IN THE LA SALLIAN TRADITION 3

I wanted to write a new post in response to further comments on my About page from St Joseph’s old boys Nick and NW1 – thanks guys, and great to hear from you both.  I have appended NW1’s comment at the bottom of this post, because I think his story is incredibly important and I think it’s proving valuable for all of us who survived a dark period in the school’s history. Hitherto, it was unacknowledged, and I’m sure is still denied. Actually, just ignored.  But the sheer number of witnesses coming forward and confirming what happened makes a provable case.

For some of us it will be a catharsis; the knowledge that we were not alone in what we experienced or witnessed. For others it will be a resource for confronting whoever should take responsibility for these crimes and, at the very least, acknowledge them. Whether that is the De La Salle Order, its inheritors who claim they are still “in the Lasallian Tradition”, or the Catholic Diocese, remains to be seen.

I’d imagine there would be a certain amount of buck-passing and “no comment”, based on what I’ve read so far. The idea that a supposedly moral organisation that claims to care for its followers cannot speak out, on the advice of lawyers or insurers, is shocking and shameful. This would mean the Church or its relevant branches is controlled by lawyers, insurers and bankers. A fine Christian example.  I have the impression that they think if they say nothing and keep their heads down, we will all just quietly go away.

I certainly won’t. My particular viewpoint is that I believe abuse was organised and endemic in my parish in the Catholic Church in the 1950s and 1960s and presumably it went much further afield. I believe it was a way of life and, worse, it had a sick belief system to justify it. I have some evidence already to back this up and the comment by NW1 about Brother Kevin also points in that direction.

For me, the one rotten apple in the barrel idea (or in the case of St J’s, it’s about 5 rotten apples so far and counting) simply does not stand up to scrutiny.  They want us to believe this was the case – it was just one or two bad guys, whereas the rest were exemplary. Not so. Even though, of course, there were decent teachers there who we may remember with respect and admiration.  But they weren’t that decent, because they looked the other way when everyone knew what was going on. Everyone. They knew, and it’s to their shame they said nothing.  I was a day boy, so my knowledge and experience was restricted, but we still knew much of what was going on.  In a sense, the crimes of Solomon/Mike Mercado are so outrageous they obscure some of the others. The account about Brother Kevin, for example.

So, do please add your voice if you feel it will be useful to you. It will certainly be useful to me.  I’d  love to hear more from you and I’m sure that applies to other old boys who read this site.

 

Comment from NW1 on 17 September.  Read all comments on my About page (most of which are St Joseph’s related) here.

Hi there. Have just stumbled across this blog, drawn to it by a Guardian story I read this morning about child abuse in a Suffolk school, which I initially thought referred to St Jo’s but I then realised was about another Catholic order.

Just a quick comment of my own regarding St Joseph’s, Birkfield, and also Oak Hill, the prep school just down the road. I was a pupil at both between 1967 and 1974, when I was expelled mid-way through the year. As I was mid-way through my lower sixth, they allowed me to complete my studies at St Peter’s, in Bournemouth.

Many of the Brothers’ names mentioned in other posts are familiar to me and other boys used to talk about them as “homos” at the time, but I have no proof of this.

In my case, I was sexually abused by Brother Kevin, a diminutive shit who was at OakHill when I started there before transferring to Birkfield later in that year. My abuse began while I was at the prep school. Kevin was in charge of the boarders and used to summon me, as well as other boys, to his bedroom after lights out.

After he moved to Birkfield, Kevin used to come down to Oak Hill on Sundays, seek me out and try to abuse me in the biology rooms. The abuse continued when I moved to Birkfield myself and during my first year there, during which time I was a boarder in one of the dormitories in the so-called 55 Wing. Kevin, whose room looked out on one of the dormitories, continued in a similar vein as before, summoning me and others to his room after lights out.

He was transferred to France at the end of that school year (1968) but returned to St Peter’s, where I re-encountered him after my expulsion from St Jo’s. Inexplicably, he was once again in charge of the junior boarders. By then, I was too old for him, so was left in peace. I have no doubt whatsoever that he continued to abuse kids there. Sickeningly, the young boarders’ section included kids who wee six or seven years old.

About 20 years ago, I reported my abuser to the police in London and he was briefly detained, made a partial admission and was released on bail pending further inquiries. The next time he was interviewed he showed up with a solicitor and denied everything. He was never charged.

Simultaneously, I sued the Order in 1996 and after six years they settled out of court in return for me signing a confidentiality agreement which I suppose I’m breaking today. The settlement just about paid for seven years of therapy. However, the Order refused to offer an apology because to do so would imply that they were culpable. Even today, 15 years later, that refusal to admit what happened and apologise for it – despite paying me compensation – makes me feel incredibly angry.

I remember I went up to Oxford in the mid-90s to confront the order at its “Mother House”: they didn’t seem remotely surprised that Kevin was in the frame as a sex abuser. I mentioned another brother, (AKA Squealer) who I was fairly certain had abused children, although I did not have 100% definitive proof. They effectively admitted he too had been an abuser and it was suggested to me that I should consider whether giving his name to the police would be worthwhile as he now had dementia. I did name him to police but nothing happened to him either.

While I was at St Peter’s, there was another Brother – Cyril – who was in charge of the middle year boarders (3rd and 4th year). He too was talked of as an abuser by some pupils, although I did not have any personal knowledge of this. Cyril became head teacher at another school in Southsea, was subsequently charged and cleared of sex abuse.

Three years ago I was contacted by police in Dorset who had received another complaint of abuse at the hands of Brother Kevin by a pupil at St Peter’s. Dorset police managed to track down my name and other details from the 90s and I went through the another set of interviews, filmed this time, and waited several months before the CPS decided not to go ahead with a prosecution, again. My evidence and that of the other person were not considered credible enough.

I’m aware of several other kids who were abused during my time there, also by Brother Kevin. I once met up with one of them many years later. He and another lad were abused a year or so before me and I still remember him telling me that when Kevin started on me he felt jealous a being supplanted by someone else. There was also talk about several other Brothers being abusers while I was at Birkfield, including Squealer, but I have no personal evidence of that. It does make me wonder whether they had their own little circles and agreed not to poach kids from each other.

Almost 50 years later, the abuse still affects me. My entire personality has been affected by the experience and I know I will never be free of what happened. But I’m glad others are talking about it publicly here and in one or two other corners of the Web. It’s about time the Order was forced to face up to what so many of its members were doing. It should make a public apology. I would also like to all the abusers brought to trial. I’d be happy to work with anyone here to make sure that happens.

 

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4 thoughts on “IN THE LA SALLIAN TRADITION 3

  1. Hi Pat

    You’ve sparked some right old dialogue in a St Jo’s old boys facebook group this last couple of weeks!! I was a boarder at St Jo’s (Ipswich) for 12 years from age 6 (1975-1987) and, to be fair, did not suffer from any of the nasty sexual abuse that I am now hearing about. Quite frankly, I was young …. very young, trusting, and very naive. [Actually, looking back, it is a wonder that I, myself, was not singled out for ‘special’ attention! Maybe someone, somewhere, was looking out for me. Or maybe it was just my fate!!]

    I remember nice, kind brothers and scary brothers. Bro Mark (head master at Oak Hill, before Bro Kevin took over) and Bro Owen (Birkfield) both seemed to be very genuinely kind to me. Lawrence Hughes, was a particularly scary brother (at times), but never really hurt me. Looking back, I can only, now think how some of the brothers might have seemed creepy (Bros Damien and Kevin)

    My big issue was a massive lack of support from my parents. I am sure that they both had their own issues, and did their best. However, I simply do not understand sending kids to boarding school. It seems to be a dereliction of responsibility. ‘Bringing up children is hard. I’ll pay (or get the taxman to pay), to do it instead. Having said all that, my mother was really quite neurotic, and probably should have been under mental health care ….. I suspect, so actually, the early years at Oak Hill may have been an inadvertent bounty!!

    However, I am now 47 yrs old, and somewhat insular (although others might disagree with me!). Without going back and doing it again, cause and effect is pretty impossible to determine. I really feel that lack of any real family life is a major cause with the boarding school (especially a catholic one) being a relatively minor one.

    Anyway. Fascinating reading Pat, and thank you for doing all this Judge Dredd stuff. Although no massive all-consuming fan, I do (or certainly have in the past) enjoy JD and 2000AD

    Take care, and keep up the good work,

    Ian H
    xxx

    • Hi Ian,

      Thanks for your very interesting post. A boarder for 12 years! Wow! That must have left you with a very strong impression of the school, good and bad.

      Like you, I have positive and negative memories of St J’s. For example, when I’d witness extreme violence – like Brother James – and then he’d carry on perfectly normally and was a truly excellent maths and scripture teacher, I found it very confusing. I guess it’s a similar feeling to “gaslighting” – I’d wonder if I was going crazy? Did I imagine the horrible violence I’d seen? Was it justified? The same with Brother Solomon – a truly excellent music teacher, yet I knew he was abusing boarders. It’s that cognitive dissonance that causes so many problems.

      My sympathies over your lack of parental support. Even though I was a day boy, I had a similar issue. My widowed mother simply could not challenge the school and any of its decisions, she wasn’t strong enough mentally or economically. And, from a religious perspective, she saw the brothers as Holy Men and therefore above the laws of man. So she had no choice but to ignore my often vocal complaints about the school and the dubious behaviour of leading members of the RC church.

      I also recall being endlessly told as a kid that the brothers did so much good charitable work, presumably in the missions (where they have also been charged with abusing children) but I didn’t see any evidence of it at St J’s. Given that the order was originally founded to help poor kids, that’s just one more example of their hypocrisy. My impression from talking to other old boys – including my older brother who was more streetwise than me – is that the whole thing was about making money. One old boy recently described to me in considerable detail the brothers’ privileged lifestyle. It was very impressive. I must still be rather naive because it came as quite a shock. Somehow I thought they lived like trappist monks! Not so, it seems!

      If nothing else, they certainly inspired my version of comic book characters like Judge Dredd and Torquemada!

      Thanks again, Ian, it was a pleasure reading your post.

  2. Pingback: ROLL OF DISHONOUR | Pat Mills

  3. Dear Pat,
    My name is Peter, I was a border at st. josephs preparatory school oak hill Ipswich, a de la salle school, from 1967 to 1970. I’m sure its the same school. Nwi would have been there at the same time as me, and my experiences were unfortunately similar. He might remember me because I am Australian (and still am), I’m sure my brother Robert and I were the only colonials there at the time. I also contacted the police and made a complaint but as I live in Australia haven’t been able to do anything else. I would really like to contact NWI, really, I really would. “Holy Innocents” was the name of the first dormitory I was in, I was 7. bro kevin told me he only did this to me because my mum asked him to, sound familiar?
    Please contact me,
    best wishes,
    peter.

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