MIRFIELD (UNITED KINGDOM)
BBC [London, England]
June 25, 2021
Men who were sexually abused as boys at a training school for Roman Catholic priests have welcomed a bishop’s “momentous” apology.
The group were pupils at St Peter Claver College in Mirfield, West Yorkshire, when they were molested in the 1960s and 70s.
At a meeting with the men, the Bishop of Leeds said their abusers were people they should have been able to trust.
One victim said the apology marked a changing attitude from the church.
St Peter Claver was a seminary run by a Roman Catholic mission, The Verona Fathers, now known as the Comboni Order.
Former students who experienced sexual abuse at the school said their complaints had been ignored for decades by the church.
‘A long journey’
One victim, Bede Mullen, said the abuse and the way the victims had been treated had a major impact on all of their lives, with the message up until now being: “Go away and forget it.”
“It’s a constant presence, it’s always there – the feeling you are not being believed,” he said.
“Two of our members have died before this apology. Many have suffered fractured lives largely due to their experiences as children,” he said.
He said the bishop’s apology was the first time a senior figure in the church had acknowledged what had happened to them.
“It has been a long journey, it has taken decades. It is a tremendous gesture by the bishop and we are deeply appreciative of it.”
Mr Mullen has previously said that boys at the seminary were called from their dormitory at night to visit the priests in their room, often on the pretext of saying prayers together.
There were occasions when one priest joined boys in the showers on the pretence of hurrying them up, he said.
‘Pain and trauma’
At a meeting attended remotely by high-ranking church officials, The Bishop of Leeds, the Rt Rev Marcus Stock, said he had spent much time “praying and reflecting” on how to express the shame he felt for the victims’ abuse and their subsequent treatment.
While he accepted the personal apology could be viewed as “too little, too late”, he offered the men his “heartfelt apology for the pain and trauma” they had experienced.
“I wish, therefore, here and now, to apologise to you personally and unreservedly for the childhood sexual abuse you suffered,” he said.
“Because they have been ignored, because they have not been listened to, and that too is a form of abuse and that is why it was important I had this meeting with them.”
He said the Pope was aware the men had not had an “adequate pastoral response” from the leadership of the Comboni Order.
Another victim, Mark Murray, from St Asaph, Denbighshire, Wales, said the apology was “a momentous thing”.
“We’ve never had that. We’ve always been ignored, really,” he said.
Mr Murray added that the only time the church had previously engaged with the victims was through the courts.
“I think it highlights a change in the Catholic church, where more people are beginning to listen to victims and survivors,” he said.
The meeting was also attended by Cardinal Vincent Nichols, Archbishop of Westminster, and Archbishop Charles Scicluna of Malta, who is Adjunct Secretary of the Congregation for the Doctrine of the Faith – the body responsible for dealing with clerical sexual abuse cases within the Catholic church.
Mr Mullen said the men hoped to get a meeting with the Pope and were encouraged by the presence of Archbishop Scicluna.
The Comboni Order paid compensation in 2014 to 11 men who said they had been abused at the college, however it has never formally acknowledged the abuse.
Mr Murray said he did not think he would trust any apology from the order: “An apology from the Combonis may be seen as a forced apology and I wouldn’t want that. It has to come from the heart.”
Meanwhile, Mr Mullen said: “You can’t wait for over a decade for an apology and believe it.”
During the meeting, the Bishop of Leeds acknowledged he had not been successful in arranging a meeting between the victims and the Comboni Order.
In a statement issued following the bishop’s apology, 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.”
It said it had worked to respond with “seriousness and sensitivity to the complaints and claims made” and had co-operated with the Independent Inquiry into Child Sexual Abuse.
It said it condemned any action which caused “harm or distress” to others.
“The health, safety and wellbeing of every child remains our absolute priority, and we subscribe to the comprehensive national safeguarding policies and procedures of the Catholic Church in the UK to ensure this is paramount,” the statement added.
West Yorkshire Police investigated reports of historical sexual abuse at the seminary, but said as two of the named suspects were dead, the investigation could go no further.
A third suspect is alive, but is in Italy and cannot be extradited because of ill health.