A Statement on Clergy Sexual abuse

Firstly I’d like to apologise for the delay in posting this article. I originally wrote this article in 2002, whilst I was still a member of the catholic clergy, which frankly caused me to procrastinate, unsure if I should publish this article on clergy sexual abuses of minors. I had previously been warned by my bishop to forget about publishing anything on the subject adding that there would be severe consequence if I’d decided to publish. Admittedly I was scared of the repercussions. I also did not want to make anyone aware that I, had also been abused. Something my family buried and never spoke about. And a wound that I did not wish to re-open. I’ve posted this article rather expeditiously just in case I found an excuse to delay publication again for another few years. Therefore excuse the grammar and mistakes, I just wanted this article to be published.

Pope Benedict XVI.

In a letter to Pope Benedict XVI, I again expressed my deepest concerns about sexual abuse in the church as I felt the diocese were not doing enough and that by not doing the right thing they had in fact lost the trust of the faithful. Unfortunately the timing of my writing to His Holiness coincided with Benedict’s own spiritual crisis, and on February 11, 2013 his shocking announced to resign the See of Peter was made by the Vatican press office “my strengths, due to an advanced age, are no longer suited to an adequate exercise of the Petrine ministry” but he would “continue serving by praying.” Nevertheless I did received a response from the Pope Emeritus almost 5 months later due to my having relocated to another hermitage, (please excuse my poor translation) the last paragraph of His Holiness’ reply stated “I encourage you to continue in love and faith for Jesus who always, especially in times of particular difficulty, does not fail to come to the aid of his Church and to support those who offer prayers and sacrifices for her. He, invoking the light of the Holy Spirit and the intercession of the Virgin Mary, Mater Ecclesia, sends from her heart her paternal Blessing, willingly extending it to those who are dear to her.” Honestly, I felt somewhat dispirited by his response, he seemed more guarded in his response than in his usual letters, but I understood, he no longer held the reins. I therefore tried again by expressing the same concerns to Pope Francis but on this occasion did not received the courtesy of a reply. This was the beginning of my loss of trust in the hierarchy of Holy Mother Church.

I still believed that a serious change of mentality by the Catholic hierarchy was called for. The Church should have protected the victims and not ostracised them, called them liars, paid them off to silence them, the Church has a duty listen and then act on the victims testimonies. Some, have taken their own lives. I recall a friend on mine (who does not wish to be named) who was kicked our of seminary after he (the victim) had been constantly harassed by one of the lecturers and decided to report it to the Rector, who assured him that it would be dealt with. Instead my friend was asked to leave in his fourth year, no reason was given. He is now, married with 3 fantastic children one of whom I baptised and the other I’m godparent to.

When a member of the Hierarchy does say something on the subject it is done halfheartedly, the response comes across filled with prejudice, habitually blaming the victims some of whom ended their lives because of the trauma and self hate caused not only by the offender, but also by the bishops and church investigators. I always had a sense of them thinking “how do we get out of this. How do we deflect it. See if we can reach an accommodation.” It disgusted me. Internal Church politics are so inappropriate in this day and age. We may have read and or listened to everything in the media, whom obviously sensationalised sometimes sanitised or redacted the article. Yet we will never be able to fully understand the trauma and inner crisis that these terrible sins entail for the victims. There is an adverse reaction, a seething anger in the victims toward the priests that we would never be able to comprehend, because it has touched the very depths of the victims soul. The victims tend to and loath themselves for something over which they had no control.

The abuse of minors and of the vulnerable by priests and religious should not only have been considered “a canonical crime” or (delictum gravius-serious offence) because a vow has been broken, that should come in second-place simply because these so called cleric has committed “a crime punishable under civil law.” To me they have committed (peccatum mortale-mortal sin) a crimes against God and humanity. Such priest should have been immediate reported to the relevant civil authority whilst at the same time have been expeditiously suspended from all sacerdotal or episcopal duties pending the results of a full investigation by the appropriate civilian authorities. Nevertheless, one thing must be borne in mind, a bishop, priest or religious must always be seen as a paragon of honesty and integrity. Instead the Hierarchy called the victims liars, causing the victim and their families grave distress and spiritual harm which is irreversible, which is utterly unforgivable.

In 2015 feeling utterly disgusted at the lack or appropriate response from the Catholic Hierarchy around the world, I also felt that the scarcity or lack or tone of responses were inadequate, at times ridiculously inappropriate and shortsighted, perhaps even rude toward the victims and their families, has discredited the hierarchy and therefore the clergy who remained faithful to their vows to now be viewed with utter disgust, distrust, scepticism and at times even ridicule.

Too many of the wrong kind of people have been raised to the diaconate, presbyterate and episcopate when they should not have been. There is also a prevalence within the Church of labelling sexual abuse as an activity undertaken by gay men only. I assure you this is false and is somewhat blinkered because pedophilia is distinct from a person’s sexual orientation. There may very well be gay pedophiles, but to say that all the paedophilic acts were only committed by gay priests is utter nonsense. High-ranking Vatican official’s persist in linking homosexuality to pedophilia which highlights their lack of knowledge, essentially blaming homosexual priests for the abuse crisis in the church. Any reputable mainstream psychologist and psychiatrist —Catholics included— would reject a conflation between homosexuality, pedophilia and ephebophilia. There are countless psychological studies that demonstrate that pedophilia —which centres on pre-adolescent boys and girls— is more a question of a malformed sexual orientation, of a stunted sexuality, more a question of proximity, more a question of power and control, than of homosexuality by nature. But then I am not a psychologist nor psychiatrist, yet this is what the experts in this field certify: that is, that homosexuality does not lead to pedophilia; other factors do that.

Many of these criminal —so called ‘priests’— have no religious calling or vocation whatsoever but have joined the church either for nefarious reasons or as a career move. I have met priests who have no vocation whatsoever, I’ve even met a bishop who do not believe in God. To them it’s a job not a vocation, they were not called by God but by the enticement to this way of life for personal gain and power, somewhat akin to a politician today, by that I mean that they did not enter politics for the sake of the people, their constituents but for their own aggrandisement and advancement.

To the liars of the hierarchy and to the abusers I say only this “shame on you, resign, as any person who has disgraced the Church or who have broken their vows either by an act or by omission should do. I will prey for you. But please confess to the authorities, resign from the priesthood, You simply do not belong in a Church that you are destroying by your criminal acts, raping children and continued lies.” 

When I became a religious I made this profession “I, Brother Ugo-Maria., promise stability, obedience, and conversion of my life, before God, his saints, and the relics belonging to this hermitage, which was built in honor of God, the Blessed Mary ever Virgin, and Saint John the Baptist, in the presence of Dom Alberto, Abbot General” and when I was ordained a priest I also had to make vows and promises, these latter vows and promises do not invalidate the former but reinforce them.

Catholic priests take a vow of obedience. His duty is to put God and the Church before themselves. They have an obligation toward the spiritual welfare and improvement of their community. Many seem to forgotten that they have dedicated their lives to the service of the God and the Church. This commitment when made truthfully enables them to obtaining ultimate freedom. The vow further requires the priests to follow the orders of the Pope and the bishops and of those appointed by them —“Obey the bishop as if he were Jesus Christ” (Ignatius to the Trallians 2:2, 1.)—

The violence against minors and the vulnerable by clerics is what I consider to be an “abuse of spiritual power”. Perpetrating these acts as a priest, upon victims who put their trust in them and hoping to encounter the “good shepherd” in the priest, who instead are physically and spiritually abused marks the victim, and this mark is even greater because it was committed by a priest, spiritual trust is destroyed, and a faith has been murdered.”

The Italian Government has a treaty with the Vatican that guarantees areas of immunity to Vatican officials, including bishops and priests. This has reportedly made it difficult to get accurate figures as to how many priests and other religious officials are alleged to have committed sexual abuse. [Poggioli, S., 2007. Critics Press Italy, Church on Clergy Abuse. NPR. Available at: https://www.npr.org/templates/story/story.php?storyId=11336777&t=1614850678180 [Accessed March 4, 2021]. I fail to comprehend how a Government could enter into such an unlawful agreement.

I have never before considered writing my own story about what happened, too be totally honest it scares me to write about this as I’m not sure what the repercussion would be, yet there came a point in my life where I needed to share the horrendous torture that I had undergone as an 8 year old whilst I was at a catholic boarding school in Sicily, run by Salesian nuns. I suppose I’ve written about this as an attempt to release myself from those past and continuing haunting memories. Admittedly, I never pursued this. I was too ashamed to do so. Call it an act of omission on my part if you like. My insecurities would not allow me to do so, if I had done so I would have been kicked out of seminary and this would have brought shame on my family. So I, like many other decided to do nothing at all. Yet even that made me feel guilty. A guilt I still carry today as I’m not sure if this Sister continued her abuses on others after she was sent somewhere else, which in many cases is what happened to abusive religious, they were caught out and simply sent somewhere else to continue their abuse, and if she did then I am guilty because of my omission, because my silence has caused harm to unknown countless others. For that I beg forgiveness, for this omission has made me as guilty as the perpetrators of these horrors.

I cannot put into actual words how I feel about these abuses. The physical and psychological abuse that I received from the nun at a catholic residential school in Sicily I can comment on though. Every now and then I would see or hear something that wold triggers that awful memory of her beating me, swearing at me, calling me names, pulling my hair and ear —and always the same ear!— Or twisting a pair of shoes off my feet so that my knee cap popped, she accused me of stealing the shoes (but she gave them to me yesterday evening saying that my grandmother in Hamburg had sent them to me). Sister, I never understood why you acted so inhumanely toward me, an 8 years old, a boy whom had been entrusted into your care by his parents whilst they were abroad attempting to build a better life for our family. Beatings, freezing cold showers, more beatings, degradation. Yet you did nothing when I was sexually assaulted by your 14 year old nephew who was also at the school. You did nothing at all when I was torment by your nephew’s friends in the playground, You did nothing when several of them jumped me and forced my head into a toilet bowl full of urine and faeces as you watched. I begun to be terrified at bed times, during showers, at playtime. I used to find an empty room in the infirmary to hide until the bell went off. I once remember after a particularly aggressive beating that you were searching for me, you even came to the infirmary looking for me, luckily the sister infirmarian told you she hadn’t seen me. Do you know how terrified I was. I was afraid, confused, hurt. You betrayed me and you betrayed the church. I will never forget you Sister because for 49 years I’ve lived with that memory you gave me, one of constant fear, and then there is the permanent deafness in one ear after you perforated my eardrum from that slap you gave me in the corridor; shame on you, you did it in front of the statue of the Virgin Mary, without showing any remorse whatsoever, thank you for purposely failing to notice the blood coming out of the ear you continued to pull and then kicking me in the stomach because blood had got on to your hand. Your obvious dislike for me was so public that the other students began to treat me in the same manner. It was constant, unrelenting, night and day. The left knee, where you popped the knee cap, has caused problems for me from the day you inflicted this injury, even today, after having had two operations to rectify what you had done but it never properly healed. Today whilst my rheumatism flares up, I again perceive a mental image of you, in fact you’ve popped in a couple of times this week as I deliberated over how I should approach in writing this article. I will never understand your lack of love, your lack of care your vindictiveness, how unchristian you were, how inhumane you were toward a child. Why? What happened to your mission statement ‘invoking reason, religion and loving kindness to nurture a child’s full potential?’ I wonder, even now, today, if you are still alive, do you remember that night when you pulled me out of my bed, after I called out for help because the older boy in the bed next to me had forced himself on me (this had been going on for weeks but you said I had been lying), and the abuse both verbal and physical that followed from you, when you beat me for what seemed to be hours as though you were possessed. But why? You know Sister, thank you for that beating. Your overzealousness caused my having to be sent to the infirmary, the sister infirmarian had told you that you had gone over the top this time and that she would have to report it. My stay at the infirmary was the only time I was free from your and your minion’s clutches, I had peace for the very first time since I arrived at St. ………..’s; Thank’s be to God, your actions actually created a chain of events, you mysteriously went on retreat, my aunt (guardian) came down to visit, she believed what I told her and took me away that very same hour, may God watch over her saintly soul. I do not know what happened to you Sister? Mother superior and the director both told my aunt that I was fantasising, that I was a liar; My aunt did not believe you, she said an 8 year old would not make up such a detailed story of being sexually assaulted (which was later confirmed medically by the paediatric clinic in Palermo). I only know what you have done to me and how it has effected me, which is, unfortunately, engraved on my mind. Thank you, for without you I would not have attempted to strive to become a better person. I forgive you Sister, even though I still do not understand why you did what you did? What could an 8 year old boy have done to enrage you so? What justification would anyone have to do such a thing. Even today, when I see certain nuns, it occasionally makes my skin crawl —especially if they wear the same habit— even though I’ve been a member of the clergy for half a lifetime now. It still confuses me when I think about it. So what was your legacy to me Sister? Fear? Well, you managed that. Anxiety? Yes, I have that only on occasions now but as a child it made me withdraw into myself. Confusion? Well, it stands to reason that one would be confused over such behaviour and continued torment. There were times when I felt utter despair and hopelessness. You made me distrust everyone. I recoiled when touched, you humiliated me publicly and caused me to feel ashamed for your actions and abuse. And I thought that I had been the one who had done wrong at the time. But I forgive you.

If you have been subjected to abuse from a member of the clergy —or anyone at all for that matter—, do not go to the Diocese, go directly to the police and do not pass go and do not collect your 30 pieces of silver as many have done in the past. The Church is not trained to investigate these matters. after all one would not go to a carpenter if you want a wall built. If you go through the church legal system it is more likely that initially they will not believe you, they may defame you in some manner as their main objective is to protect the Church so that it does not cause the Church further embarrassment. If you have been abused go straight to the police because the church authorities are under no obligation to report the sexual abuse of a minor or of a mentally or physically infirm adult. simply because the reporting to statutory agencies remains at the bishop’s ‘discretion’ and that should make you weary.

To report a sexual abuse crime see: https://www.gov.uk/report-rape-sexual-assault

If you are a minor: https://www.gov.uk/report-child-abuse

You can also report it online: https://www.met.police.uk/ro/report/ocr/af/how-to-report-a-crime/

Agencies that may be able to help: https://www.met.police.uk/advice/advice-and-information/rsa/rape-and-sexual-assault/support-for-victims-of-rape-and-sexual-assault/

PLEASE NOTE THAT NONE OF THE PHOTOGRAPHS USED IN THIS ARTICLE HAVE ANY RELEVANCE TO THE EVENTS THAT HAVE OCCURRED AND WERE SELECTED SIMPLY TO ILLUSTRATE THIS ARTICLE. ALL PHOTOGRAPHS ARE COPYRIGHT FREE AND IN THE PUBLIC DOMAIN.

2 Comments

  1. Thank you for this, Father. It’s difficult to ‘like’ something so horrific.
    I believe that the physical violence (1950s/60s) was so commonplace and accepted that (a) the actual sexual violence was in the shadows; and no-one in their right mind as a child or youth would complain about that for fear of more of the same; (b) there was a perverted sexual release in beating a child without mercy as you describe, and as I too suffered at the hands of a spinster catholic teacher who terrorised at least 2 generations.

    1. Thank you for your candid reply Will, and for sharing what happened to you. Yes it was, thinking back, quite horrific and traumatic, as it must have been for you and countless others. I believe it was far more prevalent then than it is now. Most of what we read in the media happened in the 50’s and 60’s and you are right in that no one would have said anything (even our parents) for fear of repercussions. I was fortunate that my guardian (my aunt Josephine) believed what I had said bringing an end to that saga at least for me. Shortly after we moved to the UK and I went to a public school in Canterbury, and the only bullying that happened there was between the boy’s themselves. Unfortunately the guilt that remains for me, is, if this nun was able to continued her onslaught. You will be in my prayers Will. God bless, and again thank you for sharing your personal experience publicly.

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