By John Duffy, Commission member
Earlier this year, Bishop Marcus made a public and much applauded apology (on behalf of the Church) to the survivors of sexual abuse at St Peter Claver College over 50 years ago. This group of men has tried over the years to persuade the Comboni Order to meet them, hear their stories and recognise the traumas which have affected their lives.
This is the first (and only) apology they have received. The Order still refused to meet the men, so in September, with the support of our bishop, and after consultation with the survivors group, the J&P group wrote to the order as follows:
The Leeds Diocese Justice and Peace commission wishes to support our bishop, Marcus Stock, in his apology to the survivors of clerical sexual abuse in St Peter Claver College, Mirfield, in the 1960s and 1970s – the unhappy history of such abuse and its aftermath affects the whole body of the church.
We also want to stand in solidarity with the survivors group, who want their experience to be acknowledged, and we urge the Comboni Order to meet the group soon and unconditionally, to hear their stories and offer apologies to each survivor, so that the men’s pastoral needs are met.
We understand that there are strong feelings about the Order’s unwillingness to meet the group unconditionally. We would be grateful if you were able to explain this reluctance to us.
To date we have received no reply or acknowledgment.
The members of the group persevere in their search for peace through healing: not only for themselves, but for their families. Some have died without experiencing any peace of mind, and one of them has written: It seems to us as a group that the wheels of justice move more slowly in the Catholic Church than in any other institution we know. Whilst some of you have shown us real compassion the Church as an institution seems completely lacking in any at all. It says many fine things about victims of abuse but does not support them with decisive action. So often the institutional response is silence.
For Pope Francis, people are always more important than laws or institutions, and we should follow his lead and example: we all, as Church, need to speak out on behalf of these victims and support their prolonged struggle for justice. We cannot allow that silence to prevail.