TRIGGERS

Often on this site, there are graphic accounts of abuse by lay teachers, priests, monks and De La Salle  brothers.

What is more rare, though, is the psychological abuse that often goes with it.  And how it can be triggered today by relatively minor incidents. 

Catholics, abusers or not, always seem to seek control over children. Maybe it’s the same with other religions.

But it is especially heinous in Catholic communities because they are so authoritarian, so convinced of their rightness and even holiness, they cannot and will not be challenged.   

Their role model, of course, starts with the Vatican and the Pope when he speaks ex-cathedra.

Thus, as I’ve related some time ago,  a staunch Catholic doctor (a functioning alcoholic) and his hospital matron wife needed to bring their typically rebellious sixteen year old daughter ‘to her senses’. This involved her being drugged and incarcerated in the general ward of a mental hospital over Christmas.

Her rebellion was the usual thing – staying out late, bad company, surly attitude, punk clothes and so on. I don’t recall anything unusual or horrendous. But in any event, if every rebellious teenager was sectioned to bring them to their senses, the mental hospitals would be filled to overflowing.  What I do recall that was horrendous was her parents’ close examination of her clothing which, in my view, crossed boundaries.

Undoubtedly they used their connections to get the necessary two Doctors (IIRC) to have her sectioned.  When my daughters told me this, I was so appalled, I contacted the hospital and said the girl could stay at our house with her friends, my daughters, over Christmas. The hospital agreed.  I just had to ask her parents’ permission.

This I duly did. Their response I believe is so typically Catholic, it’s worth writing about again. They told me they were bluffing when they intended to keep her in a mental ward over Christmas, alone with seriously disturbed teenagers. They were going to have her released on Christmas Eve when she’d learnt her lesson and promised to behave herself in future. I told them I was delighted that the family would be united. ‘No, you’ve spoilt it now,’ the matron mum glared at me. ‘So we don’t want her back.’ The girl duly spent a happy Christmas with our family and IIRC now has a couple of university degrees and a successful career. But I happen to know she still bears the scars of her ghastly Catholic family.

Similarly I bear the scars of my ghastly Catholic family.  And that’s probably why I chose to intervene. It was triggering me.

My Catholic family circumstances were different, yet ultimately the same. My mother was mentally ill, so she had delegated her authority  to a group of  four or five Catholic worthies to similarly ‘bring her rebellious teenage son to his senses’. Some, but probably not all, were Knights of St Columba.  All were sexual abusers of children.  And they controlled the financial purse string to my fee-paying education at St Joseph’s College, Ipswich, and thus my destiny.

If you look at photos or film of the Knights today, they’re still puffed up with their own arrogance and so were these gentlemen. They saw no contradiction between sexually abusing children and their own self-proclaimed  ‘holiness’. I have no idea how that works. I suspect they compartmentalised their lives and didn’t make any  connection  between their conscience and their vile crimes. Or they think if it’s good enough for bishops, priests and De La Salle brothers to sodomise and sexually molest children, so it’s good enough for them. Or they see it as an initiation rite, like a frat club.  

If anyone has any insights, knowledge or theories, I’d love to hear from them. I think my theories above are correct, but Catholics are hardly going to explain their crimes today.

What is truly remarkable is how I fought back and how they wouldn’t give up. They were determined to impose their will on me.  I’ve no real idea how I survived and eventually won, albeit at a price. They stopped paying my school fees and so I left at age fifteen and became a messenger boy for R and W Paul in Ipswich.   Even then, they still tried to impose their will on me, which I find astonishing. If I was them, I think I’d  be pragmatic and say, ‘We’re not going to win with this annoying little shit. Let him go. There’s plenty more where he came from.’ 

But Catholics simply don’t think that way. They have to win. Maybe the challenge of  ‘breaking in a wild horse’ appealed to them.

It was only when I was sixteen and left home that I was finally free of them.

In my healing work in recent years, I realised I was dealing with at least four sexual abusers, and it was necessary to understand each one’s style, as I was being psychologically assaulted from four different directions.  Sometimes separately. Sometimes in unison. That takes some unpacking. Thus one, a violent thug teacher, used the heavy-handed, boot camp disciplinarian approach. A second, a barrister, used legal threats combined with suggesting I’d be better off moving to an Ipswich hostel where he’d have me all to himself. A third, an English teacher, appealed to my writing ambitions before ultimately turning on me. A fourth, seemed to be the treasurer of the Knights and I can only remember two things about him. First, his impressive marbled Parker pen with its gold nib, ready to write out a much needed cheque for my school fees. ‘On certain conditions, young man…’And second, the terror his two sons – who  also went to St J’s – regarded him with. Let’s not talk about the fifth man. Too big a subject other than to note he was always whining, Uriah Heep style, ‘I always tried to do the best for you boys.’

I clearly won my battle against these five Catholic heavies, although I still find that remarkable. But I didn’t get off Scot-free, it left a scar and that’s where the Triggers come in.

Some months ago, I was triggered when some of my readers said I shouldn’t even be researching Web3 ‘because it was evil’. They were outraged!  It triggered memories of the Catholic Index and reading Heaven and Hell by Swedenborg. When the teacher thug I’ve described found out, he was outraged! He went nuts.  I’d completely forgotten it, but now the memories came rushing back.(More in an earlier blog)

Naturally, I ignored the Triggers.  After all, if I could stand up to a thug when I was 14, I wasn’t going to let anyone today dictate what I should or should not read.

Recently, the same thing occurred when I brought out my Web3 book, a minor project, ecologically and ethically valid. The complexities and rights and wrongs of Web3 needn’t concern us here, only the attempt by a small group of readers to stop my project, to mould me into someone I’m not, to insist I behave differently, to impose their will on me, without any debate,  adopting a ‘holier than thou’, finger-wagging, moral standpoint just like those awful Catholic worthies I’ve described when I was a kid.

They weren’t interested in polite discussion, only in reacting emotionally and dumping their emotions on me. Angry, sad, reproachful, etc.  Doubtless triggered by something in their own pasts that makes them act disproportionately. Maybe they needed an outlet, a scapegoat, for whatever is wrong in their lives.

As you might expect, it, once again, triggered emotions in me from long ago.

But it also reminded me of one way I defeated the finger-waggers as a boy.  

Music. There were so many battle hymns against authoritarian bullies and I still sing them in my head to this day.

The words of Lesley Gore were a life-saver.

You don’t own me
You don’t tell me what to do
Don’t tell me what to say

Don’t try to change me in any way
You don’t own me

I don’t tell you what to say
I don’t tell you what to do
So just let me be myself
That’s all I ask of you
I’m free and I love to be free
To live my life the way I want
To say and do whatever I please

Such music helped me survive as a kid and those words are particularly relevant today and I shall direct them at today’s Triggers if necessary.

If you’re wondering why I’m fairly  relaxed about it, then I should let you into my secret. Over the years I regularly use such Triggers in my stories and they make for excellent negative characters. I’ve written them into two of my current published series. For example, a science fantasy series where the High Priest of the Archeologists, who bury all forms of progress, has banned technology, and has an especial hatred for Web3. Needless to say, he comes to a bad end which I found most cathartic to write. I’m now thinking of a third way I can use them.  

It’s a great way to deal with the finger-waggers and turn their lead into gold.  

I hope others have found similarly constructive ways of dealing with Triggers.

7 thoughts on “TRIGGERS

  1. I’ve mentioned this before, but this ‘fundamentally Catholic’ thing is not true.
    I live in Ireland. Up to about fifteen years ago over 90% of the country would have identified as Catholic. This has of course dropped – the biggest factor was the ever-growing sex abuse scandal which could no longer be seen as involving a subset of the institution ( the Church). This was by far the biggest impetus to the decline of church influence and not general secularistion in outlook, etc.
    The ordinary people who were Catholic gave no support whatsoever here to the church for the abuse. It might be hard to believe that the extensive child-rape committed was not generally known – and I’ve asked my parents about this, mynfather said that as a kid they had a lay p.e. teacher (in a religious run school) who was known to take an ‘interest’ in the contents of the boys shorts, but they had no words for it, didn’t tell their parents and nothing was done about it – they just avoided him. We – my generation (1980s) became aware of the rapists beginning with the revelation of the acts of one of the worst of them – Fr Brendan Smyth – in the early nineties. I was an adult by then and had nothing about paedo priests other than a reference to a retired brother at our secondary school who some of the lads about tennyears older than us described as ‘a bit of a queer’ ; this didn’t mean gay, it meant that he had shown an unhealthy interest in his students.

    No doubt there are a micro-minority within the country today who would prefer to ignore the issue, and there are even some who have in articles, etc., tried to minimise the abuse and the institutional cover-up.
    I have never heard it said in person nor do I know anyone with those sorts of views.
    I do know that Catholics in Ireland as a whole, those who have left the Church but still hold their beliefs, those who are now atheist or have other non-christian spiiritual beliefs, and those who still view themselves as Catholic do not – by far the larger number of them – either condone or forgive the rapists in the Church and their enablers. Nor would they ever heve done.

    Their Catholicism – and this, I think, is something that the British don’t get, having subliminally imbibed so much anti-Irish sectarianism – is/was based on their spiritual beliefs and not some sort of thralldom to the institution. For most people, not everyone.
    Yes, there were other vile events here such as the Magdalene laundaries and so on, but I have known very religious women born between or before the two world wars welcome fully and without reservation children born outside marriage in their own or other families. (I’ve heard horror stories, too about teachers and religious beating children – some of my own older relatives – for not showing their version of ‘due respect’ in religious pageants, I’m not naive about the bastards that existed).

    Catholic for these people – many members of my own family both living and departed – was not what you think it was. For them it was their innate feeling of Christianity. It was as innate as my our your culture.
    They rejected priests, bishops and popes who by their actions did not earn their respect. I’m sure you’ve all known people who blindly were deferential to utter shits because of the office they held, or station in life, but you also know that these people were the minority. It was the same here. A policeman or priest only got the respect – from the majority of right-thinking people – that he had earned.
    Attendance at churches was principally based on their religious beliefs involving the sacraments and so on, and not a vote of support for the misdeeds of the church, and still is.

    Please don’t see this as in any way as trying to distract from or mitigate in any way the actions of f.ing scum that rape children or people in power who allow this to happen. While the revelations of recent years has shown that child abuse in many other institutions, in Ireland, Britain and around the world, was as extensive as in the Catholic Church, there is something especially vile in those people in that institution who set themselves up as pardigms of holiness against evil doing what they did.

    • Thanks for those valuable thoughts, L. Coming from an Irish family that settled in England, it was really useful to help make sense of my relatives. The religious orders in Ireland seem to have been as bad as anywhere else, but I take your point about ordinary Catholics in Ireland. English Catholicism does have a different tone to it. The elite Laity – who carried out a great deal of sexual abuse in my era of the 1960s and beyond – probably didn’t have the same agenda in Ireland. In England, my experience of the Knights of St Columba was that they were dangerous sexual predators. I’m not aware of the Knights of St Columbanus having a similar role, although I know they were/are masonic and very influential in Irish politics.

      • Thanks for the reply.
        But just to re-emphasise, those same crimes were just as bad here; but in a country where 90+% of the country was very Catholic it seems to have been widely dotted and condensed in certain schools/parishes rather than widespread. I just wanted to get across that we all weren’t going along with that evil shit.
        Yeah, Brendan Behan made a remark about the Irish government being split between masonic former Unionists and Catholic ‘knights’. Newspapers were said to be split three ways in their sympathies between these two and trade-unionism.
        I’ve no experience of catholicism in England, but it seemed to me that because it existed in an environment where it was alien to some extent, it fostered a more pronounced ‘cloistered/siege-like’ culture. I think these kind of environments sometimes go along with a sort of martial obedience and certainty in the ‘right-ness’ of their actions, and this in turn allows abuse to flourish when perpetrators get a foothold in them. Here, mainly, certain schools/orders seem to have had particular concentrations of sex abusers, and elsewhere abusing priests seem to have had particular tactics in choosing their victims (where they felt any complaint from the child would be disregarded) in individual parishes.
        The principal problem – regardless of country, and in the church as a whole – is that tolerance (at the very least) and cover-ups ran/runs right up the hierarchy of the institution. But, to argue against my general point, there were also police and politicians and others here too who protected the abusers, which can certainly be described as being catholic in a very perverted motivation, i.e. – obedience to a ’cause’ identified with the institution, regardless of what it does. And there were definitely a very few ‘lay’ people here who’d rather believe in their image of some of these people as holy icons rather than the reality. This might be just human psychology, we see it in secular ‘veneration’ of pontificating celebrities for instance; but it’s very harmful when it occludes awareness of times when there are more harmful things happening than the posturing of mere twits.

        Best wishes, Pat; (loving ‘Serial Killer’ by the way!)
        Have a good one !

      • Excellent analysis. I think you’re right about the siege mentality in the UK. Everything becomes so intense in a way that doesn’t seem to apply to Ireland, as you rightly point out. And my Irish relatives – who largely brought me up in UK – never swore and had no craic that I was aware of. So it took me some time to realise that most Irish were very different!

  2. Most of the De La Salle brothers who ran St. Peter’s in Southbourne, Hants (Dorset now) were certainly no paragons of virtue. Some were fine teachers, others intellectually interesting, good sports coaches, administrators and, in one case, Bro. Elwin Gerard, a devoted and adept choir director, even if, as contributors to this blog have revealed, he would go on to join the ranks of the DLS paedophiles. In my eleven years as a boarder at St. Peter’s (1956 to 1967) starting at age 7, I never suffered, witnessed or heard of any sexual interference of any kind. I therefore felt confident that SPS was free of such things.

    Many years later I now realise that abusers everywhere are skilled at covering their tracks and instilling fear in their victims should they consider telling anyone. For all I know, the place could have been a den of abuse for the whole time I was there, and me oblivious to it. If Bro. Elwin Gerard (who was also the headmaster) was an abuser, who else was. It’s hardly likely he was the only one.

    As for so-called holiness (a ‘virtue’ I have come to see as overrated) I never thought to seek it in the brothers and nothing any of them ever said or did was what one might call ‘holy’. As a smiling, paid up, card carrying atheist I am happy to report that I long ago dismissed the catholic church (and all other churches for that matter) as organised nonsense at best; at worst, gathering places for the rationally lazy, the emotionally and sexually unhinged and the pitifully devout. Small wonder they are also the refuge of child abusers.

    I certainly do not wish to put my own travails as a border at a De La Salle school—having escaped comparatively unscathed, mercifully cured of any interest in membership in any religious organisation—on the same level of woe as many who have written heart-wrenching reports of their childhood misery. I offer the above simply as a small amplification, a less searing witness to the disproportionate contributions made by religious orders to the suffering of children and the subsequent lifelong anguish of the adults they become.

    Spiritual searches are important and seek to understand what is is to be a human being. Religion, on the other hand, is the greatest conceivable perversion of such a search. Small wonder that religious orders, mistaking their calling for a genuine search, fall into the trap laid by intellectual short circuits, power and that pernicious intoxicant: the absurd notion that something they refer to as “god” is on their side.

    would go on to join the ranks of the DLS paedophiles. In my eleven years as a boarder at St. Peter’s (1956 to 1967) starting at age 7, I never suffered, witnessed or heard of any sexual interference of any kind. I therefore felt confident that SPS was free of such things.

    Many years later I now realise that abusers everywhere are skilled at covering their tracks and instilling fear in their victims should they consider telling anyone. For all I know, the place could have been a den of abuse for the whole time I was there, and me oblivious to it. If Bro. Elwin Gerard (who was also the headmaster) was an abuser, who else was. It’s hardly likely he was the only one.

    As for so-called holiness (a ‘virtue’ I have come to see as overrated) I never thought to seek it in the brothers and nothing any of them ever said or did was what one might call ‘holy’. As a smiling, paid up, card carrying atheist I am happy to report that I long ago dismissed the catholic church (and all other churches for that matter) as organised nonsense at best; at worst, gathering places for the rationally lazy, the emotionally and sexually unhinged and the pitifully devout. Small wonder they are also the refuge of child abusers.

    I certainly do not wish to put my own travails as a border at a De La Salle school—having escaped comparatively unscathed, mercifully cured of any interest in membership in any religious organisation—on the same level of woe as many who have written heart-wrenching reports of their childhood misery. I offer the above simply as a small amplification, a less searing witness to the disproportionate contributions made by religious orders to the suffering of children and the subsequent lifelong anguish of the adults they become.

    Spiritual searches are important and seek to understand what is is to be a human being. Religion, on the other hand, is the greatest conceivable perversion of such a search. Small wonder that religious orders, mistaking their calling for a genuine search, fall into the trap laid by intellectual short circuits, power and that pernicious intoxicant: the absurd notion that something they refer to as “god” is on their side.

    • Some great insights. Thanks. I’ve read a theory that priests are trained to look holy at seminary. Bit like teaching army recruits how to march. So priests may have heads lowered, walk a certain way, speak softly and appear to be in contact with the Divine. Great con trick! And so many sheep out there who will say ‘He’s such a holy man’. In my day, all priests were regarded as holy men, rather than the evil perverts most of them were. Doesn’t feel like the DLS got the same training. There was an inherent weirdness about them, doubtless because of the artificial and unhealthy nature of their world

  3. The de la Salle brothers taught through corporal punishment, bullying, shaming and humiliation. These were their methods. Complete hypocrites!
    The psychological damage they did was horrendous. I never knew any one of them who showed an iota of holiness. They were in it for themselves. They always had favourites. Most of the lay teachers were no better.
    St Joseph’s Beulah Hill 1958-1966

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