Nardo and the Abuse of Trust. The Combonis and the Abuse of Trust

Attached to this posting is a photograph of the Comboni Missionary Romano Nardo with my family and myself. I came across it when my mother was sorting through her box of old pictures.

It was taken on a family day out to Llangollen Castle during Nardo’s stay with my family during the Easter of 1970. I am the child that is looking at the floor.

When I look back and think about Nardo’s visit that Easter, I recall – not that I gave it much thought at the time – that it created a difficult and uncomfortable atmosphere for my parents, especially my dad.

I had gone to Mirfield the previous September, as a lively, gregarious, playful, outdoor and mischievous child and returned home, with Nardo, during the Easter holidays of 1970, a subdued, unresponsive and – in my parents eyes – a completely different and unrecognizable son.

During the holiday I had little interest in my parents or my siblings. All I wanted was to spend time with Nardo; to the extent that I was awoken by him in the morning so that we could pray the morning breviary prayers together. The same took place in the evening for the evening prayers and vespers – we had to say them together. I found out later – through a statement that my eldest sister had given to lawyers – that my dad had found Nardo’s behaviour towards me both alarming and sinister.

On the occasion when I was sick and in bed, Nardo had asked if he could go upstairs and (for want of a better word) “comfort” me. It must have seemed a strange request. However, Nardo was a priest, what harm could it do. What harm indeed.

That very evening my mother’s chest must have swelled with pride as Nardo said mass – as he did everyday that he was with us – in our front lounge. My mum had a Comboni priest saying mass for her husband and her sons and daughters, here, right in her own house. A Comboni priest. A priest of the same order that she hoped and prayed her son would one day belong to.

Nardo did not only groom me for his own sexual gratification, he groomed and abused all my family through gaining their trust and using their hospitality as a means of sexually abusing me.

I am one of many seminarians at Mirfield that had their trust abused. My family is one of many families that had their trust in the Comboni Missionaries abused.

Mark Murray





Some time has passed now since the “Boston Globe” of “Spotlight” fame founded the Catholic Newspaper “Crux”. It was hoped that “Crux” would inherit both the tradition and financial success of reporting on Catholic issues that had launched its parent publication to world-wide renown. Whilst I do trawl routinely through its pages – and it has a readership quorum that clearly sustains it financially – the current “Crux” agenda is not for me. For example, very recently in the middle of September and in Rome, J R Allen wrote the article, ”A Potpourri of Nuggets…” – because there was no “grand narrative” to report from the Vatican. Much of what followed appeared to be anecdotal trivia to fill in the column space. The image that immediately jumped to mind was that of the Emperor Nero playing the fiddle whilst Rome burned for six days and rendered 70% of the population homeless.
Sometimes today, both “Crux” (which I am using as an example and not as the sole focus) and a number of other Catholic news journals appear to lack essential focus and critical reporting and have become merely reflective mouthpieces of the Vatican Fides News Agency. The Catholic Church, however, is much larger than the iconic marbled palaces of Rome and it is essential for healthy debate for worldwide Catholic opinions to flow into the Vatican as well as dictats to come out of it.
For example, one matter that is long overdue is the cerebral Reformation within the Catholic Church Vatican Curia. Currently, it is stuck in the muddy ruts of age-old denial and senility on many issues – including sexuality, child sexual abuse, birth control, celibacy, pre-marital sex and the role of women in the Church – the list is almost endless. Those are all issues in which the Catholic Laity have a rightful voice. The early Church, at least in the first three centuries, was a family where everyone had a rightful say and it should be thus today. Roots are important and should never be forgotten because the continued growth of any tree depends on them.
The “Crux” birth-right tradition was to be in the vanguard of serious debate, but lately it appears to have slipped into the rear-guard position of the Vatican, which it meekly follows at a distance. “Potpourri” was symptomatic of a decline in “Crux” focus and journalism. If it routinely becomes a magazine-type mouthpiece of the Vatican, rather than a platform for vibrant debate on the important issues confronting a Church (which is in a goodly degree of turmoil) it may indicate that the “vision” and “ethos” of “Crux” is being misdirected. The same goes for every other Catholic news outlet.
That would be especially damaging in the broader context that the Roman clerical edifice is unwilling to respond routinely in any adequate way to justified criticism on a range of very serious issues. Some of those issues, for example dangerous levels of over-population in a world with diminishing resources, are not going to be resolved, either in practice nor adequately, by age-old dogmatic Vatican responses such as sexual abstinence or “coitus interruptus”. Nor is clerical child sexual abuse going to be solved by sending clerics to clinics or sanatoriums – or whatever they are labeled – to effect a “cure”. That is still the practice in Italy and many other countries. There is no adequate cure for psychosexual immaturity or dysfunctionality that could risk clerics with a past history of a sexual proclivity for children to be reinstated to positions in which children are accessible. Nevertheless, appallingly, that still happens.
The “Boston Globe” revelations on clerical child abuse stunned America, the Vatican and the world. It was a dramatic moment in the history of Catholicism. This last week, whilst “Crux” readers were engaged in “Potpourri”, Vatican failures associated with the curtailment and management of clerical child sexual abuse had not been dispersed into oblivion. The trauma and suffering of victims remained. It never becomes a figment of their imagination. Those victims, their families, parents and counselors are engaged with it on a daily basis. Sadly, too, the sexual abuse of children in Church institutions continues apace, as does clerical denial and the concealment of crimes and failures to bring the clerical offenders to justice.
Clerical child sexual abuse may be an old story, but it is not a “done topic”. Yet, many Catholic news outlets, not just “Crux”, rarely mention these issues at all today – except in passing in an inch of column space. Nor, within the seemingly impenetrable walls of its subconscious, has the Vatican, in the totality of its separate Congregations, put the essential measures in place to effectively understand, manage, contain or curtail the problem.
That is not to say that there is not a willingness on the part of some in the Vatican to drag the Church out of its historical blindness on such issues, but the action of just a few is clearly not gaining ground against the entrenched, generational myopia of clerics not used to being under daily, critical scrutiny and re-assessment. Yes, procedures exist, Canons remain in place, Diocesan Child Safeguarding Rules are held by all, statistics are published for public consumption.
That is all good, but in the corridors of the Vatican Curia Congregations, the age-old historical culture and pervasive clerical mind-set remains intact – as does a defiant reluctance to bare the breast and own up, with humility, that their greatest sin has always been and remains to this day one of arrogance. That arrogance was never more publicly evident than when Cardinal Gerhard Ludwig Muller publicly defended his Congregation’s policy of refusing to reply to the letters received from the Victims of child sexual abuse. That is not ancient history. It was in February of this year!
What that incident tells us is that for the impersonal Congregation of the Doctrine of the Faith in the Vatican Curia each new letter from a Victim is merely a statistic. It is placed in a growing pile and it is not valued with a response. I can relate to that personally. It is over eighteen months since I forwarded them a document that had calculated that something in the region of 1000 crimes of sexual abuse against child seminarians had occurred at the Comboni Missionary Order’s seminary at Mirfield in England. My expectations of some action were high for my volunteer courier was none other than the Cardinal Archbishop of Westminster who had placed that powerful and revealing document (indeed I considered it to be “explosive”) with them “by hand” personally. There has been no response – it clearly did not give rise even to a low, plaintive “whimper”.
There is an emotional dimension for parents also in this debate – not just the victims themselves. When I eventually told my eighty-year old widowed mother of the abuse that I had undergone at that seminary, the reaction was shock, dismay, remorse, confusion, helplessness and disbelief. It was such an emotional and physical response that I had to leap to her side to steady her, sit her down, comfort her and reassure her. She then mourned for the passing of my father, whom she assured me would have confronted that Order and immediately withdrawn me from their “care” – “if only he had known”. I wished at that moment that I had never told her.
Historically, the Laity of the Catholic Church has always been overlooked by the Vatican Curia. All rules and edicts have been handed down for observance – often with the threat of serious interdicts for any failure to comply. However, the Laity of the Catholic Church out-number clerics by about 1000:1 and, hence, has on tap a staggering amount of collective brain power, energy and good will. Moreover, probably unbeknown to most of the Laity, under Canon Law itself, both clerics and laity are regarded as “equal”: “Flowing from their rebirth in Christ, there is a genuine equality of dignity and action among all of Christ’s faithful”. Indeed, in the early Christian Church both slave and master sat around the same table in the breaking of the bread. For one and a half millennia now – they have been excluded. So from where did the arrogance of clerics spring?
That begs the question also, “How is it that Clerics make the Rules about how our child victims and their child-abusing clerics are managed?” The Laity have not been asked in any meaningful and fully inclusive way about the formulation of the Rules to deal with it and curtail it. Most likely, nor has the Vatican Curia, historically, believed that they needed to ask the Laity anyway. Hopefully, a most recent Vatican announcement by Cardinal Gracias – to the effect that more Lay involvement in the issues of the Catholic Church is to be sought – might be the start of a reversal of the historical “Fortress Vatican” obsession.
Alarmingly, a recent Australian study* of child sexual abuse in the Catholic Church has compiled the findings of some twenty-six commissions, investigations, judicial probes, and academic research from around the world. It has warned that there remains a grave potential for abuse of children to continue unchecked in the estimated 9,600 orphanages that the Catholic Church still runs. Worryingly, the report also states that there is no sign at the Vatican level of Religious Leaders answering why abuse has happened on such a scale and why they have reacted so poorly. In that context, the authors of the report, maintain that at some time in the future more shocking levels of the abuse of children will be unmasked.
*(Professor Cahill and theologian Dr Peter Wilkinson: Child Sexual Abuse in the Catholic Church)
The Catholic Church, like any global organization (whether political, religious or commercial) does not have all the world’s wisdom on tap. It is a vulnerable, human organization that imperfectly seeks to represent “Goodness” in this world. Thus the realism of critical, powerful and far reaching “alternative voices” is essential to keep the Vatican on track so that it can again move forward. Left to itself an isolated Vatican will become not just short-sighted and “tone” deaf, but both blind and “stone” deaf.
It is particularly essential that all Catholic news outlets, continue to project critical challenges on the issues surrounding child sexual abuse to organizations such as the Roman Catholic Church – which because of its historic claims of being a major moral force in this world – have lost the most credibility. The media should not fear recrimination because it is not the “Faith” of the Catholic Church that is under fire in this debate. The debate is something more humanly tangible than “Faith” and it gives the Laity the right of liberty to be critical. What is at stake here, is not the Vatican’s coveted monopoly of Gospel interpretation, but it is the universally held ethical essence of “Morality” and of “Truth” and of “Justice”. Full and open discussion of issues relating to those core values is vitally essential for the stability of the Catholic Church – let alone a World Order that is increasingly subject to the rampages of the instant global communication of unethical ideologies which have alarming claims of being the new normality. Before we tackle those new issues, however, we must tackle the old reality.
The issue of the clerical sexual abuse of children has demonstrated just how vulnerable the Roman Catholic Church is to its “mightier than thou” arrogance and it has literally “fallen from grace” as did Adam. It has been expelled from Eden and no fig leaf can now hide its nakedness. In many respects the Vatican Curia has been blinded by its own adherence to history and tradition and it does not recognize how shockingly and unacceptably Medieval it remains. To maintain any semblance of occupying the “high ground” in a world, increasingly aware of universal rights – and simply to be seen to adhere to its own principles such as Matthew’s Gospel, “And why beholdest thou the mote in thy brother’s eye, but not considerest the beam that is in thine own eye” – it needs to re-examine its own soul.
More precisely, what that means in the case of the Roman Catholic Church, which is often drowning unconsciously in its own incomprehension of its waywardness, is that that institution must reflect upon and eliminate its unacceptable and damaging practices that amount to “Immorality”, “Insincerity” and “Injustice”.
It is the immorality, insincerity and injustice of silence, of a failure to listen to victims, a failure to respond to victims and of a failure to demonstrate unchallenged ownership of each specific crime that takes place within the totality of Catholic Institutions.
of secret proceedings for accused clerics and religious – of proceedings that routinely exclude victims, witnesses, the public and the press from hearings – and of proceedings which publish no findings.
of secret proceedings that bind victims and witnesses who are admitted to them by oaths of perpetual silence on pain of threatened interdicts and excommunication from the Church.
of a failure to punish criminal clerics and religious appropriately and in line with the reasonable, common and universal expectations of the processes of civil laws and civil punishments, but instead routinely provides clerics found guilty of crimes with ecclesiastical or civil pensionable retirement.
of a failure to prevent clerics and religious found guilty of child abuse from all future interaction with children, of a failure to impose automatic interdicts upon abusive clerics and religious and of a failure, in many cases, to subject them to the process of defrocking.
of a failure to bring to account all clerics and religious who seek to conceal reports of crimes of any cleric or religious of any rank – whether they are priests, nuns, brothers, Bishops, Abbots or Superiors General in the Catholic Church.
of the failure to bring to account all clerics and religious who seek to hide within their walls those who have committed crimes against children – and who conspire to move those clerics or religious, as soon as discovered, to an alternative locations so to ensure that the legitimate processes of civil arraignment are forestalled or prevented.
of the failure to notify to civil law authorities or Child Safeguarding Organisations, as appropriate, those clerics who are known to have committed offences against children and against the civil law of the country in which they reside.
That Litany of failures – and, regrettably, many more not mentioned here merely for lack of space – constitutes the immoral, insincere and unjust failures of the Catholic Institutions. These are the failures for which the voices of both the people of God and no God in this world demand a re-birth – a true and “in depth” fundamental “renaissance” of Catholic Institutions and the minutiae of their “modus operandi”.
That Litany of failures is nothing short of a list of the standard features of feudal, monocratic structures – and are more akin to the control tactics of the despotic Medieval Monarchs and Roman Emperors of bygone history than a spiritually refreshing flower of hope for the future in a desperate world that is thoughtlessly rushing towards self-extinction.
The media voices, which comment on the Catholic Church, must engage in debate and re-iterate failures unceasingly and vigorously to the Catholic Church for the public good. Humoring readers with “potpourri” because there is no grand narrative from the Vatican news outlet on the day is not just frivolity, but it is a dangerous state of detachment from reality and it will quicken the demise of Catholicism as a moral force for good.
Brian Mark Hennessy.
Blog: Comboni Missionaries – a Childhood in their Hands





My wife, Julie, and i took our eldest son to University on Saturday.

It was a big day for us.

However, I gave it little thought during the days and weeks leading up to it.
Today, the house is a little empty, and in some ways it feels as if i have experienced a bereavement.

My son has gone. He has left the security and love, that was, literally, on his very own doorstep, to continue his journey in the world, with all the happiness and sorrows and challenges that that may bring.

The day ended up being a difficult day. Julie and I were not prepared for the emotions and thoughts and the overwhelming feeling of love and pride that rushed through us as we said good bye to our son

Soon after that good bye I began to think about my goodbye to my parents and their good bye to me when I was taken to Mirfield, at the age of thirteen, to begin my own journey towards becoming a priest.

My parents, I suspect, must have had the same thoughts and feelings of love and pride for me leaving home as Julie and I did for my son on Saturday leaving his home and going to university.

I was thirteen. How could my mum and dad do it?

How could they “let go” and leave me when I was so young?

The answer, of course, is based around trust. My parents believed that God had called me. They
believed in the sanctity of the Holy Vocation to the Priesthood. “God chose you, you did not choose

My parents trusted the Catholic Church. They trusted the priests of the Catholic Church. My parents, more than any other priests, trusted the Comboni Priests at their Junior Seminary at Mirfield.

I am angry about that. I am angry that i still feel angry. And I am angry for my mum and dad.

If my parents were alive they would be more than angry about what happened to their son at the hands of their trusted Comboni priests of Mirfield.

After the last Mirfield reunion (which I did not attend) I telephoned, the Comboni Missionary, Father John Clarke. Because, Father Clarke had spent some time at the reunion talking with Comboni abuse survivors, i was interested to discuss the abuse at Mirfield with him. Father Clarke was, and may still be, the Comboni Safeguarding Coordinator. His response to my question was, in words similar to or the same as, can you put all this in the past now, and move on.

Why am I writing all this?

I am writing this because it is linked to my thoughts and feelings about my eldest son leaving home, and it is linked to the trust that is entwined within that.

Many children went to Mirfield on trust. Their families trusted the Comboni priests at Mirfield to protect their children and to keep them from all harm.

That trust was betrayed in the most awful and despicable way. And to this day the abuse at Mirfield has not been addressed. And to this day there is no guarantee that it will ever be addressed or that the abuse by Comboni priests will not happen again.

And so, no, I and many others cannot “put it all in the past and move on.”

Mark Murray

Worst of Catholic Sexual Abuse Scandal Still to Come in Developing World

Worst of Catholic Sexual Abuse Scandal Still to Come in Developing World
A Report by Andrew West for the Religion and Ethics Report for ABC –
The Australian Broadcasting News

The worst of the Catholic sexual abuse scandal may be over in Australia, but the crisis is likely to hit the church in Asia, Africa and parts of Europe within a decade, a report has warned. Children and teenagers in church-run orphanages are at serious risk of abuse, the report says.

The study, “Child Sexual Abuse in the Catholic Church”, has for the first time compiled the findings of 26 Royal Commissions, police investigations, judicial probes, government inquiries, church studies, and academic research from around the world since 1985.

The Report warns the gravest potential for future abuse of children and teenagers lies in the estimated 9,600 orphanages the church still runs, including 2,600 in India and 1,600 in Italy.

“Child sexual abuse has peaked and there has been a decline since the late 70s and early 80s and that’s because it’s been brought into the public arena,” the study’s co-author, Professor Des Cahill, a former Catholic priest academic, said. “But I think in the developing countries and in some of the European countries, there hasn’t been a precipitating event to raise the issue into the public arena and I’m thinking particularly of countries in Asia and Africa. The issue may reassert itself after the current crisis has all blown over, and may come back in 30 or 40 years’ time if the underlying issues are not addressed”. He continued,
“As yet I have not seen any sign at the Vatican level, and even here in Australia, of the bishops answering why this happened and why they, the bishops, reacted so poorly.”

Examining reports from Australia, Ireland, the United States, Great Britain, Canada and the Netherlands, Professor Cahill and his co-author, theologian Peter Wilkinson, found that one in 15 priests, or about 7 per cent, allegedly abused children and teenagers between about 1950 and 2000. They say that even today children “are at risk in education and welfare institutions when they can be accessed by psychosexually immature and/or sexually deprived celibates, including priests and religious brothers”.

However, Professor Cahill, who was an adviser to the Australian Royal Commission into Institutional Child Sexual Abuse, believes the risks to children in Australian Catholic schools are now very low, mainly because of greater vigilance by parents, teachers and school authorities. He said that most Catholic school principals now are married men and women, and are extremely conscious of the risks to children. The decision of the Catholic Church in Australia, the US, Britain, New Zealand and Canada to phase out a large numbers of orphanages and move children into foster care has also substantially reduced the risk of abuse.

However, controversially the report of the Australian Royal Commission warns that Australia’s reliance on overseas trained clergy — up to 40 per cent in some dioceses — could be risky, as overseas bishops may try to banish offending or suspect priests to foreign postings.

“Is the phenomenon of child sexual abuse by priests and religious brothers likely to reappear and increase in the short or long term?” the report asks. “The answer is unclear. It might happen, despite even the most stringent checks that an offending priest or religious might be recycled to Australia. In the US, not a few overseas priests, especially from the Philippines and India, have been charged and convicted.”

The shortage of local candidates for the priesthood in many Western countries has, in the past, also led bishops to ordain men despite warnings from the heads of seminaries and training colleges that they were unsuitable. These included “psychosexually immature, psychosexually maldeveloped and sexually deprived and deeply frustrated male priests and religious, particularly those who had not satisfactorily resolved their own sexual identity”.

However, Professor Cahill and Dr Wilkinson do not blame the abuse crisis entirely on celibacy, but their report notes that there are low levels of abuse in the eastern rite Catholic churches — particularly the Maronite, Ukrainian, Melkite and Chaldean churches — where priests are allowed to marry and become fathers.

He rejects the claim, often made by church conservatives, that the liberal reforms of the Second Vatican Council in the early 1960s loosened the morals of priests. “Much of the abuse happened before Vatican II, during the 1950s and into the 1960s,” he said, “And the majority of offending priests were either ordained before Vatican II or well progressed in their studies. I think we need to be suspicious of those explanations.


(The Report above was Paraphrased for the Blog “The Comboni Missionary Order – A Childhood in their Hands” by Brian Mark Hennessy who has made further comments below).

The above report by Professor Cahill and Dr Wilkinson emphasizes a number of points that the Combini Survivors of child sexual abuse have been making to the United Kingdom Independent Inquiry into Child Sexual Abuse. Notably, that within the Catholic Church, children today are most at risk of being sexually abused and mistreated at the hands of clerics in the Religious Institutes and Orders of the Church that cater for the educational, health, welfare, youth and missionary programmes that they operate in developing countries.

Regrettably, it is known that in the past clerics who have abused children are known to have been posted to overseas locations by their Religious Superiors to remove them from the oversight of civil welfare and judicial organizations in the developed world where the issues surrounding child sexual abuse are better understood, and monitored – and where clerical abusers are more likely to face the prospect of being identified and prosecuted.

Retain Abuse Survivors in the Pontifical Commission  Or Risk Irrelevancy

Retain Abuse Survivors in the Pontifical Commission  Or Risk Irrelevancy
(Brian Mark Hennessy has paraphrased this Editorial which appeared in the National Catholic Reporter (NCR) on 1st September 2017 – and provided additional comments below).
It is distressing to learn that the Pontifical Commission for the Protection of Minors may be restructured so that survivors of sexual abuse by clergy may have no direct voice in that body. The commission has helped the church make great strides in addressing this global issue, but it is in danger of becoming irrelevant. Signs of trouble with the commission began to surface in 2016, a year after its inception, when one of two abuse survivors on the commission, Peter Saunders, was suspended. The trouble became acute when the sole remaining survivor on the commission, Marie Collins, resigned earlier this year. Collins resigned because she felt Vatican bureaucracy was neglecting and stalling the work of the commission. The commission is understaffed, underfunded and not accepted by offices at the Vatican that should be working with it, Collins said.
In 2015, Pope Francis announced the creation of this commission. At that time, NCR said:
“It is a new phase in the abuse crisis. For the first time, there is clear evidence that the people’s cry for justice and action has reached the Pope and his closest advisers.”
We were then told that, on the recommendation of the Pope’s nine-member Council of Cardinals, a Tribunal would be established to charge bishops of “abuse of office” when they mishandled cases concerning the sexual abuse of children. At that time, NCR said:
“Never before has the language describing the mishandling of these cases by bishops, and, by extension, their diocesan officers, been so strong.”
Regrettably, that Tribunal never came to be. We have now been told, two years later, that what was announced was not an “approved plan”, but was rather the “enthusiastic encouragement” from the Pope to begin a discussion of possibilities. Is this not a further example of the same intransigence and obfuscation that drove Collins from the commission?
“Why in the world would anyone, including pontifical commission members, think that a papal announcement which said one thing actually meant another?” NCR now asks.
“Why has it taken two years for this clarification to be given?” NCR now asks.
The Pontifical Commission for the Protection of Minors began well and has made huge contributions in educating Catholics across the globe about the issue of abuse of minors and vulnerable adults. It has given many people the tools to address the issue. The job entrusted to the commission is too important to the life of the church to allow the body to fade into irrelevance. To prevent irrelevancy, the commission must ensure that survivors have direct participation in its work – and the commission itself needs a strong, public endorsement by Francis.

Comments by Brian Mark Hennessy
Survivors of Child Sexual Abuse at the hands of the Comboni Missionary Order fully endorse the National Catholic Reporter in their historic struggle to bring both those clergy who have abused children to account and, additionally, also those members of the Catholic Hierarchy who have failed in their Christian and Civil duties by protecting and shielding those same child-abusing clerics from justice.
Indeed rather than abandoning the original very clearly expressed wishes of Pope Francis to establish a Tribunal, the Comboni Survivors of child sexual abuse at the hands of the members of the Comboni Missionary Order declare emphatically that the promised Vatican Tribunals should be extended to charge all Superior Generals, Provincial Superiors and Local Superiors who have similarly covered up crimes of child sexual abuse by clerics under their governance – and have protected those perpetrators of such heinous criminality from Justice.
It is abundantly clear that the members of the Lay Catholic Church, who, as baptized Catholics, are equal in Canon Law to the Ordained Clergy of the Church, demand this. The Vatican will continue to be regarded as errant, pretentious, dysfunctional, and increasingly irrelevant whilst severe and appropriate justice for child abusers and those who protect them is outrageously ignored by Vatican, Diocesan and Religious Clerics.

Cardinal Murphy O’Connor’s Cover-up of Child Abusers Must be a Lesson to the Catholic Church by Keith Porteous Wood

Cardinal Murphy O’Connor’s Cover-up of Child Abusers Must be a Lesson to the Catholic Church

by: Keith PorteousWood

Note: This Article by Keith Porteous Wood first appeared in Conatus News and was later posted in the National Secular Society’s publication “Newsline” on the 8th September 2017. Cormac Murphy O’Connor, the former Archbishop of Westminster, died on 1 September. National Secular Society executive director Keith Porteous Wood seeks to set the historical record straight with this alternative obituary below. However, the views expressed in the article below by Keith Porteous Wood are those of himself, the author, and do not necessarily represent the views of this Blog entitled – “Comboni Missionaries – A Childhood in their Hands”

The death of Cardinal Cormac Murphy O’Connor has understandably resulted in obituaries lauding his achievements as a Prince of the Catholic Church. But we are pleased that few ignore entirely the Cardinal’s involvement in one of the most scandalous child abuse cover-ups this country has seen. I don’t doubt for a moment that Cardinal Murphy O’Connor did some good in his life, but there was another side to his story that should not be forgotten – a side that resulted in pain and suffering for many children. And the ruthless campaign by the Church to repress the details of the Cardinal’s many errors and misjudgements, and worse.
Despite the image of a genial old buffer that the Cardinal liked to project, it did not stop him, in 2006, from sacking his talented press secretary, a lay position, simply because he was “openly gay”. And O’Connor was “firmly against the repeal of Clause 28, which banned the promotion of homosexuality in schools”, a repressive and vindictive measure now regarded with embarrassment. This, despite the prevalence of gay men in the priesthood.

Those with long memories will also remember that, following complaints from parents, O’Connor, when Bishop of Arundel and Brighton, moved a known serial practising paedophile cleric, Michael Hill, from unsuspecting parish to unsuspecting parish. If O’Connor’s objective had been to reward Hill by affording him the greatest possible opportunities to prey on an almost unlimited supply of vulnerable unaccompanied juveniles, some of them thousands of miles from their parents, he could have done no better than appoint Hill as Catholic chaplain at Gatwick Airport. Yet this is exactly what O’Connor did, despite his knowledge of Hill’s repeat offending and psychiatric reports that Hill was likely to re-offend. Needless to say, O’Connor never shared what he knew about Hill’s criminal abusive activities with the police, contributing directly to Hill’s ability to continue his orgy of abuse unhindered. Hill was eventually convicted and jailed in two separate trials for abusing a boy with learning difficulties at the Airport, as well as eight other boys. Ten further charges unaccountably “remain on file”. To his dying day, the best Murphy O’Connor could do in his mea culpa on Hill was to say his response was “inadequate but not irresponsible”. Not much consolation to the victims and their families. Nor will have been the self-righteous indignation of his pitiful response to criticism: “Inevitably mistakes have been made in the past; but not for want of trying to take the right and best course of action.”

Richard Scorer, abuse lawyer and NSS director, examined the Hill saga exhaustively in his book Betrayed: The English Catholic Church and the Sex Abuse Crisis and demonstrated beyond doubt that O’Connor’s claims about Michael Hill were completely baseless. And, so predictably, O’Connor’s affable mask slipped again and he got pretty vicious when the media started asking what were, to his mind, too many questions and getting too close to the uncomfortable truth. It is an open secret that the BBC was muzzled from pursuing its investigative work on O’Connor by top-level representations made by O’Connor.

Few if any others than O’Connor could have managed to intimidate the BBC into silence, yet having done so, O’Connor still had the gall to claim that there was an anti-Catholic bias in the media. He wrote: “Many others feel deeply concerned by the apparently relentless attack by parts of the media on their faith and on the church in which they continue to believe.” That old trick so well practised by the Catholic hierarchy: portraying itself as the victim. That would all be shocking enough, yet there is credible speculation that the Hill saga could have been just the visible tip of the iceberg. A 2012/3 report by the group Stop Church Sexual Abuse has speculated that: “[Anglican] clergy … seem to have worked together with priests from [O’Connor’s] Catholic Diocese of Arundel and Brighton … to abuse children. Reports include that of a Catholic priest who had multiple reports for alleged child sex offences and who was moved by the Catholic Bishop [O’Connor] over to the CoE diocese of Chichester and became an Anglican Minister.

“The relationship between the [Catholic] Diocese of Arundel and Brighton [O’Connor’s] and [the Anglican one of] Chichester [in which Peter Ball, mentioned below, ministered] has been historically close. In the 1980s Bishops Cormac Murphy O’Connor and Peter Ball [not imprisoned until 2015 on multiple counts of sexual abuse committed over twenty years earlier] were close friends and it is now [claimed] that both sat on multiple reports of child sexual abuse by clergy and did nothing to protect children from further abuse. “In total upwards of 17 Anglican and 19 Catholic clergy have been reported to have abused children up to the late 1990s within these Dioceses. Most lived and/or worked within one small geographic area which adds to the concern that there [may have been] a network of sex offenders shoaling for victims within church communities, schools, cathedrals, youth groups and scouting groups.” (See also Addendum by Brian Mark Hennessy below)
Even the Daily Telegraph reported police investigations into “claims that O’Connor hampered Hill’s prosecution” and if the claims above are correct about O’Connor’s close friendship and nefarious collaboration with the devious and mendacious Peter Ball, who escaped justice for decades, this does not seem in the least far-fetched. At least, however, O’Connor is still indelibly connected in the public’s mind with the disgraceful Michael Hill saga, having been widely reported including in The Times, with severe criticisms including “Victims’ groups demanded his resignation in 2002”.

The Church could not but have known very much more. But the process of rewriting history is no doubt in full progress. Does it not however speak volumes about the Pope and Catholic Church that, given all the above, they chose, out of all the possible candidates, “His Eminence Cardinal” Cormac Murphy O’Connor to be a cardinal, to be the most senior Catholic in England and Wales, to be Emeritus Archbishop of Westminster, and to be the Pope’s Apostolic Visitor to investigate clerical child abuse in the Archdiocese of Armagh? But maybe we should not be surprised. The Pope tellingly did not strip O’Connor’s fellow Cardinal in Scotland, Keith O’Brien, of his cardinal’s biretta for abusing his rank with decades of predatory sexual sackable offence.

It seems from the Gibb Report into disgraced former Bishop Ball that Sussex police appear to have done a workman-like job on abuse in the Anglican diocese. I would have suggested that the Sussex Police now turn their attention to the Catholic diocese, but unfortunately the CPS told them in 2003 to abandon the investigation whilst refusing to explain why. Hopefully this was not because of O’Connor’s clerical rank, just like the Cof E’s Report suggested Peter Ball’s cleric rank was the reason he escaped justice in 1993.


Comments related to the above article by Brian Mark Hennessy:

From the 1960s to the 1990s the Chichester had some of the worst examples of child sexual abuse committed by priests. The numbers and the scope of the phenomenon were truly outstanding. Canon Gordon Ridout who was the Vicar of All Saints in Eastbourne was jailed for 10 years for 36 separate offences on 16 children between 1962 and 1973. Peter Ball, former Bishop of Lewes was convicted of abuse in the 1980s and 1990s. Former priest Keith Wilke Denford of Burgess Hill and organist Michael Mytton were convicted of historic sexual abuse. Vickery House, a former Brighton priest, was also convicted along with former vicar of Brede, Roy Cotton. Additionally, former Vicar of St Barnabas in Bexhill was charged and convicted of historic allegations.

Note By Brian Mark Hennessy:

Coincidentally and unrelated to the above article, it may be of interest to some readers that Father Herbert Brazier, the father of the Prime Minister, Theresa May, was an Anglo Catholic Priest serving in the diocese of Chichester as the Eastbourne Hospital Chaplain from 1953 to 1959, during which period he met Theresa May’s mother. Earlier, at the beginning of World War II he had attended the Community of the Resurrection at Mirfield where he trained for the Anglo Catholic priesthood. In the 1960’s and 70’s clerics and seminarians of the Comboni Missionary Order at Roe Head had very cordial relations with the Resurrection Community and on occasions exchanged visits. I remember one such visit well. I had a chat with a Priest of the Resurrection Community in their extensive library. He had spotted a book in the library that he wanted to read – and was in the process of learning Hebrew first so that he could do so!


Pope Francis says Sexual Abuse by Priests is an “Absolute Monstrosity” – by Brian Mark Hennessy

Pope Francis says Sexual Abuse by Priests is an “Absolute Monstrosity”
In the foreword to memoirs by a survivor of clerical abuse, the Pope promises action, but critics say that he has said this before, but not done nearly enough to hold clerical perpetrators to account.

About This Article as Published in the Mirfield Memories Blog.

Pope Francis recently made his comments in the “Foreword” to a book by Daniel Pittet, who was abused by a priest when he was eight years old. “Reuters” published an article on 17th August 2017 and the German news outlet “Bild” added further comments prior to publishing a resume in their own columns. That article followed on from the publication of excerpts by “Herder”, the German publisher of the book. The UK daily “The Guardian” published a review of all the above last weekend. Brian Mark Hennessy has paraphrased these contributions below and also added a separate article below entitled “What the UK Independent Inquiry into Child Sexual Abuse Doesn’t want to Know”.


Pope Francis has branded sexual abuse of children by Roman Catholic priests a “monstrosity” and pledged action against perpetrators and bishops who protected them. He made the comments in the foreword of a new book entitled “Father, I Forgive You: Abused But Not Broken”, written by a Swiss man, Daniel Pittet, who was first raped by a priest when he was eight years old.
Pope Francis, whose repeated promises of zero tolerance have been criticised by victims who say the Vatican needs to do much more, called sexual abuse “an absolute monstrosity, a terrible sin that contradicts everything that the Church teaches”. He continued, “The fate of abused children weighed on his soul, especially those who had taken their own lives. We will counter those priests who betrayed their calling with the most strenuous measures. This also applies to the bishops and cardinals who protected these priests – as happened repeatedly in the past,” he wrote.
Church sexual abuse broke into the open in the United States with reports of cases in Louisiana in 1984, and exploded in 2002, when journalists in Boston found that bishops had systematically moved abusers to new posts instead of defrocking them. Thousands of cases have come to light around the world as investigations have encouraged long-silent victims to go public, shattering the Church’s reputation. More than $2bn has been paid in compensation.
In Ireland, a 10-year inquiry into child abuse within the Catholic church and church-run institutions concluded in 2009 after documenting thousands of cases of beatings, rapes, neglect and exploitation. A similar inquiry in Australia, which began in 2013, was also established following revelations of clergy being moved between parishes to cover up abuse. Thousands of survivors of child sexual abuse have testified to the inquiry, which was not limited to the Catholic Church.
Pope Francis’ efforts against sexual abuse since his election in 2013 have sputtered. Critics say he has not done enough to hold to account those bishops who mishandled cases of abuse or covered it up, and a Vatican commission formed in 2014 to advise him on rooting it out has been hit by internal dissent. Peter Saunders, an English victim of clergy abuse, took a leave of absence last year in protest over a lack of progress. Marie Collins, from Ireland, also a victim of abuse when she was a child, quit in frustration in March, citing a “shameful” lack of co-operation within the Vatican.
In his foreword, Pope Francis praised Pittet’s courage in telling his story, saying he was deeply moved by his ability to forgive his abuser 44 years after he was first molested. The Church has now defrocked the abuser. Pittet, now 58, who as a child endured four years of rapes, abuse and exposure to pornography, wrote that his act of forgiveness had nothing to do with human justice or denial. Pittet wrote in the book, according to excerpts released by the German publisher Herder:
“Forgiveness does not heal the wounds or wipe away the misery … forgiving him has allowed me to burst the chains that bound me to him and which prevented me from living.”