Comboni Missionaries Fr Robert Hicks
My first encounter with Fr Robert Hicks was when I first went into the seniors in 1966. A lot of the boys hung around the new head of the Senior Boys. I wasn’t one of those and didn’t come into that much contact with him until November of that year – the 5th of November exactly.
For the first time, the Comboni Missionaries held a bonfire on Guy Fawkes night. We were all at it and then it was time to go to bed. However, I snuck out to have another look after lights out along with Maurice Eaton, Mick Wainhouse, Mick Palmer and John Carey. Myself and Maurice Eaton were caught by Fr Hicks coming back in through the window. Maurice Eaton was told off and sent on his way.
I was then told off. Fr Hicks considered himself a bit of a psychologist. he said that Maurice Eaton looked suitably contrite but that I hadn’t. He was correct. I was only disppointed that I had been caught. The strict rules were very hard to follow, I tried my best to then look contrite.
Father John Pinkman
However, it was what he said next that chilled me. He said “Father Pinkman has marked my card about you”. I don’t suppose Fr Hicks realised the reason for Father John Pinkman’s anger with me. I had managed to stay out fo his clutches, to a great extent, depsite several attempts. I didn’t manage to avoid Father Domenico Valmaggia’s clutches when Pinkman handed me over to him – but I was tricked into that, thinking what I got from Valmaggia for a groin strain was ‘treatment’. However, Fr. Hicks didn’t know about that, I knew then that I hadn’t escaped Fr Pinkman even when I went to the Seniors. His infuence continued.
Father Robert Hicks was not one of the abusers, like Pinkman, Vlamaggi and Father Romano Nardo.
Indeed, in some ways he would be a hero of some of the abused – although to others he was heavily involved in the cover-up.
In 1969, when he was head of the Senior Boys, one of the boys went to Father Robert Hicks and told him that he had been abused by Fr Valmaggia. Unlike when other Comboni Missionaries had been told by other boys about abuse, his reaction was not to try to to cover it up and tell the boys to never say anything about it again.
No, he was furious. Indeed, he was incandescent. He slammed his fist on the table saying “My boys! My boys!”
He asked the boy who told him about it if he could get one more boy who had been abused to come to see him. The boy in question found another boy who had been abused by Fr Valmaggia. Hicks leapt into action. He went to see Fr Rector about it, demanded action and it was forthcoming. I’ve been told that Fr Valmaggia was sent away that day. I heard from someone else that it was 2 weeks later.
No Matter, Fr Hicks took instant action and the abuser was gone very rapidly.
Father Valmaggia was sent to Sunningdale where he became the Province’s Bursar.
So, that’s the good.
The Not So Good
Others are not so happy with him. They say that he played a major part in the cover-up of the abuse that happened at Mirfield. Indeed when Mark Murray reported the abuse to West Yorkshire Police they contacted Fr Hcks who was the the Fr Rector. Instead of confirming what had happened to Mark, the guy from West Yorkshire Police who called him said he had the distinct impression that he was hiding something. He was evasive.
So, is he a hero or villain or a bit of both?
One has to say that he is the only one of the Comboni Missionaries that I’ve heard of who, when told about abuse, didn’t immediately spring into cover-up mode. Indeed he was the only one I know who did the opposite and demanded action against the abuser and not the abused.
Priests when the get ordained, take Vows of Poverty, Chastity and Obedience. The first two appear to be advisory. As long as they don’t actually own anything they have, and that what they have is owned by the Order, then the Vow of Poverty is satisfied. Priests can have a much better lifestyle than ordinary Catholics but as long as they don’t own anything themselves they have stuck to their Vow of Poverty. It also means that there is no Inheritance Tax to be paid when they die as the Order owns everything.
As we all know, the Vow of Chstity has workarounds too. How many parish priests do we know who have ‘housekeepers’ who stay on the premises and when the priest retires the ‘housekeeper’ moves out with him and into his new accommodation elsewhere.
Missionary Priest do not have that option as they don’t have parishes – at least in the UK. However, these recently ordained young men in their early twenties are at te peak of their sexual powers – and, with not beingallowed to marry, something has to give. What is available to them are young seminarians who are under their total power and who have to do whatever they, the young priests, tells them to. It’s a recipe for disaster.
Vow of Obedience
However, it is the third vow, that of Obedience, that is adhered to most rigidly. The Mafia’s Omerta doesn’t work nearly as well as that Vow of Obedience. Obedience must be total. It’s what all totalitarian regimes demand from their followers – absolute and total unquestioning Obedience.
We were often told at the seminary that there are the Laws of God and the Laws of Man. We were always told that the Laws of God superseded the Laws of Man. Indeed that was why so many martyrs had gone to their deaths.
However, they seem to have made a connection between (or just plain mixed up) the Laws of God and the survival needs of the Order and those in it. People can have a good career inside an Order just as they can outside the Order. THis could be jeopardised by any scandal.
Telling the Police
When a crime has been committed you should go and tell the police. Fr Robert Hicks would have believed that a crime had been committed here. So, why didn’t he report this crime to the police? The answer is that his immediate instinct would be to report it to his superiors. It would then be their decison as to whether it would be reported and what action to take. Whatever he thought himself, he would have obeyed totally their decision.
As we know, none of the abuses were ever reported by the Comboni Missionaries to the police. The Laws of God (or the suppose Laws of God) superseded the Laws of Man.
Hero or Villain
So, is Fr Robert Hicks a hero or a villain?
One would say that he was a bit of both.However, it would be the abusers and those who took the decisons to hide the criminal abusers and move them on elsewhere who should take the main blame.
Some of those involved in the abuse are dead and some are still alive.
Some of those who were involved in the cover-up are dead. But some are still alive and still actively involved in the cover-up, as can be seen by Father Roman Nardo being holed up in the mother house in Verona with permission being denied West Yorkshire Police, who have stated that they believe a crime has been committed, to interview him.
Meanwhile, whilst obstructing West Yorkshire Police in their statutory rape investigations of abuse against 10-14 year old boys, the Comboni Missionaries continue to preach the word of God and to lecture and advise Catholics on their morals.
Does anyone remember the sermon that Hicks preached just after Nardo was got rid of?.It was at a mass in the chapel and I can,t remember the words he spoke but he was obviously aware of the rumours among the boys and my memory is that he tried to make light of any disquiet and basically get a few laughs as i remember :treating the whole thing about the God-squad as a harmless prank…
The only time i saw him worried was when i thought i would go to hell for having had a wank and found him in the chapel and told him i would like to confess.
He was knelt at the back and i tapped him on the shoulder…He must have thought that i was going to tell him about some more abuse…He exclaimed ME? but obviously couldn,t refuse and in the end i got away with a Hail Mary and was out of the chapel before he was.
He wasn,t a Psycholgist–just a young 35″ know it all” from Belfast who thought that he knew for sure how the world works….If he still believes in that religious stuff then nothing has changed…exept that life is sooooo much easier in Ascot/S
unningdale than in the Falls Road
I don’t know if I recall this fully,,,something maybe,,
But I do remember being the refectorian for the staff refectory and Hicks’ two brothers being in the Old House,,sort of hiding,
Some police came and questioned me in spring ’72 about the recent bomb blasts in Bradford and on the M62 approach rd I think.
In my experience fr.hicks was always the hero!
‘A talebearer reveals secrets, but he that is of a faithful spirit conceals the matter.’ Thomas A Kempis. Imitation of Christ. They found that relief never came by confessing the sins of other people. Everybody had to confess his own. Oh! God! The people I refused to forgive and the chances I had to do it..