Sunday, 19 June 2011

Abused: Breaking The Silence

There is an article on the Guardian website today: He was my priest and my friend. Then I found out he was a paedophile.

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?"

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.
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?

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?

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?
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.

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.


  1. Father Gregory Chillman is currently under a restrictive covenant. According to Peter Turner (Diocesan Safeguarding Advisor), Father Gregory is banned from any public ministry, according to the ISI he is barred from any contact with children.

    It is totally unacceptable that Father Gregory is allowed to continue to reside at Ealing Abbey given it's proximity to St Benedict's School and given Abbot Martin's poor record at policing monks under restrictive covenants.

    If Abbot Martin and Mr Cleugh (St Benedict's Headmaster) have the least regard for the welfare of the children at the School, they should ensure that Father Gregory is removed from the Abbey without any further delay. They might also find time to make a statement explaining why parents at St Benedict's Safeguarding Meeting last September were told that "almost all" of the restrictions on Father Gregory had been lifted, when according to Peter Turner the covenant remains in force on the terms originally imposed. They might also list the names of any other monks resident at Ealing Abbey who are under restrictive covenants and publish the terms of those covenants so that parents, school staff and parishioners would be in a stronger position to protect pupils from potential abuse.

    The first recommendation in the ISI's supplementary report on St Benedict's read, "Ensure that any staff or members of the religious community live away from the school, if they are subject to allegations of misconduct related to safeguarding or convicted of wrongdoing". Given the ISI's recommendation and given the School's lamentable safeguarding history, it is difficult to understand why Father Gregory is still in residence nearly a year later. It is as if no lessons have been learnt at all.

  2. A post on another blog blamed all the woes of the Church on "liberalism".
    A lively debate followed with a couple suggesting that liberalism was not to blame but the subject you are discussing.
    The priest blog, on learning about the BBC programme, posted on the frailties of human nature and of priests in particular.
    I wonder if you would contribute to the debate with your erudition please. You will speak for many who lack your skills of expression.

    The site is:

    Father Ray Blake's Blog

    Thank you.

  3. Thank you. Much appreciated.

  4. Abbot Martin will not wish to upset Greg; he's got a big bark and bites as well.

  5. It's just his ulcers!

  6. Tha whole church is corrupt, time to end the paedophilia brainwashing we think

  7. tut tut, needs approval...........

  8. One cannot help but notice a thankfully rare signature posting from an Abbeyvista.

    Any minute it will be posting to its alter ego. Brace yourselves.

  9. Greetings.
    The commenters to the priest's blog seem to be reverting to the "blame the liberals" argument.
    I do thank you for your tremendous contribution.
    My obsevations have shown me that we have reached the limit of reasoned, informed debate when the extreme "traditionalists" resort to personal remarks like "obsession".
    Myself, and others, express our gratitude to you for all you have said on this horrible subject.

  10. If you are looking for historical background on procedures this below is helpful. Ignore the dramatic title this IS sound research from Australian broadcasting.

  11. I hope you have seen my supportive comment on another blog and will not rise to the bait of certain others. A pointless endeavour.
    I have to agree with your commenter John.

    When blogs resort to personal attack it is a sign that the debate is exhausted. An example of this are the endless inane comments on newspaper blogs.
    Your comments have been noted and valued and it is now up to the author of the blog in question to make a concluding remark or close a post that is no longer productive.

  12. Anne,

    I think I might be doing some good. I don't really expect to persuade those who are so set against what I say that they resort to name-calling.

    The people I was hoping to persuade are those who read Fr Ray Blake's blog and really want the abuse scandal to come to an end. Hopefully some of them may be moved to action and start working at getting effective safeguarding procedures put in place for their own parish.

    As for those who resort to name-calling, I'm not too bothered about them. In doing so, they expose the poverty of their own arguments for all to see.

  13. Well done! (Your comment and the reply this morning ) I'm amazed these recommendations are getting through.

  14. I have followed the blog comments and found the "Dulwich" remarks an example of detracting from the message by attacking the messenger.
    I considered jumping to your defence but was glad when you replied with such dignity.
    Your consolation is that your message HAS got through and your comments have been published and widely read online.

  15. The topic is once again under discussion on that blog but I do not feel inclined to comment except perhaps to remark that his church's web page still does not appear to have the safeguarding procedure guidelines that were discussed. At least I haven't found them so far.
    I will see if anyone else takes this up but it may be a lost cause and simply set the blog counter rolling to no useful purpose.
    He said he found the discussion " fascinating" but clearly not sufficiently serious to take action as advised (unless I have missed a link somewhere).