Wednesday, 22 June 2011

Review of "Abused: Breaking The Silence"

Since the programme was shown on BBC1 last night, there have been various reviews of Abused: Breaking The Silence.

Most have concentrated on the horror of the events described in the programme. Some have also commented on the disgraceful behaviour of the Rosminian order, including their president Fr David Myers, in covering up the abuse.

But what struck me most strongly were the clear parallels between the abuses by the Rosminians at Grace Dieu and Soni, and the abuses by Benedictines at St. Benedict's School Ealing.

In both cases, the monks instituted a climate of fear, with regular beatings and other severe physical punishments.

In both cases, it seems that the priests sometimes derived sexual pleasure from administering those beatings.

In both cases, there was sexual abuse of young boys.

In both cases, boys were warned on threat of hellfire and damnation not to tell anyone about it.

In both cases, monks enjoyed watching boys naked in the showers.

In both cases, some boys did try to tell their parents about sexual abuse they had suffered, and some of them were not believed.

In both cases, when parents complained, only the most minimal changes were made. In the case of the Rosminians, it was to move a priest from Grace Dieu school to the boarding school in Soni, Tanzania, where he carried on abusing as before. In the case of the Benedictines, it was to move a priest from being Junior School Headmaster to being Bursar, while allowing him still to supervise the Cadet Corps where he could carry on abusing as before.

In both cases, where victims complained, the order denied liability and contested claims for compensation.

Last night's programme could have been about St. Benedict's, and although details of the narrative would have been different, the accounts of the abuse suffered by the victims would have been almost exactly the same.

Two schools. Two different religious orders involved. Very similar stories.

Let nobody call this a case of a few bad priests acting against the orders of the church. The Catholic Herald (not a paper particularly noted for negative stories about the Catholic Church) has nearly 60 articles tagged "clerical abuse crisis", describing cases of sexual abuse from UK, Tanzania, Canada, Kenya, USA, Ireland, Belgium, Netherlands, Australia, Austria, Germany and probably a few other places that I have missed.

It is time to realise that this is, if not normal behaviour by priests, at least distressingly common.

It is not a problem of just the way some seminary or other has trained its priests, it is worldwide.

It is not a problem of sexual licence introduced to the world in the 1960s, it has been going on much longer than that.

It is not a problem of a few rotten apples, it is too widespread for that.

It is not a problem of homosexuality, some abusers (Fr Kit Cunningham himself for instance) are heterosexual.

It is not a problem of liberalism, abuse was going on before Vatican II and the introduction of Mass in the vernacular.

It is not a problem of celibacy. Fr Kit Cunningham himself was in a very close and loving relationship with his housekeeper, and outside the church there are abusers who are married or in a regular sexual relationship.

So put aside all the traditional explaining-away accounts of the abuse crisis. They won't wash any more, not now we know about Fr Kit Cunningham.

Of course, this individual example of the problem as shown on BBC1 is going to have to be resolved in a way that offers some degree of justice and healing to the victims. It is tragic and scandalous that Fr Myers and the Rosminians are digging their heels in against this.

But the wider causes of the problem must also be addressed, and real effort put into introducing proper child protection measures everywhere in the church, and more importantly, establishing a culture of awareness and zero tolerance of abuse.

No more saying "Oh, but Fr Kit was a wonderful priest who brought lots of people to the faith", as if that excuses his actions. It doesn't.

No more saying "Fr XYZ would never do such a thing" and so failing to pass on a report or allegation of abuse. We know that priests - even very prominent priests - can do such a thing.

No more of the attitude that equates reporting abuse with an attack on the priesthood or on the church itself, unless you want the church to be in a position where it institutionalises the defence and protection of paedophiles and sexual abusers.

That such a prominent priest as Fr Kit Cunningham, who knew everybody who was anybody in London Catholic circles, should have been revealed to be an abuser will be making a lot of people feel awfully foolish and betrayed today. Let this be a wake-up call. Abuse isn't something that only affects other people and places. Nobody can be treated as being above suspicion, and robust protection measures are needed to ensure that any abuse that happens near you is detected quickly and stopped immediately. That is happening in some places, but not nearly enough.

Two of the places where is isn't happening are St. Benedict's School, and St. Augustine's Priory School.


  1. Just as Ofsted makes safeguarding a limiting judgement for a school, abuse of children must be a limiting judgement on an individual.

    No circumstances mitigate.

    Did the logistical efficiency with which the Nazis transported Jews to the gas-chambers somehow make them admirable, acceptable, respectable?

  2. I assisted at some Old Rite Masses offered by RP Kit Cunningham. He re-started the First Friday Masses at the request of Mrs Sue Coote, and many Tradies loved for that reason alone. His flaws, especially his drinking and hail fellow well met man-of-the-world approach were evident for all to see.

    Many liked him; I did not and hated the aliturgical and disrespectful way he said the Old Rite Mass.

    I doubt many knew anything about his sexual relationships.

    He clearly needs some prayers and Masses offered for the repose of his Soul.


  3. A posting on under Damina Thompson's article about Kit Cunningham and the Rosmanian's on the Daily Telegraph.

    Part 1

    The poster is Andrew Brown:

    Child raped by Rosminian during Papal visit in 1979.

    The investigation committee of the Commission to Inquire into Child Abuse was told that a boy, prevented from attending Pope John Paul's Mass in Limerick in September 1979, was raped by the Rosminian left in charge of him. Rosminian Father Patrick Pierce, told the Child Abuse Commission that the child had not been allowed accompany his colleagues to the Pope's Mass as punishment for absconding. The Rosminian who raped the child had been a prefect at the school and volunteered to stay back with the child. Father Pierce interviewed the Rosminian the next day. He denied the allegations at first, then, when told the child was willing to confront him, backed down.

    Father Pierce, who was recalling that in November 1979 he first learned about the abuse of boys at St Joseph's by "Rosminian X", became upset while giving his evidence. "Little did we know we were living with an abuser," he said, and "in the very unit \ younger children would be better protected." He recalled how that night he had left some staff home, as was the practice, when he decided to drive around to see whether there might be any sign of two boys who had absconded that day. They were from the south, and he headed in that direction. Six or seven miles farther on he found them. They had thumbed him for a lift. They got in the car. He asked why they had run away. The boy in the front seat said they had been beaten up, and Father Pierce responded along the lines of "Pull the other one".

    He noticed the front-seat boy went silent, then broke down "and said Rosminian X was at him". Father Pierce recalled "immediate impact". There was silence until they got back to the school. He took the boy to his office, cautioned him as to the seriousness of what he was saying, and they talked more. He suggested to Father Pierce that another boy could back up what he said. The second boy was brought down from a dormitory. It was he who had been raped by Rosminian X while the rest attended the Pope's Mass in Limerick. Both boys "unfolded a most horrific story of what had been happening to them". They agreed to face Rosminian X with their allegations.

  4. Part 2

    Rosminian X was confined to his quarters and removed from the school the next day. He was admitted to a psychiatric hospital in Dublin. Three weeks later he was returned to his own home and later was dismissed from the Rosminian congregation. The Rosminians' Irish provincial at the time was closely involved in all decisions concerning the case. Father Pierce reported it to the Department of Education, informed Rosminian X's local parish of what had occurred, as well as a judge at the Children's Court in Dublin which Rosminian X had been known to attend regularly prior to his joining the Rosminians. Gardaí were not told then. "I have to honestly say I didn't know about reporting to the Gardaí (Irish police). I probably should have," Father Pierce said.

    It was only in the early 1990s that this rape was reported to a Garda superintendent in Clonmel. Rosminian X was convicted in 1999 and sentenced to nine years' imprisonment, three suspended. Father Pierce recalled that, although one of the boys said in court he had forgiven Rosminian X, he (Father Pierce) still found this difficult. He had visited other Rosminians in the prison where Rosminian X is detained, "but I have never been able to bring myself to see him".

    NB Rosminian X can not be named in Ireland due to the Indemnity Deal 2002 between 18 Religious Orders and the State so if I were to reveal (in Ireland) that the name of Rosminian X is Seán Barry I would face imprisonment and a huge fine. Also one of Seán Barry's victims cut his penis off.

    So if people here want to defend the Rosminians be aware of who and what you are defending.

  5. Dear Parents, Teachers, Governors, Trustees and Pupils,

    It is some time now since I posted on this blog. Not all my comments were published previously, and, given their content, I fully understand and appreciate Mr West's choices in this matter. It is most important for Mt West to be able to verify information before it is published, or at least be confident that such information is verifiable.

    I was deeply moved by the BBC1 documentary "Abused" on Monday evening. The actions of Kit Cunningham were shameful as well as proof that such monsters can rise to positions of influence and sham respectability within our church.

    Kit Cunningham's close friendship with Frances Gumley Mason is similary worrying. St Etheldreda's Church in Ely Place was where the London Branch of the Catholic Writers Guild met. Frances, under Kit's patronage, became one of only three women to be Guild Master. He also married Frances and Andrew and baptised John and Helena.

    At St. Augustine's her patron was Gregory Chillman.

    Blind faith or blind eyes?

  6. Unbelievable ,and i am sure GM will still support him and believe none of its true and do what she does best bury her head in the sand.

  7. What perhaps needs to to considered, is why is Mrs Gumley Mason the Designated Child Protectionm Officer?

    Just think about this for a minute of two in light of the following.

    Firstly, Designated officers need to be approachable.

    They need to have time.

    They need to be able to stand back from the hurly burly of the setting because child incidents often happen when one does not see becasue one does not have time.

    Soft intelligence on safeguarding is vital in schools. Why is there a difference in pupil X? wIt's time to stop and speak provided you are approachable.

    In all schools Designated officers need to be appointed. If an officer is not appointed by the school then the head by default is the officer. They are singulalrly the most inapporpriate person for the job becasue of the intensity of the role as head.

    Often head's appoint themselves because they are then in a position to stop a referral to the LADO. If it is a split (moral) decision whether to refer, then will one be made under Gumley Mason? Remember there is no statutory obligation to report allegations at all, whether they have passed the ludicrous 'harm
    test' or not.

    Having a head as Designated Officer is not good for any setting - it simply cannot work well.

  8. It is time for Abbot Martin to tell us how many of the monks at Ealing Abbey are currently under restrictive covenants.

  9. 17.10 - By all means ask him, and then tell us what the answer is. Don't rely on me to do all the research.

    Safeguarding is everybody's business.

  10. Gumley mason should not be Designated Child Protection Officer, she is the most unapproachable person ever, and surely after all the errors she has made, she should be asked to stand down.
    Why does she still have this title?

  11. As an ex-St Benedict's pupil who has also, for various reasons, lived some of my early life in monasteries, I believe that the celibacy factor is a major cause of sexual abuse. It is not by any means the only factor, and does not apply when the abuser is not celibate. However, it creates enormous pressure.

  12. 14.43 As this has been a hot topic of debate, I for one would appreciate it if you provide us with your take on this often argued point.

  13. Yes 14.43, but it's a choice. You don't have to be a catholic to be a christian. Most other churches would allow marriage.
    Celibacy is used as a ready and easy excuse, because in a normal healthy adult sexual frustration finds normal outlets.
    It seems more likely that abusers join the church or the teaching profession to have easier access to children.

  14. The blog with the greatest circulation in the UK is The Hermaneutic of Continuity run by a priest.
    Can some of your information go there at this important time please.
    It is quite surprising that your excellent comments have not been ignored elsewhere on a blog. Mine frequently have I so gave up, but that was before the present scandal which has hurt because the person was known and admired.

    The You tube summary of Australian historical research is very accessible and I wish it could appear on a popular blog not as a link but displayed.

  15. 09.16 - You are welcome to post quotes and links on The Hermaneutic of Continuity. I may pop in there myself from time to time, but I can't be everywhere. I have a living to earn!

  16. As 00:34 asked for my take on the celibacy cause, I have observed among one pertinent religious order nerves set on edge by the ascetic and bloodless lifestyle - no touching, no talking at meals, up early, bed early, refined conversation and prayer. They invite into their monasteries boys to eat or stay and are extremely friendly to them because it is a breath of fresh air, and invite them into their activities, close involvement, evenings, activities of silent closeness like Christian meditation. Some of the older publications by these monks focus so unforgivingly on, for example, the sin of masturbation that such things become a silent, sometimes not always necessarily silent, icon in the culture. I am attempting to convey atmosphere as I have seen it, and with the longings it can unleash as a break through from the brittle and absolute self control. I know names and places and facts but here, I point only to cause.
    There are alternatives to sexual outlet. In one Franciscan monastery I have lived at, the "padre guardiano" told me why they all eat so much, are all so overweight, because, he said in his clear Italian, it is the only indulgence they have, the only pleasure they have, and they are going to enjoy it, every day, because it is there, it is all that is available for them in such plenitude of earthly pleasures. Karen Armstrong, a nun who repudiated her faith and became a writer, said in her writings (I think her first book is the relevant one, called something like 'Through the Narrow Gate'), that the nuns in a convent where she lived gained an extremely emotional and physical attachment to a cat that they kept pet on the premises. Sex can be sublimated of course, but my experience of living in monasteries has shown me it cannot be ignored - not by all the monastery, all of the time. To say that these people went into the church by choice is of course true but even the worst offenders tend to have a vocation - the conflict between sexual desires and required celibacy may not erupt in the early period of priesthood. It is frustrating that I feel I have to be anonymous here, but there are strong reasons for that.

  17. Thank you 22.34.

    I read your posting yesterday - and have been reflecting upon it since. I have been trying to place myself in the circumstances you describe. My time at a loathesome boarding school has to a very, very limited extent assisted me, but what you describe is something that 'others choose to do! so it is very challenging to relate to what it might be like....

    I recall a documentary series called 'The Monastery' which was centred on Worth. The effect of the benedictine protocol on some of the participants was self evident. It certainly had that effect on one of the contributors who in my opinion was the most vulnerable participant in the series.

    Thank you.

  18. The Rosminian order should be abolished. It is plain to me it ( it is not the only one within the Catholic Church) is merely a shield for depraved disgusting perverte paedophiles. How can these people even have the affront to expect to be forgiven I pray God is their judge & they get just punishment in a way we cannot even imagine. The lives they have wrecked..the childhoods they have ruined can never be forgotten or forgiven & to hide behind the guise of "holy" men is unspeakable.

  19. Fr Tim Finigan of the Herm. of Continuity is well aware of the problems at Ealing, as I have discussed the situation with him.

    However, his blog is his own affair and I doubt the theme of Ealing is of relevance. (He's a Sooooouuth London boy anyway!!).

    If you desire to have this matter on a blog may I suggest you use Blogger and build up your own audience.

    In caritate Xp.,

    Bryan Dunne
    OP 1990.

  20. Have the Rosminians not been subject to Darwin's Survival of the Fittest laws?

  21. DCSF/ DfE Abuse figures.

    According to figures from a 'one-off' survey undertaken by the Department for Children, Schools and Families (DCSF), between 1 April and 30 September 2007, there were 4,069 allegations referred to LA designated officers

    [Remember - i London all allegations of abuse must be reported to the LADO, but this is not a mandatory requirement - only 'guidance.' Reporting to the LADO is good both for the alleged victim and the alleged perpetrator, and most importantly the school particularly if it is an independent setting which are prone to concealing incidents from the authorities in order to defend balance sheets. LADO’s - are responsible for providing advice and receiving and monitoring all referrals of allegations across the children's workforce.]

    Of these, 13% of allegations were unfounded and 2.8% were malicious.

    [While 2.8% is an unacceptable high figure, one needs to stop and think about this for a minute. The information the DCSF conveniently fails to provide is the breakdown between the differnet types of abuse among these 81 malicious claimants. How many were for alleged sexual abuse? We are left uninformed. Malicious allegations always seem to be interpreted as sexual abuse but this may be very mistaken and we should all be informed.]

    Just over half (52% - 2116) of the allegations were from employers in the education sector. Of these 61.6% (1303) were physical in nature, 6.8% (143) emotional, 29.3% (620) sexual and 2.4% (51) were regarding neglect. [2.8% allegations were malicious – 59 and 13% unfounded – 275. This leaves 1782 were there was a case to answer]. I equate this number to just over four 747's landing at heathrow the people who are a danger to children. Imagine that happening.

    What the statistics fail to inform the reader is that in 2007 (1 Jan -31st December) 4265 adults from schools were Notified under the Education Acts to the DfE as a result of them being unfit to work with children.

    This is a significantly higher number than come to the attention of the LADO because there is no mandatory requirement to report to the LADO.

    In 2008 the figure increased to 8728 (+104%) but this figure for the first time includes notifications relating to abuse against vulnerable adults.

    The DfE has made the Notifications relating to children opaque, perhaps because it does not want statistical evidence of the scale of the problem reaching the public domain. And let's not forget we are talking about our schools.

    Now if you are St Benedict's or St Augustine's school - you neither commit in your safeguarding policy to reporting allegations to the LADO (neither currently do) and you certainly do not return referrals which is a statutory requirement - neither did.

  22. On holiday? You are needed please. Hope you are not ill.

    Two blogging priests have responded to my comment about checking of parish websites (and notice-boards if possible) for displayed safeguarding guidelines.
    My comment reads:

    "I am checking parish websites for evidence of displayed safeguarding procedures. It is my contribution to transparency.

    Ccs: to other priest bloggers."

    The idea being to prompt those who have failed to do so into action as you have tried recently. Any luck?