The following article by Lech Mintowt-Czyz, a Times journalist and former Downside pupil, appeared in the Thunderer column of the Times last Thursday. It provides a vivid account of what it is like to be a boy at boarding school trying to survive the presence of paedophile monks.
There have been a number of very touching comments on the Times website in response to the article, many of them addressing the issue of "survivor's guilt". Of course, the children weren't responsible for the abuses they or their friends suffered, and now they have reached adulthood they should not take on guilt at not having been able to stop it. But we don't always think entirely rationally about these things, and several people have expressed similar regrets to me that they weren't able to do more to save their friends from abuse.
If emotion is to be involved, let it be the appropriate one: anger, directed at the adults who were responsible, who knew about the abusers in their midst and did nothing to stop the abuse and everything to hide it for so many years.
Father Nick, the paedophile priest, was my teacher
We all knew where his desires lay and, dark jokes aside, stayed silent
January 5 2012 12:01AM
Richard White is a name that means as little to me as it does to you — to me he will always be Father Nick.
As you read this he is starting a five-year jail term for child abuse — crimes he committed while I was in his care in the late 1980s. White, the name used in court, taught me geography, he was my housemaster, he watched me in the showers and he molested my friends.
When one victim had the extraordinary courage to speak out Father Nick was shuffled aside. Initially removed from some teaching duties at Downside School but allowed to stay in the abbey (which was attached to the school buildings) he abused again, paying 50p to his victim each time.
As it happens, “50p” was one of his catchphrases — a term we inmates at the school used to say in his nasal tones by way of an impression: 50 pence was the maximum he would allow us to withdraw from our school accounts to spend on sweets each day.
Another catchphrase (wheedle as you hold your nose and you will hit the right sound) was: “Come out where I can see you.” This was what he said to us pubescent children as we tried to dry ourselves in the relative privacy of the heated pipes after our showers.
He used to give boys early morning detention — a ruse that meant he knew they would be alone in the showers. And he would join them, even though he had his own private bathroom. Some stopped washing — it didn’t save them. He seemed to enjoy giving corporal punishment too.
We all knew where his desires lay and, our dark jokes aside, we all stayed silent — conspiracy ruled us and betrayed us.
But this was almost 25 years ago. Boarding schools are different now, the Roman Catholic Church is changing, child protection systems are much better. Yes, yes and yes. And no.
Boarding schools are indeed more humane in their trappings these days but when I think back to the silence that protected Father Nick it had nothing to do with lumpy mattresses or a lack of carpets.
When you are a child away from home, if it’s not happening to you, you are grateful and keep your mouth shut. Be it bullying or child abuse there is nowhere to hide and you will do nothing that might bring it on your head. The moral cowardice of a child collaborator? Yes, and I feel the guilt ... but count yourself lucky you’ll never have to face that same test.
Furthermore, when you are in a closed community — a monastery, for example — it is incredibly hard to take tough action against a member of that group. A different type of collaboration — but effective nonetheless.
So I feel no joy at the sentencing — I am too compromised for that. And I know that it will happen again.