In it, Peter Stanford talks about the late Father Kit Cunningham, whose obituary Stanford wrote for the Guardian earlier this year.
Cunningham was a close friend of Stanford for 20 years. He had presided over his wedding, had baptised his son. And Stanford had no idea that Cunningham was a paedophile, until he started to receive correspondence from victims after publication of the obituary. And the shocking truth of the other side of Cunningham's life gradually emerged. On Tuesday night BBC1 will be showing Abused: Breaking the Silence. It is about St Michael's boarding school, Soni, in the 1960s in what was then Tanganyika, now Tanzania. Four of the priests who taught there, all members of the Rosminian order, and including Fr Kit Cunningham, perpetrated frequent physical and sexual abuse there.
Stanford goes on to discuss the implications for catholic parents today.
There is a running debate that takes place at the gates of my children's Catholic primary school. "What are we doing?" parents ask each other, "sending our children to a school run by the Catholic church when we are reading about the abuse in its schools elsewhere that it has covered up?"There is an important aspect to this which may not even have occurred to Stanford himself. He is the safeguardung governor at his school, and yet he was close friends for 20 years with an abusive priest, and yet he had no idea. Is it just possible that he had placed Cunningham beyond suspicion? Is it possible that he has placed others above suspicion and as a result might have failed to detect abuse at his children's school?
The ready answer – and I have been as ready as anyone else to utter it – is that most allegations concern episodes several decades ago, our school is a warm, loving, nurturing place, governed by extremely strict rules of conduct (I am the safeguarding governor) and that, more broadly, Catholicism in Britain has set up a system to ensure no abuser will ever again use the church to prey on children.
Then I found out about Father Kit and it has shaken me out of my complacency and shaken my faith – shaken it because here is a religious order still reluctant to own up to the damage its members have done. The Rosminians appear, to this Catholic at least, to be placing defending the institution – ie their order, its good name and its properties – above a heartfelt acceptance of the catalogue of depression, broken marriages and suicide attempts recounted by victims in the documentary.
I'm sure that if he did, he now realises better, every word of the article shows how much Stanford realises he was deceived.
I am again reminded very much of Alastair Rolfe's statement towards the end of Chosen.
The successful paedophiles are the ones that aren’t discovered of course and there are plenty of them around. They are people who have all the social graces that you might expect in someone of normal behaviour. They’re charming, they have good conversation, they’re caring, they’re intelligent, they’re interested, they’re committed to what they’re doing, they earn respect, they appear like any other member of society quite frankly and you just can’t tell. Sorry but you can’t tell.In the unlikely event that Peter Stanford reads this, take some comfort in the fact that you are not the only one to have been deceived. The clever career paedophiles go to great lengths to burnish their outward appearance of respectability. It is the clever ones who are good enough at it to deflect suspicion from themselves, and who have the opportunity to do the most damage as a result. Stanford goes on to say:
If he kept his "dark side" so well hidden, if the church authorities allowed him to keep it so well hidden that even the Queen awarded him an MBE, what of all the other priests I admire for their work with the poor and marginalised? Who can I trust now when my children go into the sacristy to be altar-servers? And if I am struggling to trust priests, what on earth am I doing in the church at all?Of course, the "Woodstock defence" (as it has come to be known) is rubbish. Abuse was happening in the Catholic Church before the 1960s. It seems that there are still important elements of the Catholic Church which still seek to place the blame anywhere other than the church's own institutional shortcomings.
Such questions might nag away slightly less insistently if I thought the Catholic authorities were genuinely trying to understand the root causes of this scandal. But this month the quasi-official Catholic Truth Society published a booklet on clerical sex-abuse that blames it on the "permissive society" of the 1960s. So while everyone else took sexual liberation to mean you didn't have to wait until you were married, priests took it as licence to abuse children?
Paedophiles will be paedophiles. We cannot prevent that on current knowledge. All we can do is limit as far as possible the number of victims they are able to damage. The scandal of the Catholic Church is that it failed to do that for many, many years, and has been terribly slow to learn from its mistakes as they have gradually come to light.
Abused: Breaking The Silence is on BBC1 on Tuesday 21 June, at 10.35pm.