Sunday, 24 January 2016





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.

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.


  1. Those doubting Campbell are obtuse and ignorant. The Church tribunal's decision has vindicated him. Symonds has been permanently barred from ministering ever again.

  2. The other clear victim was a seminarian. He made a complaint at the time and Symonds was sent to Canada for therapy as a result. When British police found him. He made statement. I think his identity should be protected.

    Another point is that cica paid settlement of 56 thousand. This is from the UK state. From that they deducted the lesser settlement that I accepted from the insurance company. I am not allowed to disclose the sum of that settlement.

    Perhaps the concept of the criminal injuries compensation authority needs clarification. It only compensates a victim of a crime. There had to be a crime and a victim. Otherwise no pay out. They pay when criminals can't be brought to Justice. They have complete access to all police files and investigation as well as input from crown prosecution service. It is usually observed that any private persecution awards about at least 3 times what the cica award is. BTW Jesuit paid 1.5 years therapy.

    1. Campbell, I know of that case and Paul Symonds was sent to Canada for therapy by Bishop Walsh and then appointed to Ballymena Parish.

      I agree that this victim, who unlike you, has not come forward himself, for whatever personal reasons should have his identity protected.

  3. Can I make it clear here that I am not without compassion for Father Symonds.

    However our first priority in these cases is to BELIEVE, HELP, PROTECT and COMPENSATE the victim(s).

    But I do feel sorry for Paul Symonds. Its a sad place to find himself at this stage of his life.

    I know people will say its all his own doing.

    But we do not know what forces came together to make him act as he did.

    We are all sinners.

    1. And there is no such a thing as an "unforgivable sin" !!!

    2. The only "unforgivable" sin is the sin that refuses to ask for forgiveness.

      PS is still in denial about the harm he caused and, to anyone who will listen, he portrays himself as "an innocent victim" in all of this.

      PS nurses a particular grudge against Bishop Treanor who had no option but to take the course of action that he did.

      Whatever, Pat, about "the forces that came together to make Symonds act as he did", he still bears responsibility for his own behaviour and its impact on others. Yes, we are all sinners; but we must own our sins - so as to be freed from them - and changed by God's grace.

      Indeed, there are at least two other victims of PS - the other person Campbell referred to - and the Belfast seminarian.

      After the Belfast complaint (some say it was a pupil of St Malachy's College - not a seminarian - and his parents made a complaint), Symonds was whisked out of Crumlin Parish to which he had just been appointed and sent to Canada for "treatment", by Paddy Walsh and, quite astonishingly, appointed to Ballymena six months later.

      Despite whatever "treatment" he underwent in Canada, Symonds continued - and continues to be - in deep denial.

      Every sin is forgiven, immediately and unconditionally, by God when the sinner repents. In Paul Symonds' own eyes, however, he appears to see himself as having committed no sin.

      It is, indeed, sad - very sad - for him at this stage of his life. We should all certainly pray for him that he will acknowledge the wrong and hurt he caused to Campbell and the others and experience God's peace and forgiveness, even at this stage of his life.

    3. I agree with all you say.

      I did not know that Paul Symonds still maintains that he is an innocent victim.

      I agree that Bishop Treanor had to act. Bishop Walsh before him was very remiss.

      You are right.

      We should pray for all the real victims and also pray that PS will admit to himself, God and other appropriate people his guilt and sorrow,

  4. My goodness me I have learned things I never knew existed, and Pope Francis has just decreed that his priests can now wash the feet of women as well as men; girls as well as boys?

    1. Calm down. Paraphilia exists and can involve most unusual practices and otherwise innocent objects. But they are rare. Most people, including priests, are NOT even remotely "turned on" by feet and the Mandatum ceremony on Holy Thursday is simply a re-enactment of what Jesus Himself did - and urged His followers also to do - as symbolic of loving and humble service.

  5. Those who "doubt" Campbell Porter's truthful testimony, now upheld by the Catholic Church, concerning his sufferings at the hands of Paul Symonds, are obviously friends of Paul Symonds, who are intent upon living with Symonds, in that very dark space called DENIAL!

    1. I m sure this is true and denial is very unhealthy.

      At the same time Paul Symonds needs friends at this time.

    2. He does. But they should refrain from blaming his victims.

  6. I'm going to say something that I think will not be popular ! And will, no doubt, bring down much anger. There is a huge amount of conflation and hype going on with this Paul Symonds business. It seems to me that whatever he did was at the very 'vanilla' end of what can be described as abuse. It may more accurately be described as 'inappropriate behaviour', I think. I feel sure that if there had been anything truly sinister in what he is supposed to have done, then police action would have taken place. He may have been a bit 'fresh' with people, he may have been 'inappropriate' for his position as a teacher and a priest, but there is evidently nothing truly criminal that has taken place. I don't doubt that some of his actions have caused some distress to those students he is supposed to have engaged with, although I think that there will have been a number of issues going on with these people which will have caused them upset in later years other than what Paul Symonds is supposed to have done. So, my view is that, while he may not be suitable for public priestly ministry, we are not at liberty to demonise him and convict him in the court of public opinion of something that the criminal and police authorities do not see as actionable. The Church authorities are entitled to decide who ministers under their banner, and they have made the decision that Paul Symonds will not continue to minister in public. There is nothing he has done that warrants his removal from the priestly state, otherwise I am sure that they would have done that. So, let's let Paul Symonds get on with his new life and stop double guessing what he has or has not done. It evidently was not something so terrible that it was criminal. It may have been inadvisable, inappropriate or whatever else you might want to call it. Just because a 'victim' decides that they have been wronged grieviously does not mean that they have been so. The age and culture of victimhood that we now live in appears to entitle anybody to say that they have been wronged and harmed, and that is taken as gospel truth and nobody is allowed to gainsay it. That's not truth or justice or right.

    1. Whilst agreeing with you that PS should not be demonised and that he should be let get on with his life, I would draw your attention to the following:

      "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".

      That behaviour is way beyond "inappropriate" and "a bit fresh", do you not think??? You are guilty of a truly ghastly minimisation of very serious sexual abuse.

      Let us also recall, quite recently, PS was involved in a "healing ministry" in Belfast and was on their website as having taken 'early retirement' from the priesthood. This was deliberately misleading and, when challenged, the "healing" group removed PS from their personnel. Another example of the deep and profound state of denial in which perpetrators and their apologists live.

      I disagree with your "age and culture of victimhood" notion. It is a typical "blame the victim" attitude. It is still often very painful and traumatic for victims to disclose their abuse.

      It also speaks volumes that you, whoever you are, do not consider it a grievous wrong that an adult man - a priest - should so arouse himself, to the point of ejaculation of semen, over the feet of a teenage boy!!

  7. I told you some people would get angry ! How dare I question the received wisdom that once someone says that they are a victim, then they must be believed ? Who says that all this stuff about ejaculating over the feet of young men happened ? The victim ? But, has it been shown to be fact, has a proper inquiry taken place and it been seen to be fact beyond doubt ? Is the victim credible ? Does what he says hold water ? If such awful and questionable things happened and there was credibility to them, then surely the police would have taken this matter further. All I know is that a victim says something happened. That's only the first step in saying that something actually did happen. There needs to be lots more to then convict a guy. And, it doesn't seem to be there. So, we are back to this culture of taking the victim's word as gospel and convicting and executing someone based on their word alone. That's not good enough. That does not mean that the Church can't decide that someone is not fit for ministry. The Church is entitled to have its own criteria for suitability. In the case of Paul Symonds, the Church has made a decision based on what it knows, or thinks it knows. Paul Symonds will have to abide by that decision. But, please, do not assume that everything the victim is saying is necessarily fact or gospel truth. There are many levels and layers to any incident, there is the health, wellbeing and psychological and emotional state of the supposed victim that might colour what they are saying or how they see things. Unless that is teased out and tested in the right arena, namely a court, it is not for you or for me to say that the victim must be right and must be believed. So, Paul Symonds is, in law, an innocent man who is entitled to the presumption of innocence even in the face of victim accusations. The police have decided not to prosecute him. The courts have not convicted him. He is innocent. The Church has decided he is not fit for public ministry, as it does for a whole range of people at various stages of the ministerial process - selection, training, in ministry. That Church decision does not make him a criminal or necessarily a bad and evil man. It just says he does not have the gifts or abilities for public ministry. Paul Symonds is innocent, in law, and in fact. Until such times as the victims are able to secure a conviction against him. And, I doubt that they will be able to do that.