Wednesday, 19 March 2014



This past week I have been hearing from one of Father Paul Symonds "victims". We will call him "Victim A". Paul Symonds is the former Jesuit (English Province) who has been working in Down & Connor Diocese (Belfast). He served as the spiritual director at he Belfast seminary at Saint Malachy's College and was then moved to Ballymena parish. His name is still in the diocesan director as curate in Ballymena.

Father Symonds worked at Stonyhurst, the premier Jesuit boarding school in England where he is accused of having sexually abused. There was a police investigation. One victim - my correspondent - gave a full account of his abuse - first to the Jesuits and then to the police. There was at least one more victim who now lives abroad and he too gave evidence to the police. The prosecution service decided not to proceed with a trial as the other abuse was committed outside England so that evidence could not be used at all. (Fortunately, this is not the case today. The fear was that it would be the victim's word against Father Symonds' word. And by this time Father Symonds had managed to have an OBE.

According to reports Father Symonds' mother left him very well off in her will and as a Jesuit, with a vow of poverty, Paul Symonds would have had to hand that fortune over to his religious order. Instead Father Symonds left the Order and became a diocesan priest in Down & Connor. Diocesan priests do not have a vow of poverty are are permitted to have as much personal and family wealth as they wish. Father Symonds apparently invested part of his inheritance in a house in Belfast.

However the police investigation was not the end of the matter. As in all these cases the civil investigations are immediately followed by the church's own investigation - a so called Canonical Investigation. That Canonical Investigation must take place in Rome. The local bishop does not have the authority to conduct it. Father Symonds' case is now with Rome. Rome works very slowly.

In the meantime Father Symonds is suspended from duty. It is reported that he currently worships in a Presbyterian church at Glengormley, Belfast?

Father Symonds is accused of being a paedophile and a "podophile"(sexual arousal and sexual fantasies surrounding feet).

Both "conditions" come under the heading of the medical/psychiatric definition of PARAPHILIA. The Diagnostic And Statistical Manual of Mental Disorders - DSM 5 - published by the American Psychiatric Association says that parafilias are: .."recurrant, intense sexually arousing fantasies, sexual urges, or behaviours generally involving 1) nonhuman objects, 2) the suffering of humiliation of oneself or partner, or 3) children or other non consenting persons that occur over a period of at least 6 months.....Not uncommonly, individuals have more than one Paraphilia".

In his statement to the police Victim A fully described his abuse by Father Symonds beginning when he was 14. The abuse involved Father Symonds isolating the boy from his peers in the school and arranging for him to spend an inordinate amount of time in the priests company. Father Symonds also plied the boy with expensive gifts and alcohol. Eventually the abuse progressed to Father Symonds removing the boys shoes and socks, examining his feet in great detail, washing his feet meticulously and eventually rubbing the boys feet against his genitals and Father Symonds sexually ejaculating in his trousers with visible stains. This happened almost daily over a three year period that Victim A was at the school. Of course the statement goes on to mention endless unwanted advances, groping and touching.

Victim A did not lose all contact with Father Symonds after he left school. The isolation from peers, and with no normal adolescent development, as well as the intense grooming, maintained a strong influence over him. It is not uncommon for victims to have ambivilant feelings about their abusers. As a result of Father Symonds' abuse the victim went on to have years of struggles with alcohol and abuse addictions.

It affected all areas of his life.

There were civil proceedings issued and the victim received a settlement from the Jesuits insurance company. . But facing the Church's lawyers was another episode of abuse. In these matters such lawyers are often without mercy for the victims.

Meanwhile the Criminal Injuries Compensation Authority (UK) assessed his claim independently, and knowing the amount of the settlement, awarded him a higher amount in compensation, paid by the UK government (and not the Church or their insurance company). But no true recompense.
It is also very sad when the Church responds to victims by setting lawyers on them - instead of treating them with a Gospel based and Christ compassion.

Until I had heard from this victim I felt a bit sorry for Father Symonds. Now my sympathy and compassion is with the victim.

Of course all of this brings us back to the question of how we should treat the abuser priests. Obviously there must be an element of punishment. There must certainly be generous compensation and counselling for victims.

But what if Father Symonds suffers from a psychological illness and dysfunction?

Then, if he wants help he should get it (after all he seems to have the money to pay for it himself). But he must begin by being completely honest with himself and others about the abuse. He must take full responsibility for it. He must not try and portray himself as a victim. And he must engage in LIFETIME MANAGEMENT of his condition. He cannot allow himself EVER to be alone with children or minors.

It also means that he cannot expect to be active in any pastoral situation where he might have access - direct or indirect - to minors.

Rome generally has the practise of dismissing priest abusers from the clerical state.

He should voluntarily agree to have himself placed on the Register of Sex Offenders.  And maybe he should return the OBE?

+Pat Buckley



  1. Funny thing religions! Why do they attract characters who are at the least eccentric and loveable but at the worst are evil & bullies. I remember being told in college that Jesus did not found a religion. Yet that is what we have The Roman Catholic Religion and Religio means to tie back. Pat did you ever think of doing something along the format of an online tv or radio presentation. Dont know what the technicaliyies are but just a thought.....Sean

  2. I was at Stonyhurst and in the same school year as victim A. I gave a statement to his lawyers relating to the time he spent in Paul Symonds company. I was naive and only lately (now on the wrong side of fifty) learned the truth about what was going on. I know from friends who are members of the church in Glengormley that Mr Symonds is still protesting his innocence .

    Our main concern should be for Victim A who will never recover from his experience. If Mr Symonds is prepared to accept responsibility for his actions, including making a voluntary contribution by way of damages to victim A (so far his abuse has caused him no loss as the court case was settled by the Jesuits insurers and the Criminal Injuries Compensation Board) and seeking the necessary medical and psychiatric help, there can be room for an amount of Christian Compassion.

    He should not, however, be allowed to hide the truth from the Church in Glengormley so they can ensure appropriate safeguarding arrangements are made for young people who may otherwise have contact with him.

    Mr Symonds broke his vow of poverty by leaving the Jesuits so he could inherit his mother's estate. He can afford morally and financially to face up to the consequences of his actions.

  3. For your information, Fr Paul Symonds forfeited his OBE on Tuesday 15 August 2017 and a notice to this effect was published in the London Gazette on that date.