29 May 2015, The Tablet

Abuse victims at Comboni seminary demand apology

A group of men has called on the Comboni Fathers to acknowledge and apologise for decades of abuse they allege took place at the order’s junior seminary in Yorkshire.

Brian Hennessy, one of 12 ex-students who have come forward to say they were abused by priests at Mirfield Junior Seminary in Yorkshire between the late 1950s and the early 1980s, this week sent a 157-page report detailing more than 1,000 instances of abuse to the archbishops of England, Wales, Ireland and Scotland.

The report was also sent to the abbots and religious superiors of all the religious communities in Britain and the heads of the religious conferences.

In an accompanying letter Mr Hennessy said that priests and Religious had failed in their task, abandoned their mission and the spirituality of the Gospels by refusing properly to acknowledge and validate their pain and suffering.

Last year a group of victims were given payments by the order of between £7,000 and £30,000 each which Kathy Perrin, a lawyer with the Catholic Church Insurance Association, which represented the order, said was not an admission of guilt.

She explained: "Everything happened an incredibly long time ago and two of the priests who were accused are now deceased. My clients simply don't know what happened at Mirfield and don't feel that it can be established now."

Mr Hennessy’s letter says that the Comboni Missionaries, also known as the Verona Fathers, had failed as an institution, and for decades, had failed to care properly for victims.  That failure “has run so deep in the veins of the hierarchy of that religious order that it has resulted in the hierarchical re-victimisation and discrimination of the victims of child sexual abuse that was committed by depraved members of their order”.

Mr Hennessy goes on: “It is a failure that is characterised by arrogance, self-protectionism and denial of the ‘truth’ in order to perpetuate the self-conceit of their own perceived elitism and spiritual superiority”.

After a detailed report in the Observer newspaper last October about the Comboni allegations, Danny Sullivan, chairman of the National Catholic Safeguarding Commission, said that the response of the Comboni order “reflects a stark difference of attitude from that of Pope Francis”.  He added he had been present at a Mass at which Francis addressed victims of abuse and humbly asked forgiveness; the Comboni Fathers, he implied, had taken a very different approach from that of the Pope.

This week Jim Kirby, who was a seminarian in Mirfield from 1973-77, when he was aged between 12 and 16, and who suffered abuse during that period, told The Tablet that all he and his fellow survivors wanted now was for the Comboni order to make an absolute apology and to admit that they failed to care for the young boys in their care.  “We want them to meet us and to treat us properly and with respect,” he said.  “So far we have been fobbed off and we have been insulted; some of us have been told by priests that we are ‘only in it for the money’.”

Mr Kirby concluded: “It would help if the Comboni fathers would stop saying this was all a long time ago, and the priests are dead: they’re not all dead, and the ones who are still alive should be brought to court, but in the meantime it would mean so much if they just invited us to meet them and said, guys, we’re sorry; not only for what happened all those years ago, but for failing to face up to it in the years since.  What’s happened has added insult to injury, and now is the moment when it has to stop.”

The Comboni Fathers were not available for comment.

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