BIRMINGHAM (UNITED KINGDOM)
Burton Mail [Nottingham, England]
February 10, 2023
By Helen Kreft
He was abused by Father Samuel Penney while he was a choirboy
The victim of a paedophile priest from Burton has spoken of his horrific ordeal and how it took years before he could even speak about what happened to him. Eamonn Flanagan was 11 when he was first abused by vile Father Sam Penney, who was at the time the priest at St Mary and Modwen Catholic Church in the town.
Mr Flanagan, who has waived his right to anonymity, says he was abused while he was a choirboy at the Guild Street church in the 1970s. Speaking to his partner prompted him to speak to others and finally to the church diocese organisation, thinking action would be taken against Penney. But he was left devastated when nothing happened and Penney remained as a priest and would go on to attack other children.
Now in his fifties Mr Flanagan, who lives in Australia, said: “When I finally broke free, it took another five years to be able to talk. First with my partner, then my parents, friends and anyone who would listen and believe. Critically most did. I also told the Birmingham Diocese, thinking they would solve the problem. Big mistake – Penney continued to abuse children even after I and others had met with and complained to church officials. I was further abused, I believe, by the church response to me over the next 27 years.”
Penney was eventually jailed in 1993 for seven and a half years after admitting 10 offences of indecent assault against children, including Mr Flanagan.
Penney stopped abusing Mr Flanagan in around 1983, Mr Flanagan said: “From 11 to 15 years old when Penney was in Burton, he abused me almost daily. In my Lewis Drive home; the Presbytery, in Guild Street; in his campervan; in his tent with six or seven other boys sleeping in the same tent. He was a master manipulator; also violent. I was small, naïve, unprotected, and so it began.”
The Independent Inquiry into Child Sexual Abuse (IICSA), heard details of Penney’s case during its investigation and has now issued its final report after an in depth seven-year inquiry looking at cases of child abuse in the Catholic church. The inquiry spent a week looking into the failings of the Archdiocese of Birmingham to protect young people from sexual abuse within the Catholic Church as part of the proceedings that involved Penney’s crimes.
It also heard from another of Penney’s victims and the victim’s mother, who said she had reported the priest’s behaviour to the church, only for Penney to be moved to another parish. Penney was also set to be given money by a Catholic priest to flee the country before he could be arrested, but the church backed down, the inquiry was told. And shockingly the inquiry heard Penney was still paid an allowance for a period of time by the Catholic Church following his release from prison in 1997.
The inquiry heard from one Catholic church worker Jane Jones who had written a shocking report 25 years ago describing Mr Flanagan as a “willing participant” in the abuse, despite him being aged just 11 at the time. She gave evidence to the inquiry and was quizzed on the report she wrote. She told the inquiry it was written in the 1990s and she now no longer held those views. Her report had described Penney as a “victim” and families of abused youngsters as “dysfunctional”.
At the inquiry in 2018 Mrs Jones said: “It’s hard to know what was in my mind when I wrote this document.” She told the inquiry she had ‘no role whatsoever in the church’ at the time and wrote the report “partly for my own edification” and to be shared with “a very small number of people”.
She told the hearing she wrote it after watching a BBC documentary on the case of pervert priest Samuel Penney, without prior knowledge of the case. She added her report was written “a very time ago” and that “it wouldn’t be my position now”.
Mr Flanagan said he was left speechless at her evidence, saying: “The inquiry saw some of the church abuse on display. Jane Jones, Diocesan safeguarding officer, wrote in her report to the Birmingham Archdiocese in response to the BBC TV Everyman program in 1993, that the 11-year-old boy seemed to enjoy the abuse and his family were dysfunctional. That 11-year-old boy was me. The dysfunctional family mine!”
The inquiry has now concluded by calling for a national compensation scheme for victims to be introduced, along with laws compelling people in positions of trust to report child sexual abuse. The £186.6 million seven-year inquiry looked at 15 areas scrutinising institutional responses to child sexual abuse – including in the Catholic church. More than 7,000 victims have told their harrowing stories of abuse, many spanning years, to the inquiry.
Mr Flanagan added: “The major outcomes from the IICSA inquiry, lists mandatory reporting as a key recommendation. And a true test of this? How would it have helped me when I was 11? I don’t think it would. An official is only mandated to report sexual abuse when they see it happening. And/or when the child speaks out, the official must also report it.
“In my experience, paedophiles are rarely abusing in front of others. And I would suggest that relying on a child to complain shows a lack of understanding as to how abusers operate. They have usually built some sort of relationship with a victim, which leaves the child confused, scared, or just numb.
“I don’t hold much hope for the outcomes of the inquiry in stopping abuse from taking place. But I hope by all of the survivors speaking out, children, parents, and people in important roles in children’s life are now more aware of abuse and create more protective environments for our children.
“And any child suffering or recovering from abuse? I would encourage them to try and find someone they can trust to tell their story for the first time. More difficult if the abuse is within your family home. Speaking with police, if and when the survivor is able should be considered. As for the Catholic Church – I’m not sure it can ever recover from its response to child abuse.”
The Archdiocese of Birmingham said: “We accept that we have failed victims and survivors of abuse and again apologise for the grievous failings we have made in the past. Apologies are just words though, if not backed up by action.
“We will take the time needed to review the IICSA report thoroughly in order to make a considered and detailed response, which will inform our ongoing commitment to do more and do better.
“In light of independent reviews commissioned by Trustees and made available to IICSA, the Archdiocese has already fundamentally changed its practices and processes to ensure an open and compassionate approach to victims and survivors. It now has more safeguarding personnel, better management and recording systems, stronger DBS/checking procedures and clear policies and practices on safeguarding referrals and agreements, to safeguard those who come in contact with the church.
If you would like to speak to Archbishop Bernard Longley about your own experiences, you are very welcome to get in touch by contacting the safeguarding team on 0121 230 6240 or via email: email@example.com.
“Meetings with victims and survivors have already been arranged and taken place. We are committed to listening to and learning from victims and survivors.”