases of child abuse. Mark Murray, a leading member of the Comboni Survivors, participated in Home Office Meetings during this difficult process. He was not alone – as many groups of Survivors were dissatisfied at the initial, concentrated objectives of the Inquiry which favoured extensive participation of the major public institutions at the expense of Survivors – and the Government was forced by public opinion to have a re-think. The resultant balance of the re-adjustments made is still regarded as unsatisfactory by many Survivor Groups – but slowly the views of Survivors, who want a greater level of participation even now, are still being pressed. The Comboni Survivors are confident that the Inquiry will make further adjustments in favour of Survivors – who are the ones who have suffered severly at the hands of institutions’ neglect – rather than focusing the Inquiry specifically and almost exclusively upon those very same institutions. The Survivors must be heard extensively and loudly.

Besides the difficulties that have and are being experienced in achieveing the right balance of the Inquiry so that all participants can be satisfied at the end of the day, there are many detractors who are both vocal and negative. Some claim, rather extraordinarily in a cart before the horse attitude, that we should have the recommendations from the Government now, before the investigation. They pour scorn on the claims of Survivor Groups over the extent of the abuse and they suggest campaigners to be obsessive panic-mongerers who are “corroding” child/adult relationships”. They pour scorn also on the Inquiry itself which, they suggest, is not about justice, but about therapy. The Comboni Survivors do not agree with these views, but they counsel the Goddard Inquiry that the final format agreed between the Inquiry, Institutions and Survivors must demonstrate beyond doubt that the balance of the Inqury is finely set so as to silence, unremittingly, their detractors.

As a group, the Comboni Survivors welcome the Inquiry and wish it well. They are committed to the Truth Project, the participation in which they regard to be a moral duty for the future understanding and the benefit of Government and Institutions which have the need of formulating both policies and practices for the protection of the Nation’s children.

They believe also that core-participation for Survivors must be extended, because institutions that have failed in the past will continue to fail in the future. That has been the experience of the members of the Comboni Survivors to this day. The Comboni Missionary Order, after half a century of failings, are as resolute today as they were in the past to refute the initial historical reports made to them, cast doubt on the veracity of Survivors’ allegations, deny dialogue and refuse apologies. They have adopted a policy of total silence in the belief that their silence will give them the security of perrenial unaccountability. This is both un-Christian and deplorably un-just to Survivors. The Comboni Survivors look to the Goddard Inquiry for the total accountability of the Comboni Missionary Order Institution that has unjustly maligned them in a manner that amounts to both re-victimisation and hierarchical discrimination.