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.

From the Comboni Survivor Group to Alexis Jay, the Chair of the Independent Inquiry into Child sexual Abuse.


Professor Alexis Jay OBE – Chair

Independent Inquiry into Child sexual Abuse

Milbank Tower


Our ref: DE/IICSA 25 November 2016

Dear Professor Jay

Open letter

We, (the Forde Park Survivor Group, the Stanhope Castle Survivor Group and the Comboni Survivor Group, Survivors of Organised and Institutional Abuse, F13, F25 and F35) wish to raise with you our shared concerns regarding this Inquiry, its apparent lack of direction, lack of discernible progress and its failure to allow and support Survivors in participating in this Inquiry. Together we represent over 20% of Survivor core participants in the IICSA. Our voices matter and we will be heard.

We start by saying clearly that we want the IICSA to continue, to work effectively and to succeed. But that support is not offered blindly or unconditionally. Thus far, we feel that the IICSA has seriously and repeatedly failed to live up to its promise to put Survivors at the heart of this Inquiry.

This Inquiry was set up by the former Home Secretary Theresa May, now Prime Minister, who described the Inquiry as a “once in a generation opportunity” to expose what went wrong in institutions and public bodies and to prevent it from happening again. In opening the Inquiry it was said that Survivors of child sexual abuse should be “at the centre of this Inquiry” and that “their views would inform the Inquiry throughout”. Survivors need to be allowed to take their place at the “centre of the Inquiry.”

Our wish, which we believe is shared by all Survivors, is that this statutory Inquiry achieves its aims of discovering the true extent of child sexual abuse that was permitted to take place in the past and ensuring that children are properly protected in the future. To do this, the Inquiry has to thoroughly investigate what happened in the past, as it is only by recognising and acknowledging 2

the past that we as a society can move forward and implement the lessons learned from the past so that children can be protected from organised and institutional abuse in the future.

However, despite the Inquiry having been established over two years ago, we have not seen or felt any progress. The Inquiry seems to be under constant threat and constant criticism. Rarely does a day go by without resignations of lawyers and comments in the press stating that the Inquiry is not fit for purpose or suggesting that it is falling apart at the seams.

Let us be clear, the members of our groups, and those who look to our groups to represent their experiences, are ready and willing to participate. Our lawyers have not resigned despite working without funding for up to a year. Our groups are not falling apart at the seams, despite the heavy stresses that this Inquiry has placed upon our members.

Survivors have been waiting for years, if not decades, for an inquiry such as this to take place; and once established, for that inquiry to start tackling the issues of enduring concern; to determinedly seek out the lessons from the past and begin to put into place the measures that will protect children from abuse in the future.

We have been told that you, the Chair, are conducting a review of the Inquiry and have promised that the views of Survivors will be taken into account before any changes are made to the investigations.

We wish to confirm that, as regards any proposed changes to the Inquiry, whilst Survivors will listen and consider any review of the Inquiry, we will not agree in advance without full and proper consultation to any modification or reduction in scope of the Inquiry’s Terms of Reference or Scope of investigations.

The Inquiry has been besieged by criticism and beset by resignations from many lawyers working within the Inquiry. To all intents and purposes the Inquiry appears to have stagnated. The press and the media coverage all point to problems with management, systems and engagement.

Neither Survivors nor their lawyers are being kept up to date as to any progress or about the possible future shape of the Inquiry. For many of us, this repeats the way that the police and the civil and criminal justice systems treated us after being abused. For many of us, the on-going problems with the Inquiry bring back the memories of the way we were abused and the way that we were treated after reporting that abuse.

All of us have been abused and then ignored or side-lined. The apparent mess being created by this Inquiry and the constant suggestions that the Inquiry is too broad or too unwieldy, with a stream of Chair appointments and resignations as well as lawyer appointments and resignations, is adding to our pain and the pain of other Survivors. ‘Here we go again’ we say and with good reason. 3

The press appear to be fascinated with the drama from within the Inquiry and the House of Commons seems to be treating the Inquiry as a political football. Indeed, on 21 November 2016 in the House of Commons, Sarah Newton, a junior Home Office minster, was forced to reiterate that she was “confident, as is the prime minister, as is the home secretary, in the ability of Professor Jay to lead this inquiry,” and that “She [you] has a distinguished career in social work and a longstanding dedication to child protection” after urgent questions were raised by other MPs regarding the current state of the Inquiry. The Home Affairs Select Committee continued its criticisms of the Inquiry yesterday.

Occasionally there is a statement from the Inquiry stating that Survivors are integral to the Inquiry process when in fact we are being left in the dark about what is happening and what will happen in the future. So we say, with good reason, that we are being ignored and side-lined once again.

Assertions that the Inquiry is taking on board, and will take on board, the opinion of Survivors have so far been nothing more than words. We ask you to make that sentiment and intention real and not just a platitude.

What we require is a firm and clear statement from you, and the Inquiry team, setting out what has gone wrong and laying down a clear path for the future progress of this Inquiry.


Professor Jay, we know that you have only been in the post for a short time, and that the task before you is a very large one. We want you to succeed, we are willing you to succeed, we want nothing more than to support you, but you must urgently give us reasons to have faith and for that support to continue.

What is required is a full hearing where the Chair of the Inquiry can properly address the criticisms that have been made and set out the scope and future dates of the Inquiry’s work. Such a meeting would allow Survivors and their representatives a chance to publicly state our concerns, in the clearest terms, and to have those concerns heard and addressed.

We are not happy, we are not satisfied, and we want to say so publicly.

However, we also want to say publicly that we want to support you. We want to give you the chance to show us that you understand why we are unhappy and to demonstrate to us that you have a clear road map and are determined to get to the destination of uncovering the truth and previous failings to start the process of healing and to protect children in the future. 4

We ask you to urgently schedule a hearing at which all of us can attempt to lance the boil of dissatisfaction and thereafter to recommit ourselves to the shared goals of truth, recovery and future child protection.

Signed on behalf of

Forde Park Survivors Stanhope Castle Survivors Comboni Survivors



A Tale of Three Cities by Brian Mark Hennessy

A Tale of Three Cities   by Brian Mark Hennessy


  1. An Archbishop’s Apology in Minneapolis, USA.


Reporting in the National Catholic Reporter ( , Brian Roewe ( relates a story of events that resulted in a revision of a civil settlement concerning the sexual abuse of three minors by a diocesan priest. This event is notable for readers of this blog in that it has significant “dis-similarities” with the attitude of the Comboni Missionary Order of Verona, Italy, in relation to the manner in which allegations of child sexual abuse are best handled and how lessons must be learned.


The original charge had been served against the St Paul-Minneapolis Archdiocese – and the allegation was “a failure to protect children” on the part of the archdiocese in relation to three minors who had been sexually abused by a former priest, Curtis Wehmeyer. The charge against the archdiocese was made, Attorney Choi stated, because, “It was not only Curtis Wehmeyer who harmed children, it was the archdiocese as well – and today, through the leadership of the new permanent Archbishop, Bernard Hebda, that direct and public admission of wrongdoing has now been made.” The charge was thus amended to state:


“Curtis Wehmeyer was a priest in this Archdiocese. The Archdiocese admits that it failed to adequately respond and prevent the sexual abuse of three Victims. The Archdiocese failed to keep the safety and wellbeing of these three children ahead of protecting the interests of Curtis Wehmeyer and the archdiocese. The actions and omissions of the archdiocese failed to prevent the abuse that resulted in the need for protection and services for these three children.” Archbishop Hebda later stated publicly, “Today. We humbly acknowledge our past failures and look forward to continueing down that path to achieve those vital, common goals that together we all share. To the victims and survivors, the faithful and the entire community, we pledge to move forward openly, collaboratively and humbly, always mindful of our past. We will never forget.”


  1. How Priests of the Comboni Missionary Order Stood by and Watched Children Drown in Shallow Water in Mirfield, Yorkshire, England.


Stepping back in time to the Comboni Missionary Order’s Seminaries in England, some 18 boys allege that Priests of the Order (and lay staff employed by them) perpetrated some 1000 acts of sexual abuse against them – each act of abuse a crime in its own right – from the late 1950s to the early 1980s. They claim that eight priests of the Order, including the Provincial Superior and the Superior General of the Order were aware of the abuse – which had been reported to them by the Victims on 23 occasions and by parents of Victims on 3 occasions. Apart from the statements of the Victims, some 50 further witnesses have provided statements. In addition 5 statements were made to the West Yorkshire Police who subsequently determined that crimes had taken place. Unsuccessful attempts on a number of occasions have been made to extradite the one living priest against whom crimes are alleged. Three living priests of the Order are known historically to have been aware of the abuse, but currently they have sought to deny it.


In respect to Fr Valmaggia, who abused his office as the Infirmarian to molest countless seminarians, multiple incidents of abuse have been documented throughout the period from 1958 to 1967. Ten reports of that abuse are known to have been made during the period 1966 to 1968. It was not until 1969 that any action was taken against Fr Valmaggia, at which time he was moved within the UK Province to the Novitiate at Sunningdale in Berkshire before later being incardinated to a Parish in the Diocese of Como, Italy. Needless to say, the abuse that took place after the first known report in 1966 could have been avoided if action had been taken by the Comboni Missionary Order at that time. No action was taken and, consequently, further crimes of sexual abuse, that could have been averted, were perpetrated unnecessarily against seminarians who were minors.


In respect to Fr Pinkman, who displayed the classic symptoms of a predatory paedophile, multiple incidents of abuse have been documented in the period from 1964 to 1967. Eight reports were made throughout the period from 1965 to 1968. Again, it was not until 1969 that action was taken against him – when he was transferred within the UK Province to Westminster. Subsequently, Father Pinkman was sent to the Missions in Palestine.


In respect to each of the two priests above, no Inquiries appear to have taken place. No Victims at Mirfield were invited to give accounts. No reports were made in 1969 to the Local Constabulary regarding the allegations of his crimes against minors and nor were Welfare Authorities advised. No reports were made to the Vatican Curia under the terms of Canon Law that required it.


In respect to Father Romano Nardo, a paedophile who committed masochistic and macabre sexual crimes veiled in religious overtones, multiple incidents of abuse took place in 1970 during which time he managed to ingratiate himself into the homes of some of his victims and abused them there also. His “cumuppance” took place when one Victim was seen leaving Father Nardo’s room early one morning in 1969 by Father Luigi Cocchi (based at Mirfield from 1969 to 1973) who had seen the boy must have reported it – for father Nardo, who had been assigned for a short period to Mirfield to learn English, was transferred immediately to the Missions in Uganda. Only the Superior General has jurisdiction over postings to the Missions. It is certain, therefore, that the request for his earlier than scheduled and immediate movement to the Missions must have been notified to the Superior General – who then condoned it. Moreover, again, during the subsequent 27 years of Father Nardo’s Mission in Uganda he would have had unfettered access to minors. Again, no Inquiry to which any of his Victims were invited to give evidence was ever held. However, in the years of 1996/1997, the Comboni Missionaries held an internal inquiry to investigate the allegations of serious assault then made by Mark Murray. The Inquiry concluded that Father Nardo had, in masterful understatement, merely “acted inappropriately”. This was confirmed in a letter dated 17 May 1997.


The failure to take any action against the perpetrators of the abuse at that time – and their failure to report those crimes to the Police as they were obliged to do, constituted arrestable and imprisonable offences. Yet, those priests to whom abuse had been reported chose to do nothing at all and their criminal indifference and criminal inaction, which led to further crimes of abuse against more seminarians, was nothing less than the equivalent of watching those young, helpless Victims slowly drown in shallow water before their very own eyes simply because they did not want to feel the discomfort of getting their feet wet.



  1. How the Comboni Missionary Order’s Curia Threw Stones at a Victim of Clerical Sexual Abuse at Verona in Italy.


And so we come back to the present – and to Verona in Italy to where some months ago a Victim of the alleged criminal paedophile priest, Father Roman Nardo, had made a journey to seek some kind of understanding as to why he had been abused, to seek an apology and to offer forgiveness. This Victim had been cruelly abused at the Mirfield seminary – and it is realistic to say that since the time of that abuse in 1970 his life has been one of distress, confusion, consternation and despair. On a number of occasions he had asked to meet with his abuser, but such a meeting had been refused repeatedly by father Enrique Sanchez, the Superior General of the Order – who was more concerned with the welfare of the paedophile priest that the Order harboured in its midst than the welfare of the suffering Victim. Ultimately, all members of the Order that the Victim contacted refused to meet with him or even speak to him. The Provincial Superior, Father Martin Devinish of the London Province, had even stated to him that if the Victim contacted him again, he would be reported to the Police for harrassment. The ex-Superior General of the Order, Father David Glenday, who is currently the Secretary General of the Union of all the 200 or so Male Religious Orders of the Catholic Church at the Vatican in Rome told him, “I will listen, but I will not answer you!”. Father Robert Hicks, who had been aware of abuse at Mirfield for decades, had said when contacted by the Victim, “I cannot talk to you because my dinner is going cold!”


So what happened to this Victim seeking dialogue, succour and understanding when he arrived at the Comboni Order’s Mother House in Verona, Italy? Well, he did meet his abuser, Father Nardo, in the Chapel of the Mother House. They spoke quietly for some five to ten minutes together. There were long periods of silence and much reflection. The Priest asked for forgivness for the lifetime of suffering that the abuse had caused to the Victim – and the Victim had forgiven his Abuser. To all intents and purposes, at that stage, the visit could have been gauged as a success – but the Victim had not anticipated what followed.


The Vice-Superior of the Mother House arrived and accused the Victim of trespassing on private property – albeit the Victim had walked through an open door and had spoken to the Receptionist and was shown into the Chapel to await the arrival of Father Nardo. The Vice Superior then said that he had called a lawyer and the Police – and as the Victim left to avoid any furtherconfrontation – the Vice Superior shouted after him that he was just a “Money-grabber”. Meeting the Superior of the House the next day, the Victim was told that he was never ever going to get an apology from the Order for the abuse (which he did not deny): “You will wait in vain!’ he was told. Then, incredulously, shortly after his arrival back in the United Kingdom, the Victim received a summons from the Criminal Court of Verona, Italy, and was indicted with three charges: “stalking and interference in the private life of the alleged criminal paedophile that had abused him as a child – and trespassing on the premises of the Comboni Missionary Order’s Mother House at Verona, Italy!”


Instead of the dialogue, succour, understanding and an apology from the Comboni Missionary Order that the Victim had hoped for, he was insulted and pelted with metaphorical stones by members of the very same Order who had failed to protect him and had watched him drowning in distress and confusion when he was a child in their care. Unlike the statement made by Archbishop Hebda in relation to the paedophile priest and the failures of the Archdiocese of Minneapolis, the unwritten statement by the Superior General and Curia of the Comboni Missionary Order appears to be:


“Romano Nardo is, and John Pinkman and Domenico Valmaggia were priests of this Order. The Order does not admit that it failed to respond and prevent any fabricated, alleged sexual abuse of the eighteen so-called Victims of these priests. The Order has categorically not failed to prioritise the safety and wellbeing of those eighteen children ahead of protecting any perceived interests of Romano Nardo, John Pinkman and Domenico Valmaggia or of the Order itself. There were no actions, nor omissions of the Order that contributed to any failing of the Order to prevent any alleged abuse – and, therefore, any need for dialogue, protection, apologies and services for these so-called victims are superfluous and unfounded. Today, we proudly proclaim that we did not fail in the past and look forward to continueing down our path of success to achieve our vital goals. To the alleged, dishonest, so-called victims and survivors, we pledge not to move forward openly, nor collaboratively and nor humbly, – and we will always behave as arrogantly as we have done in our past – which is to lend a deaf ear to their whining cries. We will endeavour to forget that any allegations against members of the Order were ever made. We will sue anybody who contradicts this statement. ”


Well – that’s how they do it in Verona Italy! Strange place – the Catholic Church. They haven’t really got it together have they! Unfortunately – this is not a bit funny – and I should not be flippant. The lives of eighteen children were ruined by the cold-hearted arrogance of this narcissistic, elitist, protectionist, so-called Christian Order of Verona, Italy – and yet, nobody in the Catholic Church – not a single Bishop in these British Isles – and nor the Vatican who are fully aware of the plight of the Victims of the Comboni Missionary Order – have ever uttered a word about this human tragedy.

A Case of Sexual Double Standards and Clerical Impotence? —- by Brian Mark Hennessy

A Case of Sexual Double Standards and Clerical Impotence?
Abridged and paraphrased by Brian Mark Hennessy from an article in the National Catholic Reporter

Readers will probably recall the incident earlier this year when a priest, named Anatrella, stoked a furore when it was revealed that he had announced to a Vatican Conference for new bishops that they were not obligated to report a suspected sexual abuser to authorities even in countries where the law requires such reporting. The Vatican quickly responded saying that Msgr Anatrella’s remarks did not change Church policy on reporting. That was too vague for Boston Cardinal Sean O’Malley, head of Pope Francis’ new Commission for the Protection of Minors, who immediately issued a statement to the effect that “civil law agencies are charged with protecting our society and, therefore, all members of the Church have a moral and ethical responsibility to report all suspected abuse to the civil authorities”.

For years, seminaries and monasteries around France sent students and novices, if their superiors decided that they were struggling with homosexuality, to this very same Msgr. Tony Anatrella, a prominent French priest and therapist who has written disparagingly of gays – alleging that they are narcicistic, incapable of sexual chastity and cannot be ordained as priests. Now it transpires that Anatrella himself is facing mounting allegations that he himself had sex with male clients under his therapeutic care. So far, European media have relayed accusations from as many as four different men who say that Anatrella engaged in various sex acts with them during counseling sessions in his Paris office. “You’re not gay, you just think that you are,” Anatrella reportedly told Daniel Lamarca, who was a 23-year-old seminarian when he first went to Anatrella in 1987. Recently, another ex-seminarian, has told French News outlets that he was counseled by Anatrella for 14 years, from 1997 to 2011, and that after the first few years Anatrella began “special sessions” that included episodes of mutual masturbation. Anatrella has so far not responded to the allegations.

The reports about Anatrella have emerged, inconveniently, as the Church in France has been embroiled in a crisis over charges that Bishops have shielded priests even after they received reports that the clerics had molested children. Lamarca said that in 2001 he reported these episodes to the late Cardinal Archbishop Jean-Marie Lustiger. Yet, he said, nothing was done. Lamarca’s allegation was one of three accusations to surface again in 2006, but because they involved adults, despite taking place during professional therapy consultations, the accusations were not pursued by civil authorities. The newly appointed Cardinal Andre Vingt-Trois has since sent an email to all his priests expressing his support for Anatrella. Accusations from additional ex-patients have not changed the cardinal’s opinion and he spoke of a “gay lobby” working against Anatrella – who remains as a consultant to the pontifical councils for the family and for health care ministry and as recently as February 2016, Msgr Anatrella was the main organizer of a major conference on priestly celibacy at the Pontifical Gregorian University in Rome. Despite all the mounting allegations, Anatrella, has not been the subject of any investigations at all – despite that being a specific mandatory requirement of Canon Law. It really does seem even now in 2016 that from top to bottom a shambolic Catholic Church continues to ride the stormy seas of sexual abuse without a compass, sail, rudder, manual, log-book or captain.

The Overwhelming Cost of Denial — by Brian Mark Hennessey

The Overwhelming Cost of Denial

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

My Happy memories of Mirfield

by Frank McGinnis

More Good Memories

These stories bring back many of the happier memories of Mirfield.

Feast-days were good as we ate well for a day (not so good for the farm pigs/chickens) and all washed down with real fizzy orange juice.

Having no singing voice my job on such days was to hold one of the six enormous candle-sticks at the special Mass. I was always placed to the immediate left of Eddie Roberts as he swung the incense-belching orb thingy.

Every fifth or sixth swing he would let it ‘just touch’ my hand to ensure the hot overspill from my candle would flow down my arm.

I can still hear his sniggers, a brilliant guy, oh happy days.

Mirfield Priests

I hated Fr Cerea, but he started it. The only nice comment I can muster is the memory of the rich tobacco aroma he emanated as he thumped the back of my head (often).

I liked Fr Grace, he looked ancient & content.

His Anglican minister to Catholic priest story puzzled me.

As a product of the West of Scotland I was sure it was against the rules.

Jumping-ship was unheard of, you had to stick to what you arrived with, you were either Catholic or Protestant.

Father Grace

An Indian kid started at our Primary school when I was about eight, no problem.

He was a Muslim but assured us he was a ‘Catholic’ Muslim. Clever wee guy.

I eventually just figured that Fr Grace must have got fed-up not getting his prayers answered whilst in the wrong outfit.

He was keen to see the Tories win the 1966 General Election so his Catholic prayers didn’t work all that great either.
We had a three day ‘Silent Retreat’ early in 1967. The good memory there is that Pinkie was unable to talk to wee boys about his unique interest in explaining the facts of life. Oh happy three days.
PS We have moved on in the West of Scotland since those days. One is now simply either a YES or a NO. But don’t worry we NO who they are 🙂

If anyone else has any good or bad memories of Mirfield just stick them in the Comments section after this article.

I Suspected Bede Mullen had Been Abused | I Was Right

Bede Mullen

I met Bede Mullen at the 4th reunion I went to.

He was 54.

The last time I had seen him he was 12 years old.

I was really looking forward to seeing him again – especially as there were unsolved questions, answers he hadn’t given me all those years before.

Frank McGinnis had been my best friend – but Bede would have been one of the ones that I hung about with most, alongside Francis Locke, Martin Murphy and Peter O’Hagan.

Not Coming Back

So, it was a bit of a shock to me when, as he was packing his bags for the looming holidays, he informed me that he wouldn’t be coming back after the holidays. He was going to be staying home.

This sort of thing happened far too often and was both destabilising and upsetting.

Often people would go home from their Christmas or Easter or Summer Holidays and simply wouldn’t come back. Some of them had decided against it, either because they were homesick, or they had lost their vocation, or it was too strict, or they just didn’t fancy it any more.

Others were told not to come back, often via a letter sent to their parents (as we discovered long afterwards).

The Disappeared

It didn’t just happen during the holidays. It could happen during the term.

Someone would just disappear. You might, or might not, hear the reason why they had been ‘disappeared’. You were seldom officially told – but there were always rumours. The Rumour Mill is strongest in closed societies.

When I was quite new, and in first year, three guys suddenly grabbed me in the toilet, picked me up, and tried to put my head down the toilet as they flushed it.

It was quite terrifying at the time.

They were very unlucky that Pinkie happened to wander into the toilet just as they were doing this (he had that knack).

The three were asked to accompany Pinkie along to Fr. Rector’s office immediately.

Two of them were given warnings as to their future conduct. The guy that was considered the ringleader, a guy called Kerrigan, was instantly expelled. His vocation disappeared with the flushed toilet water.

We were never to see him again.

<h2?Sent Home Quickly

They got rid of miscreants very quickly. There was none of that phoning your parents to tell them to come and collect you whenever they could, which might be in a few days time.

They were gone instantly.

They had to make their own way home, perhaps to distant parts, at the age of as early as eleven. I doubt if they even gave them money. They might have been given the money that they had themselves handed in at the start of each term.

Bede’s Decision

Bede, however, had decided to go home of his own volition. He had decided not to come back after the holidays.

I didn’t know that I was the only person he told this to till 44 years later. Bede didn’t remember telling anybody.

When I spoke to him at the reunion he told me that he didn’t dare tell any of the priests. He was afraid that they would maybe lock him up and not let him go home. This may seem ridiculous now, and they almost certainly would have done no such thing – but the way they acted in those days, it wasn’t quite outside the realms of possibility.

I immediately wanted to know why he was leaving so I could convince him into staying. Most people just disappeared or didn’t come back and you seldom knew the reason why.

This was one tragedy, a loss of, effectively, a brother, that I could prevent and prevent it I thought I could – but I had to know the reason why he wanted to leave first.

And he wouldn’t tell me that.

Related to Father Pinkman

He came close to telling me several times as he packed his suitcase on his bed. He even told me that it had something to do with Pinkie.

Even by this stage I had heard people talking about Pinkie’s Boys, the ones that he used to invite up to his room, his special boys in his special boys club that I wasn’t a part of.

I would have liked to have been part of it and had wondered why I hadn’t been, I had usually been part of the ‘in crowd’ with the teachers at school before – but I was to get my invitation soon.

Connected To Pinkman

The strong inference was that it was something connected to Pinkie and that Bede felt that he had to get out of there.

It wasn’t that he disliked the college.

He didn’t!

It wasn’t that he didn’t have friends.

He did!

It wasn’t that he didn’t have a good time there.

He did!

But, for some reason, that I couldn’t quite fathom, he had decided he had to leave it all behind. He decided that, despite all the good things that had happened there, and despite the friends he had made, he had to leave us all behind, his new family, and get out, never to return.

Never Came Back

It was something I had often pondered in later years, i.e. why Bede just had to get out of a place that he loved. Why did he give up his vocation, his friends, that beautiful place and just leave, never to come back?

Of course, looking through the eyes of a twelve year old I couldn’t understand it at all.

It just seemed crazy.

However, putting the same data through the eyes of an adult, I came to a completely different conclusion.

I didn’t know for certain that something had happened to him with Pinkie, but I was pretty sure that this must be it.

Previous Reunions

I even told the other guys at previous reunions that I thought that something had happened to him and that this was the reason for his departure. Some of them were a little sceptical – but I was pretty sure of it.

He wasn’t keen on coming to the reunion. He told Joe Colby that he had some bad memories of the place and didn’t really want to have anything to do with it. It was in his past – a past he wanted to forget.

It took a lot of convincing by Joe and many emails and phone calls to convince Bede to come.

But Joe warned us all.

Bede didn’t want there to be any discussion about Pinkie – and Joe had promised him that there wouldn’t be.

Bede Mullen’s Return

On the first night of the reunion, we all went out but Joe decided to wait in the hotel for Bede who was supposed to be arriving at seven o’clock.

It was twenty past seven when I decided to go and join the others in the pub.

Another half an hour later Joe joined us.

Bede hadn’t arrived.

“He won’t come” I said. “He’s thought better of it”.

But Joe and Danny Curran were convinced that he would.

Back at the Hotel

About half an hour later Joe and I decided to go back to the hotel. When we got in the door, Joe decided to check the guest book to see if he had arrived.

His name wasn’t there.

Just at that, someone came out of the breakfast room.

I thought he might have been a fellow guest. Joe seemed to think he was someone who worked there.

“Have you seen our mate Bede Mullen?” Joe asked.

“Yes, he’s arrived” said the guy.

“Where is he now? What room is he in?” asked Joe.

“He’s standing in front of you” said Bede.

And Bede was back.

Forty Two Years later

I’d had an inkling it was him whilst Joe was asking him questions.

My 12-year-old friend was back – as a 54 year old.

I still have a very clear picture of Bede as a 12-year-old – a very clear one as he packed his suitcase that day. It is one of those pictures that you have that stay with you forever whilst you forget most other things.

It was great to see him once again – but more than a little frustrating that I couldn’t ask him why he had left. What was it that Pinkie had done?

Talking About Pinkie

Strangely, after telling us not to mention Pinkie while Bede was there, it was Joe that brought the subject up – after we were back in the hotel after having had a meal and a few drinks on the first night.

We actually tried to change the subject a couple of times or tried to make it sound as if it Joe was talking about something else. But Joe was either oblivious to this or was having nothing of it – and surprisingly enough Bede wasn’t uncomfortable with it.

Perhaps he had made the major step in deciding to come at all. Perhaps this was just another smaller step along a path that he decided he was going to take anyway.

Perhaps he expected it.

Bede’s Confirmation

He never did tell us exactly what happened. It’s not the kind of thing that you ask someone unless they volunteer it (at least guys don’t).

But he did confirm that something bad had happened with Pinkie and that it had happened in Pinkie’s room and it had happened more than once.

We didn’t need to know the exact details.

He said that it had caused him a lot of problems in his life.

He surprised us all by saying that he had only just told his wife about it the previous week after many long years of marriage.

He must have taken the decision then, before he even got to us, that the genie was clamouring to be let out of the bottle – and that he was going to let it be opened.

Affected Bede’s Life

Bede had been a very dignified 12-year-old and he was still a very dignified 54-year-old.

He told us that what had happened with Pinkie had affected his life. He had obviously never shared it with anyone till just the previous week, 44 years later, with the person closest to him in his life, his wife.

How surprised she must have been about hearing this secret that he had borne by himself all those years.

The genie was out of the bottle – and I think deep down Bede was pleased. Perhaps pleased is the wrong word. Bede was now comfortable with it – or at least comfortable enough with it now that he could talk about it.

This was all well and good – but the big test would be the next day.

Tour of the Seminary

We were scheduled at 11am the next day, to go on a conducted tour of our alma mater St. Peter Claver College, Roe Head, Mirfield.

What would Bede feel then?

Could he handle that after 44 years away?

I had done the tour twice previously.

This year, Allison, our guide from Hollybank School, which our seminary had become, took us to the usual spots, the old classrooms, the dormitories, the Refectory, The Chapel etc.

There was a lot of reminiscing about old times and ‘this is here we used to….” etc.

But I knew that the big one awaited us.

Pinkie’s Room

We came around the corner from the dormitories and I knew what was coming.

Led by Allison, everybody had actually gone past it altogether and Allison was now showing them the Chapel.

I saw Bede towards the back who hadn’t walked past it yet.

I said to him “that was Pinkie’s room”.

There was no need to tell him of course. He hadn’t casually walked past it like the rest but had hung around. I looked through the thin glass slat in the door, that hadn’t been there 44 years ago, into the room.

What would Bede’s reaction be?

When I took my face away from the slat in the door, Bede walked forward and peered in too.

That was enough for me.

Into Pimkie’s Room

I walked a few steps forward and asked Allison if she could let us into that room.

Only she, Bede and I went in, as the others were more interested in the chapel.

I could see tears well up in Bede’s eyes.

But he remained in control. He always did.


He motioned to the corner of the room. “The bed used to be there”. After a pause he pointed to another spot. “The table was there” and paused.

Like Jim Kirby previously, he was seeing events from forty odd years ago.

“A lot of things happened here” he said in his understated way, and for a brief moment he was far away in a time gone past.

Then he pulled himself together and said “It’s just a room. It’s just a room”. He looked at me, nodded his head and walked out the door.

And, in that instant, the demon who had tormented him, had finally been exorcised.

Father Pinkman Wants to Examine Me

Groin Injury

I loved a game of football. I loved playing for the school.

This particular day we were playing football on the lower pitch. I’d had a bit of a groin strain before but it really went this time. Down I went. I was in quite a bit of pain. Pinkie said I should go back to the dormitory. As I couldn’t play on it seemed a good option.

I went back to the dormitory and went to bed. Not long after Pinkie arrived. Now, this surprised me a bit. He was supposed to be supervising the game and those playing it.

It seemed very nice of him to take such an interest in my footballing injury. After all, he was our substitute dad – although I had to share him with around 55 others.

Bottom of the Bed

He stood at the bottom of my bed in the dormitory. Even though I was just 12 years old I could smell something that wasn’t right. There was something about his demeanour. He didn’t seem relaxed. He said that he needed to examine my groin injury. I wasn’t keen on anybody examining my groin.

He was rubbing his hands together in a nervous fashion, which was his wont. Something didn’t seem right even to a 12 year old who had never heard of sex.

I didn’t want anybody near my groin, thank you. But his arguments were quite compulsive. He said that he needed to see what was wrong with me and he could probably fix it. I still said ‘no’. He said “How are you going to get better? Do you want to stay like this?”

I didn’t. It was quite painful. His arguments were beginning to seem winning arguments and I was starting to think that it might be very embarrassing but that it might be necessary to let him have a look – when he suddenly changed tack.

Weighty Question

He asked me if I’d been weighed yet by Fr. Valmaggio the Infirmarian. I thought this a strange thing to ask. How would my weight affect my groin strain? I was only a slip of a thing.

We seldom got to see a Doctor or a Nurse. Fr. Valmaggio was in charge of the Infirmary (a grand name for a room with six beds). I learned later that he was a keen ‘weigher’ of 11-14 year old boys. Why he needed to weigh them no one ever asked (till much later). One never asked why in those days. Children did what they were told then. Adult power was pretty much absolute – and you know what they say about absolute power.

Winning Argument

So, Pinkie quit just as I was wavering. Lucky I didn’t show it. One wonders if life would have been very different if he’d had one more attempt.

Jim Kirby met one of the boys in Mirfield in London’s West End some years ago. The boy was a few years his senior. That boy told Jim that he felt his homosexuality had been induced by what happened to him by serial abuse by two of the priests at Mirfield.

Jim thinks the boy may have been embarrassed by admitting he was Gay, as this meeting took place in the 80s and it was still early days in the age of enlightenment and attitudes towards the Gay community.

The boy expressed astonishment that Jim was not Gay as he felt that the treatment meted out to the boys by the abusive priests would have made many of them Gay in distorting their thinking and attitudes towards sexual activity because of that abuse.

The boy was of course, by then, a grown man and was himself obviously very confused and even distressed even at that age by what had occurred at Mirfield. Some years later Jim did make contact again with him and asked him if he wanted to make a statement about the abuse. He said he didn’t as he had closed that part of his life. He was living abroad, in fact on another Continent.

I suspect, though, it is far harder to become a homosexual than that. But I don’t know and I’m glad I never had to go down that route to find out. I am not anti homosexual, but like pretty much all heterosexuals whether they are gay bashers or very sympathetic and empathetic to gays, they are very glad they are not one themselves.

Handed Over to Father Valmaggia

So, Pinkie suggested that the best route for me was to go to see Fr. Valmaggio at the Infirmary. It seemed a great suggestion. It never occurred to me that it was out of the frying pan and into Fr. Valmaggio’s Infirmary.

So, I went to see our resident ‘medical expert’. I explained the problem and he said that I needed to stay in the Infirmary for a few days.

Fair enough!

I spent the next 8 days in there. Being in the Infirmary was pretty good. You didn’t have to do any school or work and you got your food delivered to you. If I remember right it was of better quality than the normal fare.

They even had a radio and I got to listen to a European title fight involving Walter McGowan, the pocket Scottish boxer.

Anthony Summers

The first day was fine. Already in the Infirmary was Anthony Summers who was in the year above me. He said that he was in because he had swallowed biro ink. He said that it caused him to have sudden blackouts.

Several times when he was sitting up in bed he would suddenly ‘black out’ and fall ‘unconscious’ on his bed and pillows just to prove what he said about the sudden blackouts. It wasn’t a convincing performance though. Even as a 12-year old I could see through it.

I was just about to reach the age of puberty. It would happen later on that summer when I was at home during the holidays. However it hadn’t quite happened yet – which was pretty lucky for me.

Despite Summers’ ‘serious blacking out’ illness he was booted out of the Infirmary after a couple of days, leaving me on my own. He protested saying that he wasn’t any better. “Get out!” yelled Fr Valmaggia and he went.

Start of the Treatment for a Groin Injury

Then came the real start of my treatment. It seems that the best treatment for a groin strain (instead of rest) was to rub coal tar over the testicles and penis of the injured person. It seems, also, that the treatment would work better if the penis of the injured person was erect.

Being on the verge of puberty this was something that I was sometimes able to do (to a small limp degree) but most times not. It was also a bit of an effort and a bit annoying to keep trying to do it. I knew it was for my own good but most times I couldn’t do it. It was such a mental effort.

I’m not an expert on puberty but even though (at great effort) I sometimes could get my penis erect the pleasure gland (or whatever it is) had not arrived yet – so he might as well have been massaging my big toe with coal tar.

He got a little annoyed that I couldn’t always ‘get it up’ which he deemed necessary to cure my affliction, but I also noticed that there was other times when he seemed annoyed with himself for doing it and would suddenly stop. It seemed a little strange but as I didn’t know about sex or puberty at all there was no way I could piece any of it together.


How different the kids are now. Surely it can’t be bad that they know about sex and paedophiles etc. The fact that we didn’t, made us all potential victims. My parents subscribed to the view, that was common then, that children should stay children as long as they could.

One feels that this ‘common view’ was more because they had a fear of the ‘adult world’ and couldn’t cope well themselves in this complicated world. There was a great desire to keep children as long as possible in the Age of Innocence. Unfortunately the implementation of that wish gave children no tools or knowledge for when the predators came hunting. Their innocence and naivety made them perfect victims.

There may be problems with the world now for children but we surely don’t want to go back again to the ungolden ‘Age of Innocence’.

Comboni Missionaries | How I was Immersed in the Organisation

On the Committee

It was soon after this that Pinkie decided to set up an Ideas Forum for the lower school. People were to put in ideas (anonymously) about how to make things better. There was a Suggestions Box and people put their suggestions in there.

I was really pleased when I was picked by Pinkie to be on the Committee. In fact I was to be the guy who was actually to pick out the suggestions from the Suggestions Box and read them out.

What power!

I had really arrived. I was becoming part of the inner circle.

Suggestion Box

Making the Suggestion Box anonymous was a huge mistake. Repressive Systems don’t like anonymity – and not just repressive regimes.

It is not only the repressive regimes who are trying to remove anonymity for those who post on the Internet. Anonymity is the great enemy of those in power. Anonymity means that people can say whatever they want.

How horrible must that be to those who are in power? It is not just repressive regimes who want powers to find out who is doing what and who is saying what on the Internet. It is the US, the British and leading European democracies who are trying to stop us saying what we want under the guise of anonymity.

First Meeting

At the first meeting, held in the adjoining First and Second Year classrooms, the Committee (Pinkie, myself and a couple of others were at the front). Now, when organisations have Suggestion Boxes, the real reason they are having them is so that they can find suggestions that benefit themselves. However, staff (or pupils) sometimes get the wrong idea and make suggestions that are for the benefit of those who work for the company or the organisation.

This is mainly what happened here. The suggestions tended to be not to have the horrible porridge that we had for breakfast (which I actually liked) but to have Cereal instead. Another suggestion was to for the sisters to stop putting huge amounts of pepper in the dandelion leaves soup (picked from the grounds) that they were always giving us. Surprisingly these two ideas were implemented.

Regime Criticism

However, there were several ‘suggestions’ and criticisms of the regime put into the Suggestion Box. To my great shame I picked them out, but instead of reading them out, I handed them over to Pinkie with a disapproving look as if I was handling a rotten fish.

The first one or two came as a big surprise to Pinkie and he gave a stern lecture about the kind of person who would make suggestions like that. However, when the next few came out he simply put them in the bin. I can’t remember what they said now but I wonder if any of them made criticism of Pinkie and what he was up to with the boys.

I think under any regime when you give the people an opportunity to say something without the fear of being caught and punished a lot of true feelings and grievances will come out.

Helped the System

I was glad I was able to help the system by intercepting some suggestions from what I saw as some very sad boys who didn’t appreciate what was being done for them.

Pinkie seemed to appreciate what I had done. I could be trusted. Things were looking up. I was in Pinkie’s good books. Better than that, he appreciated what I could bring to the organisation. I was pleased. The future was looking very bright indeed.

It is a shame that this was the last ever Suggestion Box meeting. It was scrapped after that. The boys had been given an opportunity and they had abused it.

Comboni Missionaries | How I was ‘Called By God’ – My Vocation

Comboni Missionaries – The Sell

I had already decided, mainly because of Fr. Maloney and my mother’s pride, that I wanted to enter the priesthood, that I was sold on the idea of being a priest. It seemed like a great career move. It had status. I had also wanted to be a footballer and play for Scotland but this seemed equally as good.

So, when Fr. Tavano hit town when I was just 10 years of age I was an easy sell. He had been sent by the missionary order the Verona Fathers, an offshoot of the Jesuits, to find boys who would become priests.

Greenock was a fertile area for him as he grabbed five boys on the trip. Greenock was a place, in those days, where the British Army were able to grab lots of boys to join up. It sounded great – certainly compared to a life in Greenock. OK, you night go to war and have people shoot at you – but at least in the Army that was just a might.

Great Salesman for Comboni Missionaries

Fr. Tavano really sold. He would have made an excellent salesman in another profession. He sold and he sold and he sold. He made the college, where we would be living, sound like an upmarket holiday resort. Then there was the opportunity of foreign travel to exotic Africa when you became a priest.

He told us that we would have a tour of the surrounding district every Wednesday. Little did we know that this would be virtually the only time we were allowed out of the grounds. Even this was heavily supervised. The junior head boy would be at the front and the priest who was head of the junior school, Fr. Pinkman (of him, more later), would be at the back.

Liam Gribben

One of the Greenock boys, Liam Gribben, who joined at the same time as I did felt hard done by as regards the walk around the locale. He had thought that these would be bus tours. After all the local bus company in Greenock, Doigs, regularly advertised tours to places like Loch Lomond at advantageous rates. Unfortunately for us these rates were well beyond the means of our parents.

Maybe he had yearned to do something like that. Maybe he had seen the ads and begged his parents to go. Now there was an opportunity to go on a tour every week.

However, Fr, Tavano was a born salesman and a tour was how he described the weekly walk. I bet he would have sold lots of houses or second hand cars. Unfortunately for us he was not just selling us a commodity that we could sell on. He was selling us a philosophy and a way of life.

With slides of the college and Africa and a description of the lifestyle, he was on a winner. At the end he asked the 10 and 11-year-old boys who wanted to come. I remember that quite a few hands went up. Mine was one of them.

I don’t know what happened to the others. Perhaps their parents told them not to be so daft. Mine were proud of me and proud that the local priests were so proud as well. I volunteered myself they said. It wasn’t down to any of them at all.

Special Summer

It was a great summer. I was special. I was going to become a priest. I had a vocation. I was chosen by God. I was specially picked out of so many other people by God. I was to be his chosen one.

By God those were heady days for a ten / eleven year old (my birthday was in June).

Other people were desperate to know what a vocation was like. How did I know I was called by God? What did it feel like? It was like I had the secret of life, the Holy Grail.

To be perfectly frank I was as in the dark as they were but I explained it all to them – like it was explained to me. They nodded as I explained – but I could see that they still felt a bit on the outside.

My Vocation to the Priesthood

I was not on the outside. I was right bang on the inside. I was chosen and they were not. I must admit it was hard not to get a superiority complex. How could you not when God had specially picked you out? He wanted you and not the rest of them. He didn’t want them. He wanted you.

And I was only just reaching my eleventh birthday. Life was so full of hope. This was the sixties when hope abounded among the young anyway. And the rest of them weren’t even God’s chosen ones.

We had it in spades!

A Gang of Brothers

I was put in touch with the other guys who would be ‘entering the priesthood’ as we thought at the time. In total there were five boys from Greenock, including myself. It was a particularly good catch by Fr. Tavano. I don’t think that he got as many anywhere else including London.

We spent the summer together – the Chosen Few. It was a time of great optimism. We had a whale of a time together. I remember that we hit it off greatly and we laughed a lot – in fact a hell of a lot. It seemed that people chosen specially by God had quite a lot in common. We were like brothers in arms. In fact looking back perhaps that was the greatest summer of my life. Life stretched out long in front of us – and we were going to be in God’s special legion.

We really believed that we were all going to be priests – the whole five us. We felt that we had already passed the audition. We believed that we had already been selected, that all we needed now was the training.

Vocations Lost

Fr. Tavano didn’t tell us otherwise – although he must have known. It seems that only about one in twenty of the boys ‘chosen by God’ in this way actually make it through to the priesthood.

Some of them leave having ‘lost their vocation’ along the way. The majority, though, are simply ignominiously dumped. There remains the strong suspicion that some were dumped to save paedophile priests from being found out when the boys got a little older and wiser.

Can you imagine how it feels to be selected by God and then dumped by his emissaries on earth?

What would you do after that?

I remember once reading that John Lennon said that when the Beatles broke up when he was in his late twenties he wondered “what do you do after you’ve been a Beatle?”

When Your Vocation is Gone

I think that, to an even greater extent, we could ask the same question. “What do you do after you’ve been specially chosen By God – and then he no longer wants you”?

The answer sadly for many of those who were rejected is ‘not much’.

As I said, only about one-in-twenty of those ‘chosen by God’ actually make it through to the priesthood and Fr. Tavano didn’t tell us about that when we signed up. We thought we were already there.

We were called by God – and then, seemingly, he dumped us because we had become’defiled’ by one of his servants.