THE DEAFNESS BEHIND CLOSED DOORS
THE SHOCKING TALE OF THE BEHAVIOUR OF RELIGIOUS ORDERS
IN THE CATHOLIC CHURCH
BY BRIAN MARK HENNESSY
Arthur David Molesworth is a highly qualified professional with years of experience in all matters related to the protection of children from sexual abuse. It fell to him to take on issues of child protection at the Benedictine Monastic School at Ampleforth Abbey. When he took over that task there was an immediate issue requiring action that was already 16 months old. Ampleforth had arranged for a survivor of clerical abuse at their Abbey school to be visited by Father Dominic, who was a previous head teacher – and Moulesworth stated clearly that he shouldn’t interfere because it could be seen as tampering with a witness. He told the Abbey, in no uncertain terms, “If you were a safe organisation, you would not allow him to do this”. His advice was ignored and it would not be the first time.
In his evidence to the United Kingdom’s Independent Inquiry into Child Sexual Abuse, Arthur Molesworth’s testimony revealed that he was told by the Abbey, “An abbot’s first task, before all else, is the care of his monks.” Moulsworth stated that he did not have a problem with him caring for his monks, but not if it is in front of protecting children. In a sense, he stated “what we were trying to deal with was the power of the abbot, the duty of obedience to the abbot, the abbot’s will”. He continued, “Stepping further back, I find myself questioning whether the community has either the mechanisms, the understanding or even a basic willingness to properly deal with child protection matters. I felt at that stage, you know, we have got to start shifting this”.
“This wasn’t as if it was an isolated experience with Ampleforth”, he said, “it was what had happened the year before. We are obviously talking about major concerns being expressed about the Catholic Church nationally, and we then had this extraordinary reaction. You know, it led me to write: ‘Child abuse is able to thrive in organisations where there is secrecy.’ I was being blocked, we were being blocked, I use rather pompous words: ‘Obfuscation, denial or downright obstruction’. If you are going to work with us, you work with us; anything less than that, it means you are blocking. I have to say, I think their lawyer was a part of this, talking about ‘Monks have rights, we need to protect them’. “That’s fine, but let’s protect the children first”, responded Moulsworth.
Prior to giving his evidence, Arthur Molesworth was confronted with correspondence written in 2006 by Abbot Cuthbert Madden. Moulsworth said, “I have to say, early this week, I read documents in the Ampleforth dossier written at the same time as a ‘getting to know you’ meeting which shocked me, because what was being said about social services was toxic. It was in stark contrast to their statement, ‘We are wanting to work with you’. Behind the scenes, it was something very different. My role was to provide external challenge on safeguarding matters, and I think they wanted people like me to go away, not keep on coming back and asking the hard questions”.
At one point in his testimony, Arthur Molesworth, detailed how the Abbey was in a rush to get their ‘own version’ of events at Ampleforth out to the press, whilst Moulsworth was trying to manage a number of issues that a press statement might inhibit and he asked them to hold fire. Moulsworth wanted a joint statement which involved co-ordination with the Police and Social Services. Nevertheless, the Abbey went ahead and in a telephone conversation with Arthur Moulsworth, a representative of the Abbey stated “Actually, I’m not concerned about you. You need to understand you’re dealing with a machine. The Catholic Church is well-organised, well-oiled, it is them who are doing this”. I was quite struck by the way he was telling me not to cross with him, just saying, “You need to understand what you are dealing with”.
Arthur Molesworth also discovered that whilst the social services and the police were talking with Ampleforth about significant safeguarding matters and risks to children, the Abbey had some other risk assessments that they had not divulged to the local authorities. Instead they had formed their own views on the risks and had, effectively, tampered, in one case, with a witness. This activity had excluded the police and delayed investigations – and eventually the complainant had stopped the case going any further – despite the strength and anger he had expressed previously to Moulsworth, who subsequently became convinced that the Abbey had talked him out of proceeding any further. In his view, Arthur Moulsworth also stated that in one case there were four abbots who had known about the behavior of one priest but those Abbots just “didn’t get safeguarding; they didn’t get child protection”.
As I write about this testimony of Arthur Moulsworth to the United Kingdom’s Inquiry Into Child Sexual Abuse – and having been born a Catholic and my dear parents having been devoted to Catholicism – I am dismayed and ashamed beyond belief. I visited Benedictine Abbeys with my parents when I was a teenager and I was in awe of the monks. I became a member of a Religious Order myself and took my first vows whilst at the Novitiate of the Comboni Missionary Religious Institute at Sunningdale in Berkshire, England. By then, however, I had already been abused for a period of two weeks at their seminary by one of their priests who had locked the infirmary door behind him twice a day whilst he proceeded to carry out “essential medical inspections to see if everything was working properly”. I did not then even know the word for what he did to me, but now I know it is called “masturbation”. It had taken place following my recent visit to hospital where I had undergone intrusive investgations.
I eventually left the Order after my further confusion, as a novice, of having to witness secret meetings between a Comboni Missionary priest and a nun of the adjacent Convent. I had to sit in a room with them whilst they held hands, played “footsie” under the table and expressed their love for each other. At the time that I left, I was unaware that long before there had been allegations throughout the period between 1958 to1967against the priest who had abused me at Mirfield when I was a seminarian. Some 10 reports to superiors of the seminary had been made between1966 to 1968 that I now know of, but they were not acted upon until 1969 – when he was moved, ultimately, to a parish in Italy. There he would have had access to more children. They told me many years later that this priest was dead – when they knew very well that he was not.
Another priest abused multiple seminarians at the same seminary that I had attended and was reported to priests of that Order on eight known occasions between 1965 and 1968. Again he was not moved until 1969. He was posted to Uganda where he was put in charge of the Boy Scouts.
A third priest was abusing boys at that seminary for a relatively short period in 1970. After he was discovered and reported, he was also sent to Uganda to work in a Parish – where, obviously, he had access to more children. He remained there for 27 years until, in 1997, he was recalled to Italy to answer allegations – which he then admitted. One of his Victims eventually, in adulthood, visited this priest in the Comboni Missionary Order’s Mother House at Verona in Italy to seek an understanding from this priest as to why the priest had abused him as a very young teenager. The Victim also hoped that by such understanding and by forgiving this priest, he would find peace to his lifelong torments. He did meet the priest who did apologise for the harm done – and the Victim forgave the priest.
It was at that point that the Vice Superior of the Mother House appeared. He called a solicitor, threatened the Victim with calling the Police – and as the Victim left – the Vice Superior shouted after him that all the Victims of the priests of the Comboni Missionary Religious Institute were “money-grabbers”. The Comboni Religious Institute, soon after, laid charges against this Victim of trespassing, stalking and interfering in the life of the Priest who had abused him when that Victim was a child. The Judge of the Criminal Court of Verona threw the charges out as unsubstantiated. The Order, in an act of callous vindictiveness, appealed to the Court. The Judge of the Appeal Court threw out the Appeal as false on the basis that the original charges had already been determined to have had no justification. The Comboni Missionary Religious Institute made no offer to the Victim to pay the very high costs of his defence at the Verona Criminal Court. Such an addition of insult to injury is what other Victims of clerics of that Order have come to expect – but the list is too long to repeat here.
The Comboni Missionary Religious Institute in the 21st Century pays lip service, but has complied with the spirit of none of the United Nations Conventions on the Rights of the Child. They have not complied with the Catholic Church’s own Canon Law which requires that all acts against the 6th Commandment are reported to the Congregation for the Doctrine of the Faith. They have not complied with any recommendations of the Nolan and Cumberlege Reports in dealing with the numerous historical allegations of child sexual abuse reported to them. They refused to listen to the former Chair of the Catholic Safeguarding Commission when he tried to counsel them on a number of occasions to adopt the measures of the Catholic Hierarchies document, “Safeguarding with Confidence”. They did not, at the time of the original abuse and, nor have they subsequently, made any reports to the Civil Authorities of the United Kingdom. They have not even followed the measures concerning clerical child abuse that are written in their own Code of Conduct. That is unsurprising to me having read that Code, for the emphasis of the Code was to avoid “Scandal” – a word which appears in that Code on 19 occasions. When dealing with the matters relating to crimes of child sexual abuse within that Code of Conduct – the words “sin” is used. Stealing sweets is a “sin” – stealing the innocence of a child is a heinous, inhumane and depraved “crime”.
What the Comboni Missionary Order have done subsequently is refused to meet the Victims abused by their clerics, they have issued press reports suggesting that the events took place so long ago that the truth cannot now been determined. In doing so they seek to suggest that the many victims of sexual abuse committed by their clerics are false. For my part, and I know that others who were abused would say the same, I can say to them that the abuse inflicted upon me is not a figment of my imagination – and I know that because it happened to me – and I have not forgotten the details of that abuse – and nor will I forget.
The perennial wall of unconscionable silence constructed by both the Benedictine Order and the Comboni Missionary Religious Institute to defend their sense of clerical superiority and to protect their establishments from critical oversight will eventually crumble. Indeed, those walls of Catholicism are crumbling around them already. The Orders of the Catholic Church will have a natural, embedded and instinctive reluctance to believe me, of course, but perhaps, instead, they will at least wish to pause for a moment. In doing so, they should look at their contribution to the enormous confusion in the Catholic Church today and the role that they have played in the alienisation of historic Catholic lay communities. Those diminishing communities’ natural distrust of clerics today has been caused by what the Catholic Church itself has done in the name of Catholicism. For their meditation I suggest that they dwell upon those few prophetic words uttered by Pope Benedict XVI, many years before he ascended the Throne of St Peter, as he envisioned the Catholic Church of the future:
“It will be a restructured Church – with far fewer members – that is forced to let go of many places of worship it worked so hard to build over the centuries. It will be a minority Catholic Church with little influence over political decisions, that is socially irrelevant, left humiliated and forced to “start over.” But a Church that will find itself again and be reborn a “simpler and more spiritual” entity – thanks to this “enormous confusion.””