Fr Santino worked in Upton from the late 1950s to the early 1960s, when he died just before he was due to be transferred to a teaching position at Omeath. He began sexually abusing children in England some time after he was ordained a priest in the 1920s.
He served in his first parish for 20 years before it was discovered that he had been sexually abusing children. He was then quietly transferred to another parish. The Provincial, Fr Andrea,26 wrote to the Superior General, saying that, although the change had caused some surprise, ‘he was glad to say’ that it was received quietly enough. He stated that the fact that it occurred at decree time, a time when changes in staff would have been common, made it less conspicuous. Fr Santino was not happy with the transfer and wrote a letter of complaint to the Provincial who noted in a letter to the Superior General that: The curious thing I note is that his compassion is merely for himself. He does not seem to realise the injury inflicted upon his victims and the consequences to them of his conduct. To me, at all events, this aspect of the affair is the most dreadful.
The Superior General agreed, and suggested that in Fr Andrea’s reply to Fr Santino he should stress the need for Fr Santino to pray that, The persons to whom he has done such great harm will not carry its ill effects for their entire lives. This exchange shows how both the Provincial and the Superior General were acutely conscious of and apologetic for the hurt and pain caused to those who suffered abuse at the hands of Fr Santino.
In the late 1940s, in his new parish, it was discovered that Fr Santino ‘had again lapsed. Badly’. The newly appointed Provincial, Fr Arturo,27 stated in a letter to the Superior General, Fr Montes, that he had been trying to figure out what to do with Fr Santino, but he had come to the conclusion that there was no work in the English province that he would feel justified in allowing him to do, except perhaps as a Minister of a Rosminian house at Rugby. However, he stated that he could not place Fr Santino there immediately, because of the ‘admiratio’28 that it would cause to the members of the institute. Fr Arturo suggested sending Fr Santino to the Novitiate at Kilmurry, County Cork in the Irish-American Province for a period of six months, and that ‘his face could be saved by making it part of an exchange between the two provinces’. He added that Kilmurry was a place where Fr Santino would be ‘safe for the time being’.
Fr Montes replied that the latest revelations constituted ‘really bad news, even if not completely unexpected’. He told Fr Arturo that he had stressed the need to inform the local Rector in Kilmurry of Fr Santino’s history, so that the latter could keep an eye on him. He informed Fr Arturo that he had been in communication with Fr Orsino, the Provincial of the Irish-American Province, about what could be done with Fr Santino. He noted that Kilmurry was short of space and that the only available position was that of confessor of novices, a position that Fr Montes stated that he ‘couldn’t in conscience give him that, even apart from his deplorable weakness’. He said that Fr Santino ‘deserves to do two months of penance at Melleray’, and he gave permission for him to be sent there. He also noted that Fr Santino ‘will always be a problem because he does not acknowledge the evil he has done’, and suggested that he would be somebody for Fr Torre29 to study. Fr Torre was a member of the English Province who had some skill as a psychotherapist.
Fr Santino went to the Cistercian Abbey at Mount Melleray in the late 1940s but, instead of staying for a period of months, he remained for 10 years and only left because the Cistercians would no longer have him. The problem then was to find a place for him. It was thought that Ferryhouse was not suitable because: Melleray and Clonmel are both in Waterford diocese – and news travels even from the hidden depths of Melleray. I should be surprised if he returns to England. Perhaps he is the Providential answer to the quest for an English confessor at Porta Latina.
For the time being, Fr Santino was sent to Kilmurry, pending a decision to place him on a more long-term basis. The Superior General thought of sending him to Florida but nothing came of that.
In 1959, Fr Santino sought permission to visit his family in the UK whom he had not seen for years. This came to the attention of Fr Arturo, the Provincial in the United Kingdom, who wrote to his Superiors in Rome in March: I am very worried about Fr Santino. I presume that you know his sad history. In spite of the fact that his misdeeds are known to quite a few people here in [parish] he has been writing, I understand from Fr Lanzo,30 to various people here in [parish] saying that he has returned to the Institute etc. My fear is that he will want to return, perhaps on a visit, here, to see some of his friends. In my opinion it would be really dangerous of him to return here at all, since, if some ill-intentioned person were to denounce him to the police, he would be in danger of arrest, and the scandal produced would be disastrous. Hence I would ask you to make sure that he does not return to England and particularly to [parishes where he worked] ... I do not know whether Fr Placido31 knows all the circumstances of the case, and I have therefore not wished to write to Fr Placido direct about it. I do not think my fears are exaggerated, Fr Santino is a man who has been singularly blind to implications of his case, and seems quite capable of thinking that he can act as though his past were forgotten, and that he could start afresh as though nothing wrong had happened. I therefore beg of you to take what steps are necessary to ensure that he does not return to England.
Fr Arturo’s worst fears were confirmed when he received word that Fr Santino was proposing to call to the parish where he first worked, to see his brothers and sisters: As I said in the letter I have just written to you, in my opinion, in no circumstances must he go to [parish] – to tell the truth I do not like the idea of his coming to England at all, since what he did in both [parishes] is a criminal offence for which he could be prosecuted. He seems to have no sense of the fact that he is disgraced man in the eyes of, at any rate, some people in [parish].
The Superior General wrote to Fr Santino forbidding him to leave Ireland. Fr Arturo, in another letter to his Superior in Rome, set out his concern more specifically: Most Reverend and very dear Father General, Fr Santino’s trouble is homosexuality. When I became Provincial, my predecessor Fr Andrea, thought it his duty to let me know that for 15 years (on and off I suppose) Fr Santino had been corrupting boys in [parish]. It was known to various people, but none dared come forward and report it. Fr Andrea, as soon as he knew about it, removed Fr Santino immediately to [another parish]. But the same thing began to occur again at [this parish]. Fr Calvino32 telephoned me urgently one evening, and I went straight down to [the parish] and sent Fr Santino immediately to Ireland; there was danger of prosecution by the police – this offence being a criminal one in England. I interviewed Fr Santino, and suggested to him that the only thing for him to do was to retire into some place like Mount Melleray and do penance. This he did. He seems incredibly unaware of the gravity of the whole position. Fr Lanzo tells me that when Fr Calvino was appointed rector of [the parish], Fr Santino wrote an indignant letter to the Provincial, to Fr General and to the General’s monitor, complaining that after all his years of faithful service, he had been passed over for a rectorship!! Also Fr Lanzo tells me that during these last years he has frequently written to [former parish] people, and they have been to see him at Melleray. Fr Lanzo has imagination, I know, but there is probably foundation for what he says. I remember too in my last interview with him eight years ago that he blamed Fr Andrea for his troubles, because Fr Andrea had always been hostile to him. And from my last letter (which you apparently had not received when you write to me) he is actually expecting to be allowed to return to [former parish] for a visit – oblivious of the fact that for a certain number of people in [former parish], he is a completely disgraced person. Fr Santino tells me in the letter he wrote asking permission to come that he is translating some writings of the Founder with a view to publication. I think it would be a disaster to have any writing of Fr Founder’s published over Fr Santino’s name.
In August 1959, Fr Placido was again required to deal with Fr Santino because Fr Salvatore33 was no longer willing to keep him in Kilmurry, where he was having an unhealthy influence on certain members of the professed and also on some of the novices. He suggested that, if no alternative could be found, he would as a last resort be compelled to keep him in Upton but warned: ‘there would be grave risks in accepting him here considering the class of boy we have in certain age groups here’.
Despite this anxiety, Fr Santino was assigned to Upton and he remained in the School until the early 1960s when he died suddenly, just when he was due to be transferred to a teaching position at Omeath.
A former resident, who was present in the School from the late 1950s to the mid-1960s, alleged that Fr Santino sexually abused him: Fr Santino did approach me from the back with both hands on my shoulder. I felt him leaning up against me, in doing so I ran away. I did so, I met a particular Brother, Br Ludano, at the end of the stair who asked me why was I running, I told him why and I was punished for it.
During cross-examination, counsel for the Rosminians apologised for the abuse that this witness received. He asked him how Fr Santino was perceived. The complainant replied that he remembered Fr Santino as being very approachable, with a great way with children. He would talk to them all day. Fr Gaffney accepted his allegations in his responding statement: I have no justification for doubting the complaint of sexual interference made against Fr Santino, and those actions were shameful and wrong. I apologise for the hurt inflicted on [this witness] and for the association of the Rosminian Institute of Charity for that conduct. It was profoundly against the ideals and expectations of the institute.
Another former resident of Upton, who was there from the mid to late 1950s and who himself was subsequently convicted of paedophile offences testified that he engaged in mutual masturbation with Fr Santino, whom he described as the only adult who seemed to take any interest in him. He stated that the relationship lasted a couple of months.