Members of the Comboni Survivors Group whose cause has been championed by Bishop Marcus have finally received an apology from the most senior figure in the Comboni Order (formerly known as the Verona Fathers), which ran the St Peter Claver Junior Seminary in Mirfield where they had suffered abuse during the 1960s and ’70s.
The meeting that took place between the Comboni Survivors Group and the Comboni Missionaries (Verona Fathers) on September 13, 2022 at Archbishop’s House, Westminster, London, was considered an important moment of encounter and dialogue by those involved. In a statement released yesterday, the Group said:
‘Following the meeting today with leadership of the Comboni Missionaries, the Comboni Survivors Group were deeply moved and believe the journey on the healing process has taken one step further. We recognize that the Comboni Missionaries have responded positively to our request for an acknowledgement of the abuse that was suffered, and we welcome their heartfelt apology. We have committed to continue this path of healing together, which we look forward to in a spirit of collaboration and trust.’
The apology was made to the men and their families by the Very Rev. Tesfaye Tadesse, the Superior General of the Comboni Missionaries, who said:
‘On behalf of the Comboni Missionaries (Verona Fathers) I wish to offer my heartfelt apology to each and every individual who suffered abuse at the hands of those who were entrusted with their welfare, safe keeping and schooling at St. Peter Claver College. I extend this apology to family members and loved one who have suffered too. We regret that mistakes were made over the years, and we make the words of our Holy Father our own in asking for forgiveness from those who have suffered so much. I hope this apology demonstrates our sincere wish to bear witness to the plea of the Holy Father to acknowledge the terrible hurt caused by the sexual abuse of minors and to facilitate the journey towards healing and reconciliation.’
Also in attendance at the meeting were Cardinal Vincent Nichols, Bishop Paul Mason (Bishopric of the Forces), Fr Andrew Small, OMI (Pontifical Commission for the Protection of Minors) – and of course Bishop Marcus Stock, who for some time, with the Cardinal, had been supporting the Group, strongly encouraging the Comboni Order to meet the men, and bringing their situation to the Holy Father’s attention.
Bishop Marcus campaigned tirelessly for the Survivors to receive this formal apology – even to the extent of setting an example of issuing an apology himself last year, as the present Bishop of the diocese where the Junior Seminary had been situated.
Bishop Marcus said:
‘It has been my great privilege to play a small part in the Comboni Survivors Group’s search for healing. The meeting which they had yesterday with the Superior General of the Comboni Missionaries was profoundly moving. The acknowledgement of the abuse that they suffered and its effects on their families, together with the apology which they received, has enabled them to take the next steps along that path to healing which they have long sought to tread.’
One of the Group who still lives in the Diocese of Leeds, Bede Mullen, said:
‘The Comboni Survivors Group are deeply grateful to Bishop Marcus for his outstanding pastoral support. He has stood by our side as we pursued our campaign for justice from the Comboni Order for the clerical sexual abuse we were subjected to as children and the subsequent negligent, and at times hostile, response we received from the Order. The heartfelt public apology Bishop Marcus made to the group on behalf of the Diocese and the Church opened the way for a Pontifical audience which resulted in a long called for meeting of reconciliation between the group and the leadership of the Comboni Order. As a result, we have now received both an acknowledgement from the Order that clerical sexual abuse took place at their junior seminary in Mirfield and an apology, both for the initial abuse, and our subsequent treatment. The Comboni Order asked for forgiveness for the mistakes they made in dealing with the group and have promised to embark upon a journey of conversion which puts the survivors of abuse first before institutional reputation. Many members of the group lost both their vocation and their faith because of their experience with the Comboni Order; Bishop Marcus’s genuine caring pastoral response has brought us closer to the Church. We thank him from the bottom of our hearts.’