By Carol Glatz writing for the Catholic News Service

In a continuing effort to protect children, the Catholic Church’s focus is now turning to religious orders of men and women. Much of the attention has, in the past, been on how dioceses and national bishops’ conferences have been responding to victims and protecting children. But, religious orders and congregations are sometimes left out of that picture, even though they, too, have a duty to make sure every person in their care is safe. Also, the majority of the more than 300,000 Catholic schools and orphanages around the world are run by religious brothers and sisters whose charisms are to promote human dignity and Gospel values.

Pope Francis last year authorized the Congregation for the Doctrine of the Faith to investigate and judge claims of “abuse of office” by bishops who allegedly failed to protect minors and vulnerable adults from sex abuse. But that form of censure “wasn’t extended to the superior generals (of the Missionary Congregations), and it should be,” said Father John Fogarty, superior general of the Congregation of the Holy Spirit. Canon Law and the complementary Vatican norms regarding this field “refer only to clergy” — bishops, priests and deacons — said Jesuit Father Hans Zollner, president of the Center for Child Protection at Rome’s Pontifical Gregorian University.

While the Vatican’s doctrinal congregation asked the bishops’ conferences to develop guidelines and procedures on how they are adhered to by local bishops, he said religious brothers, religious seminarians before ordination or religious sisters are in a league of their own, and the canonical practice is different. Each religious order or congregation establishes its own policies, he said. And while some may have a set of guidelines for their whole congregation, in others, each province or region is in charge of setting up safeguarding guidelines, Father Zollner told Catholic News Service.

Father Fogarty said his “first priority” after being elected superior of the Spiritans in 2012 was to establish comprehensive guidelines and then ask each of the order’s provinces and regions to draw up procedures that would protect children and respect local laws and customs. “Not everyone is at the same point on the learning curve,” he said. But his experience working for the province in Ireland and as provincial superior in the United States “was very helpful for me for formulating policy,” said the Dublin-born missionary. He was surrounded by “lots of accumulated wisdom, lots of workshops, all the latest insights and reports,” he said. Since each local superior of his order is responsible for his territory, Father Fogarty said he uses his role “to work with the superiors” and get them all “on the same wavelength.” Not everyone in every part of the world is “at the same point” in recognizing the need to protect and care for children and survivors; “our job is to get them there, put pressure on them to produce adequate policies, procedures, hold workshops” and use every “means at our disposal” to spread awareness and resources. When new superiors meet in Rome each year, one session is dedicated to safeguarding norms, Father Fogarty said. When leaders don’t draw up procedures or get informed, he said, “we can urge them” to, “but we can’t do it in their place. We can’t replace (the local superior).”

The need to have adequate protection policies and procedures in place for religious orders is urgent since they are present in so many countries around the globe, said Mark Vincent Healy, an advocate in Ireland for services and care for survivors of child sexual abuse. For example, of the 48 Spiritan priests noted in Ireland’s National Board for Safeguarding Children’s audit in 2012 as accused of abuse in Ireland, half of them had also served in other countries, including the United States, Canada, Sierra Leone and Kenya, Healy has said. In Healy’s situation, the Spiritan priest who abused him at the school the order ran in Ireland was transferred to a Spiritan-run school in Sierra Leone, where he allegedly abused again before being convicted in Ireland and laicized. Healy’s case was handled in Ireland — the country where the abuse occurred — but, he said, victims of Irish missionaries in other countries, particularly Africa, lack clear or any channels at all for reporting and redress.

The church already responds to the psychological, emotional and spiritual fallout of victims of war in many of those countries, Healy said, so why not extend that same care and concern to victims of abuse by its own members. Healy said he was looking at ways the order and the church as a whole could provide services across jurisdictions, especially “in countries where there are no structures” to help survivors and communities. One proposal, which he also discussed with Father Fogarty, was the creation of a global network modeled after Doctors Without Borders. Instead of addressing physical harm, the network could specialize in delivering mental health care services to people suffering from trauma caused by war, civil conflicts and abuse in underdeveloped nations. By offering comprehensive mental health services, perhaps “you can alleviate the suffering and bring some function back to a dysfunctional society. Otherwise, violence will just repeat itself,” Healy said.

Father Zollner said that in some places in Asia and parts of Africa, the Catholic Church “is the organization that is doing more to safeguard minors than other groups.” In some areas, he said, “if you didn’t have the church, you would have nothing there” to look after and care for the most vulnerable. One example, he said, is Bishop Emanuel Barbara of Malindi, Kenya. The bishop, who’s a Capuchin priest from Malta, “set up the first help desk in the whole country” for victims of the sex-tourism industry there. “All the others, including those who legitimately have the power, just look away from the problem, there is much money involved,” Father Zollner said. With one in five children in Europe expected to be victims of some form of abuse, according to the Council of Europe, and global estimates reporting 40 million children are subjected to abuse each year, many child protection advocates want to see more action and cooperation among all sectors of society. “If the Catholic Church can address it, then the larger human family can, too,” Healy said. The church can’t keep being seen as sole perpetrator and healer “because that’s not working.”


Notes by Brian Mark Hennessy:

> The above article raises many issues known already to the Survivors of Child Sexual Abuse at the hands of Clerics of the Comboni Missionary Order at the Mirfield Seminary in Yorkshire, England. Specifically, information contained in that Order’s own historical archive refers to a conversation between a Provincial of the Order and the Superior General who said, “Dear Father. many of our Order think that if they had behaved less well they would have been granted their desire to go to the missions and so they feel betrayed (when prevented from going). Should we be responsible for creating the idea that only the maladjusted are sent to the Missions?”. Moreover, of those clerics whose abuse was reported at the time by seminarians on 29 known occasions, two of those clerics were sent to the missions – one to South Africa and one to Uganda and the third was incardinated into a diocesan parish in Italy. Another priest against whom allegations have been made has been located in Mozambique for many decades. No sign of consideration to other children with whom these clerics came into contact appears to have been considered at all. The re-allocations of those clerics appeared to be related more to removing those clerics from the United Kingdom legal jurisdiction as fast as practically possible.

> Father Zollner may be familiar to some readers. Mark Murry met Father Zollner on the occasion of Mark’s invitation to the Vatican to speak on the effects of abuse that he suffered at the hands of a priest of the Comboni Missionary Order when Mark was a thirteen-year-old seminarian at the Mirfield Seminary. Father Zollner later contributed to an article that appeared in this forum. The priest who has admitted that he abused Mark Murray remains within the Comboni Missionary Order at the Verona Mother House under the protection of the Order. It is believed that no reports have ever been made to the Vatican regarding this priests admissions of abuse under either Canon Law or the Motu Proprio, ‘Sacramentorum Sanctitatus’ which are mandatory reports to be made by Bishops concerning diocesan priests.  All attempts to extradite the cleric to the United Kingdom have, so far, failed. It is also of note that just before Mark Murray attended the Vatican Meeting, the Comboni Missionary Order appeared to attempt to scare off Mark Murray from entering Italy and addressing the Vatican meeting. They did this by the issue of a summons through the Verona Criminal Tribunal on what turned out to be totally unfounded charges. Mark, however, was not deterred and made his presentation to the world assembly of Representatives.

> It is of further interest that it is common that clerics whose abuse of children is fully documented, are not reported to civil authorities as a matter of routine practice by either Bishops or General Superiors. This situation pertains despite calls from such notable Vatican figures as Cardinal Sean O’Malley, Archbishop of Boston, Member of the Pope’s personal Advisory Council, Member of the Congregation for the Doctrine of the Faith and Chair of the Pontifical Commission on the Protection of Minors – to the effect that all child sexual abuse should be reported to the Civil Police by Bishops and Religious Superiors in every instance as a basic “moral duty”.

> Recently Reports have appeared in the Vatican press to the effect that Pope Francis’ recent call, just a few weeks ago, for “no tolerance” to be shown to clerics who abuse children was little more than “whispers in the wind”. In the last week, the very same Pope has called for “mercy” to be shown to those same priests – who have demonstrated no such mercy whatsoever to innocents – many of whom were brutally and repeatedly abused and who subsequently have continued in adulthood to suffer the lifelong effects of that abuse. According to one commentator in the last week, Pope Francis’ “no tolerance” has so far applied to only 25% of priests determined to be guilty of child sexual abuse, but the remaining 75% have been granted “mercy” with no loss of clerical dignity nor privileges. If these figures are verifiable, then someone needs to point out to Pope Francis that his “no tolerance” call was outrageously misleading – and neither the 1.2 billion lay Catholics in this world who are “sick to the teeth” of the Vatican’s failure to manage the problem of the clerical sexual abuse of minors appropriately – let alone everybody else in the world watching with wry smiles on their faces and in total disbelief– will ever believe anything this Pope, or his princely Vatican entourage, ever say in the future.

> Finally – in the question of the Rules of Missionary Congregations, it has to be said that in matters of Child abuse, the Rules of the Comboni Missionary Order, despite my many misgivings, are “reasonably” sound “as written”. They were revised in 2005, by none other than a childhood friend of mine, David Glenday, to reflect the changing winds. Those Rules even allow for individual provinces of the Order to reflect local civil laws and the rules of the Conference of Diocesan Bishops that pertain to their geographical location. Great! However, the problem is, upon my very close inspection of those Rules, that, in practice, the Comboni Missionary Order in the United Kingdom and the Irish Republic, have ignored their own Rules totally. Yes – totally in every detail. In addition, they refused attempts by the Former Chair of the United Kingdom’s Catholic Safeguarding Organisation to encourage them back into line. It has to be said also, as a final comment on the lack of commitment by the Comboni Missionary Order to the issues of clerical child sexual abuse and the care of Victims, that even after the acceptance of the Cardinal Archbishop of Westminster’s Diocesan Rules and Guidelines by the Religious Conference of England and Wales – to which august organization the Provincial Superior of the Comboni Missionary Order is the Secretary (at the last time I looked) – the Order’s “tolerance” of those Diocesan Rules is 0%. Someone needs to tell them that they have misunderstood Pope Francis’ call for “no tolerance”. In respect to the Rules, the “tolerance” level is expected to be 100%. Pope Francis’ call for “no tolerance” relates to the manner in which the Order is expected to deal with those paedophile priests, still in their midst, whom they have protected for decades. 

Pope Reduces Sanctions Against Some Paedophile Priests — A Report by the Associated Press in The Catholic Herald – By Brian Mark Hennessy

Pope Reduces Sanctions Against Some Paedophile Priests

A Report by the Associated Press in The Catholic Herald


Pope Francis has quietly reduced sanctions against a handful of paedophile priests, applying his vision of a merciful Church even to its worst offenders in ways that survivors of abuse and the Pope’s own advisers question. One case has come back to haunt him: An Italian priest who received the Pope’s clemency was later convicted by an Italian criminal court for his sex crimes against children as young as 12. Fr Mauro Inzoli is now facing a second church trial after new evidence emerged against him, The Associated Press has learned. The Inzoli case is one of several in which Francis overruled the advice of the Vatican’s Congregation for the Doctrine of the Faith (CDF) and reduced a sentence that called for the priest to be laicised, two canon lawyers and a Church official told AP. Instead, the priests were sentenced to penalties including a lifetime of penance and prayer and removal from public ministry.

In some cases, the priests or their high-ranking friends appealed to Francis for clemency by citing the Pope’s own words about mercy in their petitions, the Church official said, speaking on condition of anonymity because the proceedings are confidential. “With all this emphasis on mercy … he is creating the environment for such initiatives,” the Church official said, adding that clemency petitions were rarely granted by Pope Benedict XVI, who launched a tough crackdown during his 2005-2013 papacy and laicised some 800 priests who raped and molested children.

At the same time, Francis also ordered three longtime staffers at the CDF dismissed, two of whom worked for the discipline section that handles sex abuse cases, the lawyers and Church official said. One is the head of the section and will be replaced before leaving on March 31. Vatican spokesman Greg Burke dispelled rumors that sex-abuse cases would no longer be handled by the congregation, saying the strengthened office would handle all cases submitted. Burke said Francis’ emphasis on mercy applied to “even those who are guilty of heinous crimes.” He said priests who abuse are permanently removed from ministry, but are not necessarily dismissed from the clerical state, the Church term for laicisation. “The Holy Father understands that many victims and survivors can find any sign of mercy in this area difficult,” Burke said. “But he knows that the Gospel message of mercy is ultimately a source of powerful healing and of grace.”

Francis has repeatedly proclaimed “zero tolerance” for abusive priests and in December wrote to the world’s bishops committing to take “all necessary measures” to protect them. But he also recently said he believed sex abusers suffer from a “disease” – a medical term used by defence lawyers to seek mitigating factors in canonical sentences.


Marie Collins, an Irish abuse survivor and founding member of Francis’ sex-abuse advisory commission, expressed dismay prior to her recent resignation from the Commission, that the congregation’s recommended penalties were being weakened and said abusers are never so sick that they don’t know what they’re doing. “All who abuse have made a conscious decision to do so,” Collins told AP. “Even those who are pedophiles, experts will tell you, are still responsible for their actions. They can resist their inclinations.”

Victim advocates have long questioned Francis’ commitment to continuing Benedict’s tough line, given he had no experience dealing with abusive priests or their victims in his native Argentina. While Francis counts Boston’s Cardinal Sean O’Malley as his top adviser on abuse, he has also surrounded himself with cardinal advisers who botched handling abuse cases in their archdioceses. “They are not having zero tolerance,” said Rocio Figueroa, a former Vatican official and ex-member of the Peru-based Sodalitium Christianae Vitae, a conservative Catholic lay society rocked by sex scandals. The Vatican recently handed down sanctions against the group’s founder, Luis Fernando Figari, after determining that he sexually, psychologically and physically abused his recruits. His victims, however, are enraged that it took the Vatican six years to decide that the founder should be isolated, but not expelled, from the community.

“It’s really shameful,” said Pedro Salinas, who blew the whistle in 2015 on abuse within the organisation. The sanctions against Figari, Salinas said, amount to a “golden exile, where he can live comfortably with all his needs taken care of.” The Church official stressed that to his knowledge, none of the reduced sentences had put children at risk. Many canon lawyers and Church authorities argue that laicising pedophiles can put society at greater risk because the Church no longer exerts any control over them. They argue that keeping the men in restricted ministry, away from children, at least enables superiors to exert some degree of supervision.

But Collins said the Church must also take into account the message that reduced canonical sentences sends to both survivors and abusers. “While mercy is important, justice for all parties is equally important,” Collins said in an email. “If there is seen to be any weakness about proper penalties, then it might well send the wrong message to those who would abuse.”

It can also come back to embarrass the Church. Take for example the case of Inzoli, a well-connected Italian priest who was found guilty by the Vatican in 2012 of abusing young boys and ordered to be laicised. Inzoli appealed and in 2014 Francis reduced the penalty to a lifetime of prayer, prohibiting him from celebrating Mass in public or being near children, barring him from his diocese and ordering five years of psychotherapy. In a statement announcing Francis’ decision to reduce the sentence, Crema Bishop Oscar Cantoni said “no misery is so profound, no sin so terrible that mercy cannot be applied.” In November, an Italian criminal judge showed little mercy in convicting Inzoli of abusing five children, aged 12-16, and sentencing him to four years, nine months in prison. The judge said Inzoli had a number of other victims but their cases fell outside the statute of limitations. Burke disclosed to AP that the Vatican recently initiated a new canonical trial against Inzoli based on “new elements” that had come to light. He declined to elaborate.

Amid questions about how the battle against abuse was faring, Francis recently named O’Malley, who heads his sex-abuse advisory commission, as a member of the Congregation for the Doctrine of the Faith. But it’s not clear what influence he can wield from his home base in Boston. Francis scrapped the commission’s proposed tribunal for bishops who botch abuse cases following legal objections from the congregation. The commission’s other major initiative – a guideline template to help dioceses develop policies to fight abuse and safeguard children – is gathering dust. The Vatican never sent the template to bishops’ conferences, as the commission had sought, or even linked it to its main abuse-resource website.




Vatican Abuse Commission Expresses Frustration to Australian Royal Commission

By Kieran Tapsell – Writing for the National Catholic Reporter

(Kieran Tapsell is the author of Potiphar’s Wife: The Vatican’s Secret and Child Sexual Abuse, and a submission to the Royal Commission: Canon Law: A Systemic Factor in Child Sexual Abuse in the Catholic Church. He gave evidence about canon law as part of a panel Feb. 9, 2016.)

On March 1, Marie Collins, the only abuse survivor on Pope Francis’ Pontifical Commission for the Protection of Minors, resigned because “what was happening behind closed doors was in conflict with what was being said to the public.”

On Feb. 23, three other members of the Pontifical Commission, Baroness Sheila Hollins of Great Britain, Bill Kilgallon from New Zealand and Kathleen McCormack from Australia gave evidence in a panel to the Australian Royal Commission into Institutional Responses to Child Sexual Abuse, and expressed their frustration with the Vatican. Their views were personal, and did not necessarily reflect the opinion of the Pontifical Commission as a whole.

Justice Peter McLellan, the chair of the Royal Commission, told the panel that the work they were doing was of “fundamental importance to individual countries” because the work of the Royal Commission indicates that real change in the culture and practices of the church in Australia will only occur if “it’s coming from Rome.”

After several hours of questioning in which the panel spoke about resistance in Rome to the work of the Pontifical Commission and its lack of resources, McLellan observed: “The picture you all paint, from an outsider’s point of view, is of a world organization which is struggling to come to terms with the safety of children and its responsibilities in that area.”

A surprising feature of the evidence from the panel was the lack of attention to the reform of canon law, both in relation to cooperation with the civil authorities and to the church’s disciplinary system. An Italian professor of canon law who couldn’t speak English was appointed to the Pontifical Commission, but he resigned. Baroness Hollins told the Royal Commission: “I don’t know the full reasons, but we were told that he had decided he couldn’t make the contribution that was needed.” An American canon lawyer in Rome gave some assistance, but then had to return to the United States. There is no canon lawyer on the now 15-member Commission.

Since 1996, the Catholic Bishops’ Conferences of Ireland, Great Britain, the United States, and Australia have wanted mandatory reporting under canon law, but have been continually rebuffed by the Vatican. In 2002, the United States bishops put a proposal to the Vatican that included mandatory reporting, but, like the Irish bishops in 1997, were told it did not comply with canon law. Eventually a compromise was reached whereby bishops were instructed to obey civil reporting laws, and that instruction was extended to the rest of the world in 2010. The Vatican seemed more concerned about bishops going to jail for breaching reporting laws than about the protection of children who were unfortunate enough to be living in states with inadequate civil reporting laws.

In 2014, the United Nations Committees on the Rights of the Child and against Torture queried the Vatican’s representatives as to why the Vatican did not impose mandatory reporting under canon law. Pope Francis’ casuistic response in September 2014 was that mandatory reporting would interfere with the independence of sovereign states. Canon law interferes with the sovereignty of independent nations as much as the rules of golf. Mandatory reporting under canon law would only interfere with that sovereignty if a country prohibited the reporting of child sexual abuse to the police. No such country exists.

In February 2016, Boston Cardinal Sean O’Malley, the president of the Pontifical Commission stated that “even beyond these civil requirements, we all have a moral and ethical responsibility to report suspected abuse to the civil authorities.” This was a welcome announcement suggesting that the Commission might convince Pope Francis to change his mind about mandatory reporting. However, on Dec. 6, 2016, the Pontifical Commission published its guidelines for national protocols on child sexual abuse. O’Malley’s statement was not included.

When asked about mandatory reporting, Kilgallon answered along the lines given by then-Vatican spokesman Jesuit Fr. Federico Lombardi on May 16, 2011: the church cannot impose mandatory reporting because some countries have repressive regimes. The irony of Lombardi’s response is that in 2010, when he announced the direction for bishops to obey civil laws on reporting, there was no suggestion of an exception for repressive regimes.

Opponents of mandatory reporting under canon law seem to be unaware of the church’s history. In 1842, the Holy Office under Pope Gregory XVI issued a direction that the universal requirement for penitents to denounce priests who solicited sex in the confessional henceforth did not apply in the lands of “schismatics, heretics and Mohammedans,” the repressive regimes of the day. It’s really very simple. Kilgallon agreed that an exception to mandatory reporting could be made for such countries, but that was only his personal opinion.

On Feb. 22, Br. Ambrose Payne from the De La Salle Brothers told the Royal Commission that Pope Francis’ rhetoric about “zero tolerance” of child sexual abuse did not match the reality imposed by canon law. Canon law requires a religious brother to receive a “canonical warning” before he can be dismissed. Payne said it was “a bit late” to require warnings after the abuse had occurred. The abuser has to offend again after a canonical warning has been given before he can be dismissed.

Similar problems arise with the disciplinary canons dealing with priests. Not a word has changed in Canon 1341 that requires a bishop to try and cure the priest before he is put on a canonical trial. Not a word has changed in Canon 1321, which two Vatican appeal courts interpreted as meaning that a priest cannot be dismissed for paedophilia because he is a paedophile. Not a word has come from the Vatican indicating that these canons are being interpreted differently from the past.

Zero tolerance in a professional context almost invariably means dismissal, but Pope Francis’ claim that the church has a “zero tolerance” policy is not borne out by the figures he presented to the United Nations: only one quarter of all priests found to have sexually abused children have been dismissed. That’s a 75 percent tolerance, not zero.

The buck for canon law stops at the popes, and Pope Francis can change it with the stroke of a pen. The lack of consistency between his rhetoric and his reluctance to reform canon law on child sexual abuse could turn out to be the major blot on his papacy. When Collins resigns and Kathleen McCormack describes her work at the Pontifical Commission as “like water on a rock, we’ve just got to keep at it,” there is not much room for optimism.





By Joshua J. McElwee  Mar. 1, 2017

(Joshua J. McElwee is a US National Catholic Reporter. Email:

(Paraphrased by Brian Mark Hennessy)

The only active member of Pope Francis’ new commission on clergy sexual abuse who is an abuse survivor has resigned from the group due to frustration with Vatican officials’ reluctance to cooperate with its work to protect children. Marie Collins, an Irishwoman who has served on the Pontifical Commission for the Protection of Minors since March 2014, announced her resignation in a press statement Wednesday. In a separate exclusive statement for the National Catholic Reporter, explaining her choice, Collins says that she decided to leave the commission after losing hope that Vatican officials would cooperate with its work following a failure to implement a series of recommendations.

Collins says her decision to resign was immediately precipitated by one Vatican office’s refusal to comply with a request from the commission, approved by Pope Francis, that all letters sent to the Vatican by abuse survivors should receive a response. “I find it impossible to listen to public statements about the deep concern in the church for the care of those whose lives have been blighted by abuse, yet to watch privately, as a Congregation in the Vatican refuses to even acknowledge their letters!” Collins writes in the statement. “When I accepted my appointment to the Commission in 2014, I said publicly that if I found what was happening behind closed doors was in conflict with what was being said to the public, I would not remain,” she states. “This point has come. I feel I have no choice but to resign if I am to retain my integrity.”

In her March 1st statement for the National Catholic Reporter, Collins also expressed frustration that a sample template of guidelines for safeguarding children developed by the commission has not yet been published. She says that a Vatican office had created its own sample template and refused to join efforts with the Commission to reach an agreed text. Collins also mentions that the Commission’s request, approved by the Pope, that the Vatican create a new Tribunal to judge bishops who act inappropriately in sexual abuse cases was not acted upon. While that Tribunal was announced by O’Malley in June 2015, it was never created. In place of the proposed Tribunal, Francis signed a new universal law for the Church in June 2016 specifying that a bishop’s negligence in response to clergy sexual abuse could lead to his removal from office. The law, given the name “Come una madre amorevole” – (“As a loving Mother”), also empowers four separate Vatican Curia offices to investigate such bishops and initiate processes of their removal.

Collins is the third of Francis’ 17 original appointees to the commission to leave its work. The only other abuse survivor on the commission, Englishman Peter Saunders, was placed on leave from the group in February 2016, because of friction between Saunders and other members of the commission. Claudio Papale, an official at the Vatican’s Congregation for the Doctrine of the Faith, resigned from the Commission in May 2016. His resignation was not initially made public. Upon inquiry from NCR at the time, a Commission spokesperson said Papale had resigned for personal reasons.

In a statement on Wednesday, the Commission said it had “deep appreciation” for Collins’ work. In her own press statement Collins said she would continue to work with the group in helping with training projects for priests and bishops. Boston Cardinal Sean O’Malley, the head of the Commission, said in a statement that he had expressed to Collins “our most sincere thanks for the extraordinary contributions she has made as a founding member. With the members of the Commission I am deeply grateful for Marie’s willingness to continue to work with us in the education of church leaders, including the upcoming programs for new bishops and for the dicasteries of the Holy See,” said O’Malley. “Our prayers will remain with Marie and with all victims and survivors of sexual abuse.”

Dominican Fr. Thomas Doyle, an expert on the church’s response to clergy sexual abuse, said in an interview that he thought Collins’ resignation would cause the Commission to lose trustworthiness among survivors and advocates who have pushed for decades for the Church to better protect vulnerable people. “Its credibility is going to take a nose-dive,” said Doyle. “If they don’t have a survivor on that Commission, it’s akin to the Board of Directors of the American Medical Association being made up of bureaucrats and no doctors. Here you have an issue that really has to have input from survivors,” he said. “Quite frankly, the clerical world does not understand what this is all about.” Doyle continued that he thinks the Commission needs to be given the power to rewrite its mandate in order to be more effective. “They are a consultative Commission,” he said. “They have no power. There has to be some mechanism where they can get by the Curia an get things done”.

Krysten Winter-Green, a member of the abuse Commission, said in an interview that she finds it difficult to conceptualise a Commission of this nature without the benefit of the voice of survivors or victims. “I think it will take some time to really look at the composition of this Commission and forge a path ahead,” said Winter-Green, who is a native New Zealander, living in the U.S. and providing consulting services for religious congregations. She echoed Collins’ frustration with the reluctance of Vatican offices to work with the abuse Commission. “I think there’s been a lack of cooperation, I would say, by some Congregations in the Curia,” she said. “I really do not know where it comes from, but I do know that it does a grave disservice to survivors and victims and it doesn’t really promote the healing and care that the Commission is about. If this commission is going to really accomplish what His Holiness wants it to accomplish, then I think we need to take a very, very serious look at where we are presently and where we see this Commission going in the future,” said Winter-Green. Asked what she might say to an abuse survivor who thinks it is not appropriate for a Vatican commission on abuse to not have a member who is a survivor, Winter-Green responded: “I would have to agree. I would strongly encourage survivor participation. In fact, I would go so far as to say I would insist on survivor participation.”




The resignation of former Victims of sexual abuse from the Pontifical Commission, discussed in the above article by Joshua J. McElwee, are discouraging. From time to time it is difficult to establish clearly what direction the Catholic Church, under the leadership of Pope Francis, is heading. The Vatican compass swings wildly almost day to day in different directions – and we wonder where and when it will settle once again on its course – and what that ‘sometimes elusive’ course might be. We wonder too, who is to blame for the turgid progress of the cause of Victims of abuse. Is Pope Francis too weak? Is this or that Cardinal trying to continually undermine him? Why is there no clear and absolute direction?

It is of further note that, surprisingly to the understanding of most lay-persons, the nature of the governance of the Catholic Church and the responsibilities of the Pope, individual Bishops and Religious Leaders of the Traditional Orders is most unlike that of Civil Governments and Business Institutions with which the majority are familiar. In the latter, you have a top to bottom hierarchical structure by which laws and policies are handed down with legally binding, crystal clear, word for word and unchanged clarity. The Catholic Church is not constituted like that – and the Pope, even when regaled with the triple crown and the Keys of Saint Peter, is far removed from a status anything like that of a “constitutional monarch”.

By way of explanation and example, on the 20 July 2011, the Irish Dáil passed a motion on the “Cloyne Diocese Child Abuse Report” which, among other things, deplored “the Vatican’s intervention which contributed to the undermining of the child protection framework and guidelines of the Irish State and the Irish Conference of Bishops”. What had the Vatican done to cause such outlandish offence we may ask? Simply, the Vatican had declared that one Irish Bishop, who had decided not to follow either the Dail’s processes and nor those of the Conference of Bishops, was within his rights to decline to do so.

The response of the Vatican to the charge by the Dail was that it should be “borne in mind that the social organization of the Catholic Church throughout the world, is a communion of many particular Churches – for example, Dioceses and their equivalents, such as Territorial Prelatures, Apostolic Vicariates and, Military Ordinariates – (to which we can add Religious Orders). The Church, it was stated, is not like that of a modern State with a central government – nor is it comparable to that of a federal State. In the Church, the individual Bishops are neither representatives nor delegates of the Roman Pontiff, but of Christ Himself, albeit, as Catholic Bishops, they are to act in communion with the Bishop of Rome and the other Bishops throughout the world. This, the Vatican stated, is the principle of “episcopal collegiality”, as described by the Second Vatican Council. Hence, while the diocesan Bishop is to act in conformity with universal canonical legislation, it is the Bishop himself who is primarily responsible for penal discipline within his own Diocese and jurisdiction. In the Catholic Church, this particular relationship among the various Dioceses within the one Church is expressed by the term “ecclesial communion” and it has been particularly evident since the Second Vatican Council, which placed special emphasis on the proper responsibility of each Bishop”.

The response continued, “Without having to refer either to the Holy See or to the Episcopal Conference, and provided the Bishop respects the requirements of the universal law of the Church and the just laws of the State, each individual Bishop has the right and the obligation to take whatever initiative he deems necessary in order to promote charity and justice in his Diocese. In this context, with due respect for the prerogatives and responsibilities of individual Bishops, the Holy See has the sole (and, therefore, limited) responsibility of ensuring the unity of faith, sacraments and governance in the Church, and the processes of maintaining and strengthening of the ecclesial communion. Only when this unity and ecclesial communion is compromised, is the Roman Pontiff enabled to act directly, or through the offices of the Roman Curia, to seek to rectify matters”’.

In other words, what was stated to the Irish Dail is that, within the unusual context of the Catholic Church, the local Bishop reigns supreme – for the most part. The Pope is, theoretically, just another Bishop – like any other Bishop – and his diocese is Rome. Despite his election as Pontiff of the Catholic Church, he is not an absolute ruler, nor even a benevolent despot, but his remit is that of the Shepherd of his Flock and a caring Teacher- who sometimes has to resort to carrying a light in the darkness to guide – and who, extraordinarily, at other times, needs to persuade and gently goad his helpers in the right direction. This unusual “constitution” of the Church probably explains the Pope’s inability (and sometimes his apparent reluctance or even his failure) to make or demand the rapid changes for which the outside world has an expectation. In the context of the Church today which, demonstrably, has polarised extremes of view (eg: the Cardinal Burkes to the right and, perhaps, for the sake of the argument, the Cardinal O’Malleys to the left) Pope Francis himself, as Bishop of Rome, both cannot and should not himself be adjudicating, as a matter of routine, in another Bishop’s local diocesan matters. As the Pope’s title, “Primus inter Pares” proclaims, amongst both Patriarchs and his fellow Bishops, he is merely the “First amongst Equals”. Thus, behold the often-confused signals and the snail-like speed of change that, most surprisingly even to avid “Vatican Watchers”, can be anything other than “influenced” by any Pope in the Catholic Church – should he even chose to intervene. Call it a “dog’s dinner” if you wish, but it is not about to change.

Having said that, despite all the setbacks such as the resignation of Marie Collins that we perceive at a distance, there is one thing that Pope Francis can do – and has been doing with steadfast determination – and that is to sow the seeds of change that will bear fruit in the long term – perhaps the very long term. The evidence for this are the continual and sometimes dramatic changes Francis has made in the senior appointments to the Curia, his shrewdness in the establishment of a very select group of Cardinal advisors and his wisdom in the appointments of new and progressive bishops that he foresees will ensure that his own successor will continue on the same path of his current work of reform – slow as that process appears to be. At the Vatican it is not so much personal success in the short term, but the success of the “long game” that pre-occupies every Pope. That is the direction – the true North – in which the Vatican Compass needs always to be fixed. This scenario means also, of course, that some hopeful Hierarchs will be overlooked or sidelined in the process. Yes – clerics can be ambitious too – and that needs to be managed also. Accordingly, some have been put out to pasture by Pope Francis already – with nothing much more to do than ruminate on what might have been – if only.

It is of interest, in this overall context, that Cardinal Sean O’Malley, Archbishop of Boston, was recently appointed by Pope Francis to the Congregation for the Doctrine of the Faith. Boston’s Cardinal O’Malley, a Franciscan, already sits on the council of cardinal advisers who assist Pope Francis in the reform of the Roman Curia. This new appointment of O’Malley to the Congregation for the Doctrine of the Faith, the dicastery of the Curia that sits in pole position at the Vatican, is not “instead of”, but “in addition to” leading the Commission for the Protection of Minors. Undoubtedly, this new, additional responsibility of Cardinal O’Malley’s will be seen by some as a sign of the adamant resolve of the Pope in the fight against clerical sexual abuse and the deadly prevalent disease of clericalism. It most probably is. Unbeknown to the casual observer, therefore, Pope Francis may have already reset the Vatican Compass on the course of a new and steadfast future. He has publicly warned the Curia recently not to work against his will by rearguard actions and threatened to make radical changes in the staffing of Curial posts in the case of those who obstruct him. Possibly, Francis sees O’Malley as the “spearhead” of this reformation of the CDF. O’Malley may also be the stuff that an ageing Pope may wish to see in pole position, either as King Maker or as Papal Candidate, when a Conclave is summoned to replace himself as Pope. However, only in the future will the laboriously slow revolutions of the Vatican wheels reveal to us the destination, devoid of all tangential deviation, to which the genial, but determined, Pope Francis has long since set a course.

Comboni Missionaries and Clerical “Alternative Information” in a World Replete with Injustice. By Brian Mark Hennessy

Comboni Missionaries and Clerical “Alternative Information” in a World Replete with Injustice.

By Brian Mark Hennessy

It is essential that the Mirfield Seminary Victims of child sexual abuse hold on to what they have – which is their knowledge of the “Truth” of the punitive, degrading and cruel sexual abuse that was perpetrated upon them by members of the Comboni Missionary Order of Verona, Italy, when they were child seminarians in their care. Their “Truth” opens the doors of their right to “Justice”.  They must never waver and nor be afraid to tell it. “Justice” and “Truth” are bedfellows and are dependent on each other. You cannot have one without the other.

They must also hold on to those dear to them who are the only reliable sources of their strength and stability. There is nothing else and no one else out there that can provide their turbulent lives with a secure anchor. They must do that because in this harsh world there are few constant friends. Even those to whom you once entrusted your youth and your future hopes may betray you – as the Apostle Peter betrayed Christ in his most dire moment.

In like vein, the trust that Mirfield Victims of child sexual abuse once had in the Priests and the Hierarchy of the Comboni Missionary Order of Verona, Italy, has been traitorously dashed also. The latter have refused to engage with the Victims in any meaningful way. To put it simply, they just do not care to quell the tempestuous storms and havoc that sexual abuse has created in the minds of those whom they betrayed.

The Combonis at Saint Peter Claver’s Seminary in Mirfield in the 1960’s and 70’s ignored the abuse when it was happening – and so why would they have heed of it now. “It all happened such a long time ago” they have often and vaguely repeated in recent years, “that simply nobody can establish the truth now”.

That is far from the true “truth”, however, for the abuse was largely reported at the time that it took place – and there are Comboni Priests alive today who have given witness to the truth of the abuse.  The sad fact is that if a concerted hierarchy states a lie often enough and with consistency – then that lie replaces the truth in the ears of both unwitting listeners and, eventually, the tellers also. So it is that in the course of time the Combonis have come to believe their own lies.

The worst of the effects of the Combonis’ “new truth”, that emanates from their distortions and denials of the “old truth”, is that these shameful, so-called clerics have destroyed their Victims’ lives. They have achieved this by their silence which is broken only by the disarming “alternative information” of the new “political speak” that they haplessly invented long before did Donald Trump. Such deliberate compulsive “dishonesty” is about as malevolent and cruel a reaction to the Victims’ injuries that could be inflicted.

In a hostile and vindictive way, silence destroys the Victims by forcing them to either give up or to become adversaries. Both outcomes are destructive to the Victims. They can win neither battle because their injuries have been inflicted already – and those wounds are the cause of inexhaustible, constant, complex and profound mental suffering – and even despair. The Combonis’ devastating and contemptuous silence, compounds that suffering – and those clerics appear to know it, welcome it and ignore it.

The Combonis’ disdain of the Victims is not fantasy. What was it that the Vice Superior and Superior of the Verona Mother House said to one Victim when less than two years ago he asked why it was that the Order was protecting a known, self-confessed, paedophile priest within their walls? There was no denial – and they responded variously, “We all make mistakes”, “He is being looked after” and “You are all money grabbers”.

The suffering of the Victims has no effect on the Combonis’ Hierarchy because they are remote and aloof. They do not feel the pain of the Victims’ hurt. Their silence and refusal to have dialogue with them has built up within them a systemic immunity to the Victims’ pain. They turn a deaf ear to the cries of Victims because, in the long run, they know well that you cannot feel remorse nor care for those for whom you have no thoughts. Victims’ cries for help and healing can become less than the sounds of whispers in the howling gale of self-deceit that they have fanned.

At Verona again, the Superior told the Victim, “We don’t want you to meet anybody here…We have nothing to say to you…Rather than concentrating on an apology you should look towards the future…It does not pay for you to be in Verona because you will not see anybody…You will be waiting in vain for an apology.”

Thus, in a disarmingly apathetic and incurious manner, the Combonis of Verona dusted their fleeting thoughts of a Victim off their cassock sleeves as if he were the occasional, irritable, noisy insect that momentarily catches their notice on a warm summer’s eventide dusk. As the slighted Victim left their Mother house in disbelief of their heartless disdain for him, the clergy within murmured their Vespers and praised the Lord. They then continued to watch the sun set over the ancient walled citadel of Verona across the valley to the West. They felt safe again after the Victim had left – and were contented in the false comfort that they were the righteous ones of the God who is constantly in the litany of the utterances of their lips.

They are wrong – and they are pitifully disillusioned. Their assumption that a Just God will overlook their injustices because they continually mouth His Holy name each Liturgical Hour of the day is a grave deception of self-conceit. They persist in their own self-delusion with an arrogance that amounts to both psychotic mental and spiritual blindness.

They fear the Victims. They fear to see their faces before them and they fear to see the stares of accusation in their eyes. They fear to hear their voices raised against them. They do not wish to be in the same space as a Victim. In such proximity, they might sense the tenuous emanations of their suffering and hear the silent outpouring of the inner grief of their hearts and minds. Such propinquity would make them feel ill at ease, perplexed and bewildered. It might even give them scruples and make an alarming dent in their arrogant, clericalist, self-perception of righteousness. It just would not do at all to be the subjects of such alarming and unnerving juxta-positioning.

So, they keep their distance, refuse to meet the Victims, refuse to hear them and put them out of their minds as best they can. Personal contact is for them a frightening prospect. Thus, to save themselves from buckling under the strength and conviction of the “Truth” that they might confront in the gaze of a Victim, they hire a lawyer.

In doing so, they close their hearts to the Victims’ distant, silent existence. Such remoteness is their safety net. It allows their self-deceit to thrive happily in their self-made, moral vacuum. Thus, from Matins to Compline daily, they carry on with their psalm recitations in the vain hope that their God is even remotely listening to them.

Yet, also, they must surely conceal the fear that their God is not listening at all to their brand of “alternative information”. Despite their “shut down” of the simple logic that must constantly  whisper in their ears that their Omniscient God has already well discerned the “Truth” that gives rise to the constant cries of Victims, they continue to don their vacant masks of false contentment. They stick it out in the certainty that one by one the victims, like them, will end their days in an earthen grave – and will there-on-in remain silent. They play the face-saving, callous and hard-bitten predictability of the “waiting game”.

This Mirfield Memories site has many devolved purposes, but the original principle purpose of it was to provide a forum for Victims to unburden their hearts, minds and souls by telling their stories to their past seminarian confreres who once, alongside them, experienced the un-loving regime of Saint Peter Claver’s Seminary in Mirfield. We must not forget, however, that child sexual abuse also took place at Stillington and Elstree. Those stories yet remain to be told.

Some dozen or so ex-seminarians have so far unburdened themselves publicly and told their stories. Another dozen of them have shared their experiences with a core of us – and have benefitted from the fraternity that that engenders. Yet another dozen are known to a very few of us, for they have not yet overcome the struggles involved in casting off the burdens of their painful silence.

Whilst the Comboni Missionary Order remains in contemptuous denial of the truths that they have known for some five decades, these struggling, and as-yet silent Victims of child sexual abuse, live lives that have been brutally blighted by the blatant blasphemy – the “magnum mendacium” –  of the Hierarchy of an Order of Religious men who with sacrilegious desecration deny Christ – not just thrice – but with consistent apparent ease.

Meanwhile, these lone, suffering Victims of Comboni child sexual abuse who are still out there in the wilderness must forever hold on to the “truth” of the debased, cruel and punitive abuse that they once suffered. We, their fellow victims, extend to them a hand of warm understanding friendship. We stand before them as witnesses to the undeniable fact that child sexual abuse was perpetrated at the Comboni Missionary Order’s United Kingdom seminaries by callous adult, paedophile clerics who took advantage of the youthful innocence of young boys who trusted and idolised them – and aspired to be one of them.

Those silent victims of abuse have no need to feel alone for we have belief in the untold truth that is hidden in their hearts. We, of necessity, also remain the Truth and Justice adversaries of all the silent, abused children of Stillington, Mirfield and Elstree. That role was cast upon us by an Order of Catholic Clerics, the Comboni Missionaries of Verona, Italy, who remain in grievous moral denial of God’s “Truth” and who are yet to find enlightenment and humble, Gospel-based leadership in a world replete with injustice.

Experts tell Australian abuse panel church must look at clerical culture

Experts tell Australian abuse panel church must look at clerical culture

U.S. Dominican Fr. Thomas Doyle, who served as a canon lawyer at the Vatican nunciature in Washington and spent decades working with abuse victims, told members of the Royal Commission into Institutional Responses to Child Sexual Abuse that he hoped their report would have a profound effect in the Vatican. He urged the commissioners to prioritize care for the victims.




By Brian Mark Hennessy

There is no point “beating about the Australian bush”, the Royal Commission findings on child sexual abuse in the Catholic Church in Australia are shocking – and are shocking beyond all expectations. This is a Black Day in the history of the Roman Catholic Church as a whole – not just the very “pits” of Australian clerical Catholicism.

In any organization, social or corporate or political, those that controlled the agenda of an edifice which has crumbled so shockingly will “take the rap” and resign. Cardinal Pell of Australia, created the seventh Archbishop of Melbourne on 16 July 1996 and in receipt of a Cardinal’s pallium from Pope John Paul II on 29 June 1997, must except responsibility for his part in the colossal failure of the Catholic Church in Australia to protect children from the cruel degradation of paedophile clerics – and hand in his Cardinal’s tassled, red cap to Pope Francis now. Pope Francis, must accept it and demote him. If he does not do so, this Pope will become a part of the story – and thus from there-on-in, the credibility of the Pontiff, the Vatican Curia and the Catholic hierarchy of Bishops will crumble into dust and ashes.

The very fact that the Australian Bishops will be called to give evidence under oath is witness to the fact that it is known that they covered up clerical child sexual abuse in Australia consistently. Not only that – it speaks volumes about the current view by the Royal Australian Inquiry that these bishops have already forfeited their moral rectitude to tell the truth. Rather than being the very epitome of rectitude and righteousness, they have become the purveyors of a callous cover up and, by their actions of simply moving pedophiles around within their dioceses, the complicit perpetrators of even more child abuse.

Let us not forget the statistics in these cases of abuse:

  • Seven per cent of Australia’s Catholic priests have been accused of abusing children in the six decades since 1950, according to new data from the royal commission.
  • Up to 15% of priests in some dioceses were alleged perpetrators between 1950 and 2015, with abusers most prevalent in the dioceses of Sale and Sandhurst in Victoria, Port Pirie in South Australia, and Lismore and Wollongong in New South Wales.
  • The numbers were even worse in some national Catholic orders. By far the worst was the order of the St John of God Brothers, where a staggering 40% of religious brothers are believed to have abused children.
  • 22 % of Christian Brothers and 20% of Marist Brothers, both orders that run schools, were alleged perpetrators.
  • More than one in five priests in the Benedictine community of New Norcia were alleged perpetrators
  • 17.2% of clergy were accused of crimes against children in the Salesians of Don Bosco order.
  • Between 1980 and 2015, 4,444 people alleged incidents of child sexual abuse relating to 93 Catholic Church authorities.
  • The abuse allegedly took place in more than 1,000 institutions.
  • The average age of victims was 10.5 for girls and 11.6 for boys. The overwhelming majority of survivors were male.
  • Almost 1,900 perpetrators were identified and another 500 remained unidentified.
  • Thirty-two per cent of abusing clerics were religious brothers, 30% were priests, 29% were lay people and 5% were religious sisters.
  • 37% of all sessions held by the Inquiry with survivors from all institutions related to abuse in the Catholic Church.
  • Children were ignored or worse, punished.
  • Allegations were not investigated.
  • Priests and religious [brothers] were moved. The parishes or communities to which they were moved knew nothing of their past.”
  • Documents were not kept or they were destroyed. Secrecy prevailed as did cover-ups.”


Everyone will remember today and going forward the interview of Cardinal George Pell when, in response to a question from the Australian Royal Commission in a video link from Rome,

“Ridsdale’s offences were ‘a sad story’ but had not been of much interest to me when they were happening in the 1970s in regional Victoria. I had no reason to turn my mind to the evils that Ridsdale had perpetrated”.

Many and countless Victims of Catholic Clerical abuse around the world have heard the same stories before – and many versions of them. Victims globally have been harassed, disbelieved, castigated, libeled, ignored, even blamed, victimised and re-victimised. Enough is enough! Heads must roll. Cardinal Pell – must show himself to be a man rather than the deaf church mouse he showed himself to be as a Hierarch in Australia in the past – and recently as a Vatican Curia Cardinal when questioned about clerical sexual abuse in Australia. He must quit now to save Catholicism and the Pope in the hearts and minds of world-wide Christendom.