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IICSA Independent Inquiry into Child Sexual Abuse

The Roman Catholic Church Investigation Report

Contents

H.2: Meetings with victims and complainants

4. The Inquiry heard many accounts of meetings between the Church and victims and complainants. Two contrasting examples are set out below.

The experience of the Comboni core participants

Background

5. In the 1960 and 1970s, the Comboni Order[1] ran a seminary for boys at St Peter Claver College (known as Mirfield), Yorkshire. A number of the Mirfield staff have been the subject of child sexual abuse allegations and in 2014 the Comboni Order settled (without an admission of liability) a civil claim brought by 11 former pupils arising out of such allegations.

6. Some of Mirfield’s former pupils were core participants in this investigation (the Comboni core participants). Two of these former pupils, Thomas (James) Kirby and RC-A49, told us that they reported to members of staff at the college that they had been sexually abused. RC-A49 recalled that following his disclosure one of the alleged perpetrators (RC-F338) was removed from Mirfield but it does not appear that the college took action in relation to any other individual. We have seen no evidence that the allegations were reported to the police.

Mark Murray’s experience

7. Mark Murray started at Mirfield in September 1969 when he was 13 or 14 years old. He told us that he was sexually abused by Father Romano Nardo (a priest of the Italian Province of the order who was then based at Mirfield). Under the guise of re-enacting Jesus washing the feet of the disciples at the Last Supper, Father Nardo progressed from washing Mr Murray’s feet and body to touching his genitals. Mr Murray said he was made to wash Father Nardo and on one occasion Father Nardo sexually abused Mr Murray in his own home.[2] Mr Murray left Mirfield in June 1974. He did not feel able to tell anyone about his experiences for the next 21 years.

8. In 1995, Mr Murray contacted a firm of solicitors with a view to commencing a civil claim against the Comboni Order. By this time, Father Nardo was based in Uganda and he was asked to return to Italy by the Italian Province. By May 1997, the solicitors acting on behalf of the Italian Province of the Comboni Order made the following admission:

In view of the very long period of time which has passed since the actions are said to have occurred, there is a caveat as regards relying on recollections and memories. However, we are instructed that nonetheless it would appear that Father Nardo did act inappropriately towards your client but not with the intention deliberately to hurt him. Father Nardo deeply regrets any hurt that may, in fact, have resulted from his inappropriate action... neither the Trustees nor the Religious Superiors of the Order knew at the time nor had any reason to be aware that any of Father Nardo’s actions were wrongful or even awry. Nonetheless, we are asked to express their profound sorrow that your client has suffered from the inappropriate action of a man who is a member of their Order.[3]

9. The Inquiry has seen a number of instances where abuse was understated or described as “inappropriate”, “a misdemeanour” or “misbehaviour”.[4] To describe the sexual abuse of children in such ways is to minimise the appalling acts and the effect on the victims. As Mr Murray told us:

Instead of using the word ‘sex abuse’ they say ‘inappropriate behaviour’. What upset me about this letter is the caveat of ‘memories lost’ or ‘recollections’. You don’t forget. I don’t forget abuse … You live it every day … it’s their lawyers writing this. It’s not from the heart of the Combonis. It’s not written from them, really … I found it quite insulting and not very helpful.[5]

10. The letter also stated that having received “professional independent advice” Father Nardo might return to active ministry.[6]

11. In 2007, Mr Murray met with the Comboni’s UK safeguarding officer who assured him that Father Nardo would not have access to children and was to remain in the founding or ‘mother’ house in Verona. The following year Mr Murray saw photographs online of Father Nardo taking mass surrounded by children and taking part in a Youth Comboni Mission Programme. Mr Murray wrote a number of letters, including to the Superior General (head of the Comboni Order worldwide), to set out his concerns about Father Nardo’s access to children. He asked to meet Father Nardo but was told that Father Nardo was “in very poor mental health with a limited and closely supervised ministry and with no access to children.[7]

12. In April 2015, Mr Murray travelled to Verona to speak to Father Nardo. When asked why he wanted to speak to his abuser, he said:

I wanted to get back some power that I had lost or had taken away from me when I was a child … I felt the person … that would give me back most of that power was the priest that abused me … I wanted him to listen to me, to know what I had been through, and to know what I was going through, and I also, and … some people find this very hard to understand. I also wanted to have the opportunity or to be in a situation where I could forgive him.[8]

13. Mr Murray video-recorded his meeting with Father Nardo. The footage shows Father Nardo kneeling down apologising to Mr Murray. Mr Murray told us that as Father Nardo got up to leave Mr Murray said “I forgive you”.[9]

14. Mr Murray told us he returned the following day and told the Vice-Superior of the house what Father Nardo had done to him. The Vice-Superior threatened Mr Murray shouting “You and your lot are all money grabbers”, a reference to a recently settled group civil action.[10] When Mr Murray explained that he wanted an apology, he was told:

If you are waiting for an apology, you will be waiting a long time and your wait will be in vain”.[11]

15. Approximately nine months later, guardians appointed to administer Father Nardo’s personal and financial affairs issued a notice of an intention to prosecute Mr Murray for trespassing on their property and for “interfering with private life and stalking”.[12] There was a prosecution in Italy which Mr Murray had to defend at his own expense. The case was dismissed. Those acting on behalf of Father Nardo appealed and that appeal was also dismissed. Mr Murray told us about the effect the Italian court case had on him:

It was a massive – it frightened me, I suffered bouts of depression. I also have to add that I was admitted on two occasions to a psychiatric hospital for depression and suicidal ideation.[13]

Recent developments

16. In summer 2019, the Comboni Order declined a request to meet with the Comboni core participants.[14] The response on behalf of the Comboni Order stated:

The Provincial Superior has publicly stated that the Comboni Missionaries are deeply sorry for any suffering experienced by individuals who attended their junior seminary at St Peter Claver College in Mirfield … our clients believe it would be best to allow the Inquiry to conclude before they consider any engagement with your clients”.[15]

The Inquiry has never asked that any institution delay meeting with victims and survivors nor did it do so in respect of the Comboni Order.

17. When asked if he still wanted to meet with the Comboni Order, Mr Murray said:

I’d meet with anyone. But I don’t know if I would trust or accept their apology … I don’t understand how they can send that letter. I see meeting victims of abuse by their priest as something totally separate from the inquiry.[16]

18. RC-A49 also said he would “dearly like” to meet with the Comboni Order.[17] He said:

I didn’t want money, I just wanted them to say sorry. I just wanted them to acknowledge that it happened … They just ignore us. Totally ignore us. That’s double abuse. That’s abusing us all over again. All we want is just a word from them. And they won’t even give us that.[18]

19. The Comboni Order’s response to Mr Murray lacked the pastoral approach urged by the Cumberlege report. Its recent decision not to meet with the Comboni core participants suggests that its attitude has not changed.

RC-A491’s experience

20. In October 2009, RC-A491 informed the Archdiocese of Birmingham that he had been sexually abused in the 1950s whilst at St Joseph’s School, Worcestershire. In December that year, Archbishop Bernard Longley, the Archbishop of Birmingham, replied to RC-A491 stating how “deeply moved” and “sad” he was to learn of RC-A491’s childhood experiences.[19] The letter went on to say that the Church had “very clear measures in place” to protect children and that RC-A491 and his family would be in the Archbishop’s “thoughts and prayers”.[20]

21. The letter was headed ‘without prejudice’. In legal correspondence, the phrase ‘without prejudice’ is used to allow parties to correspond or negotiate without it being used as an admission, which might harm their own prospects of success. In this case, however, RC-A491 was not engaged in litigation and did not understand why the letter was written ‘without prejudice’.

22. During the course of the Archdiocese of Birmingham public hearing (November 2018), Archbishop Longley was asked why he had written to RC-A491 on a ‘without prejudice’ basis. He said:

I didn’t realise the import, I have to say, of ‘without prejudice’. I was relatively new to legal dealings and it was early on in my time as archbishop, and I didn’t realise, either, the impact that it would have upon the survivor or victim of abuse to receive a letter with that heading.[21]

He said that he was deeply moved by what RC-A491 had said:

but I was conscious, too, of advice from our legal advisers and insurers, and I am conscious that that had an influence on the tone of what was said”.[22]

23. Archbishop Longley said that he would be willing to meet with any victims and survivors and in July 2019 he met RC-A491.[23] The meeting lasted approximately four hours. RC-A491 said that Archbishop Longley “appeared to listen to me in a genuine way and was in no hurry to leave”.[24] He said that the Archbishop “told me he believed that I deserved an apology” and “that he was very sorry for [what] had happened to me. He told me he felt ashamed about what had happened to me”.[25] Archbishop Longley followed up the meeting with a letter of apology.

24. RC-A491 said:

It meant a lot to me for the head of the institution that failed me so terribly to look me in the eye and acknowledge my suffering, acknowledge their failure to protect me and ask for my forgiveness.[26]

25. RC-A491’s experience demonstrates the importance of the Church being willing to meet with victims and complainants and in particular the significance of a meaningful and genuine apology. However, the experiences of the Comboni core participants and RC-A491 demonstrate that a consistently compassionate approach to meetings with victims and survivors is yet to be achieved.

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