30 June 2021, The Tablet

Long-awaited apology brings healing for abuse survivors

Long-awaited apology brings healing for abuse survivors

Bishop Marcus Stock has apologised to survivors.

Victims of abuse who endured assaults when they were pupils of a junior seminary have finally received an apology from the Church, more than 50 years after they were attacked.

The survivors, who all endured abuse at the hands of members of the Verona Fathers order of priests, received a heartfelt apology last week from the Bishop of Leeds, Martin Stock. He said he would raise their case with Pope Francis. He told them their abusers were people they should have been able to trust.

Eight of the survivors met Bishop Stock in person at Hinsley Hall, in Leeds, joined via Zoom by Cardinal Vincent Nichols and Archbishop Charles Scicluna, an adviser on abuse to Pope Francis, as well as three other survivors.

Bishop Stock told them: “I wish to apologise to you personally and unreservedly for the childhood sexual abuse you suffered, and I wish to apologise also to all the members of your families and your friends whose lives have been affected by the impact of that abuse.

“The men you identify as having abused you were among those people you should have been able to trust most. From the accounts you have given, not only was your innocence violated but the seeds of faith growing in your childhood were scandalously harmed, and in some cases appallingly crushed.”

One survivor, Bede Mullen, who was present, said on behalf of the group that the meeting with Bishop Stock and the others was a transformational experience. “The sense of healing that was generated over the weekend was palpable.”

The group were all pupils during the 1960s and 1970s at St Peter Claver College in Mirfield, West Yorkshire, then run by the Verona Fathers which later became the Comboni Missionaries Order.

The meeting was the first time the group has ever received an apology over what happened to them. In 2014 victims from St Peter Claver College were given compensation by the Comboni Order, ranging from £7,000 to £30,000 per person. But at the time, the Catholic Church Insurance Association, which represented the order, said the settlement was not an admission of guilt, and that the Comboni Missionaries did not feel what hapened could now be established.

Two of the priests accused are now dead, while one who is still alive and living abroad has not been extradited to Britain on medical grounds.

The Independent Inquiry into Child Sexual Abuse (IICSA), which reported on the Catholic Church in 2019, heard evidence regarding the Comboni Order and what took place at St Peter Claver College.

It heard from one survivor regarding a letter received from the Comboni Order which described the abuse as “inappropriate action”. The report said: “To describe the sexual abuse of children in such ways is to minimise the appalling acts and the effect on the victims.”

Bishop Stock has also criticised the order, describing its treatment of victims as inadequate. He told BBC Look North after his meeting with survivors that Pope Francis knows about their situation: “He is aware of the fact that the Comboni Survivors Group has not had an adequate response from the leadership of the Comboni Order. I have tried to make this apology for the past abuse and the continuing abuse because they have been ignored and not listened to. I can write and make representations to the Holy Father and will be doing this and I am sure that the other senior bishops present at the meeting will be doing the same,” he added, referring to Cardinal Nichols and Archbishop Scicluna.

The Comboni Survivors have been in contact with Bishop Stock for some years. Bede Mullen was also contacted by Cardinal Nichols following the evidence to IICSA about the Comboni Order: “He said that he would do all he could do to help but even he has been rebuffed by the order.”

Cardinal Nichols and Archbishop Scicluna read out statements endorsing Bishop Stock’s apology during the meeting with the survivors. The eight who stayed overnight at Hinsley Hall also had one-to-one conver- sations with Bishop Stock. The welcome given to them by Bishop Stock and his staff helped overcome any difficulties they felt about being in a building linked to the Church, said Mullen, but all of them have lost their faith because of the abuse trauma.

Mullen said that Archbishop Scicluna explained that the only person who could order the Comboni Missionaries to apologise would be Pope Francis himself. The Comboni Order said: “It was with great sadness and regret that we learned about the allegations of non-recent abuse relating to our former junior seminary which closed in 1984. We acknowledge the harm caused by child abuse and have publicly apologised for any abuse suffered by former seminarians.”

•There was an increase in abuse allegations against priests and Religious in Ireland last year and in requests for advice, the National Board for Safeguarding Children in the Catholic Church’s annual report shows (writes Sarah Mac Donald).

The number of allegations notified to the board between April 2020 and March 2021 totalled 134, up from 116 the previous year: 42 related to diocesan priests, and 92 to members of religious orders. Advice requests increased from 260 in 2019/20 to 392 in 2020/21, an increase of 51 per cent.

Teresa Devlin, CEO of the board, said the increase in requests for assistance within the Church was “not unexpected” as many local safeguarding teams shrank during the pandemic: the board itself was operating with reduced staffing and hours during the pandemic.

One of the concerns highlighted in the latest report is the challenge presented by data protection regulations. “When a diocese or religious order notifies the National Board of an allegation against a cleric or non-ordained Religious, no name or other identifying information is provided,” Devlin explained. “This means that there is no way for the National Board to establish whether there is more than one allegation against any particular notified individual, or whether a complainant has alleged that more than one person has abused them.”

Consequently, the value of the information is “extremely limited and, additionally, it cannot be determined how historic the abuse allegations are. What is presented here is simply the raw data that the National Board has received in the 12 months being reported on.”

The National Board also expressed concern over the “obvious decline” in referrals to the National Case Management Committee by religious orders since the end of 2019/20. It said this may be linked to reservations resulting from legal advice given to the Association of Missionaries and Religious of Ireland concerning data protection.

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