I’ve just received today this De La Salle (DLS) general apology to survivors from Catholic Safeguarding.
I have some thoughts on it and on the role of Catholic Safeguarding, but first here is the apology itself.
“The Trustees of De La Salle GB acknowledge social media posts alleging historic abuse in De La Salle school settings. The Trust is also committed to cooperating with the police in any investigation into any allegation made.
We strongly denounce the abuse of children and those who commit such acts. We realise that only the victim can fully understand the nature of the hurt and the damage caused by their abuser, especially when it has occurred at the hands of someone who was in a position of trust, being responsible for their wellbeing.
WHERE A BROTHER OR MEMBER OF STAFF AT ANY DE LA SALLE SCHOOL WAS RESPONSIBLE FOR THE ABUSE OF ANY PUPIL WE OFFER AN UNRESERVED APOLOGY. (My caps) It goes against everything that compelled our Founder to respond to the needs and challenges of the young people of Rheims in the 17th century”.
My thoughts on this apology are BELOW and I welcome the views of everyone on this subject. Do let me know how far you agree or disagree with my conclusions and that may help in framing a possible response now or in the future. After all, I’m representing the views and experiences of a number of survivors as well as myself.
A FIRST STEP
I feel the apology is a small but positive first step and it seems to be in response to this blog and the social media posts of others who have spoken out. So that is encouraging and to be welcomed! Thank you to all the DLS survivors who had the courage to speak out and relate their often painful testimonies. You’re all stars! It looks like it could finally be worth it.
A PUBLIC APOLOGY?
It’s actually far from public.
As you can see from the above, it arrived without any official letterhead and it was unsigned.
I only became aware of it because Catholic Safeguarding mentioned it and I had to request a copy from them! No other DLS survivor is aware of it that I know and I am in contact with numerous DLS survivors.
So how was it publicly released? I’ve tried a number of Google search terms and can find nothing. I’ve also checked a key Lasallian website and it’s not there either. Therefore:
It is NOT a public apology if the public can’t read it.
It is NOT a public apology if you apologise to yourself in private.
That appears to be what happened here – that it had a limited circulation to Catholic Safeguarding and similar bodies.
Therefore the DLS have done the minimum necessary and that is NOT a good sign for the future.
ALL DLS survivors need to read this apology.
Not just those who read my blog. The DLS survivors of St Ninian’s for example where a DLS brother who tortured children with electric shocks is being sentenced on November 3.
So I would ask the DLS and Catholic Safeguarding or journalists reading this blog, to make this apology more widely known.
THE NEXT STEP
In my view, a blanket statement and generalised apology as above is useful but not enough.
Especially where a particular school, like St Joseph’s College, Ipswich, was a proven hub for widespread sexual and extreme physical abuse, the apology needs to be specific.
And, indeed, for all survivors of DLS abuse.
And the DLS also need to back it up with deeds. Otherwise it’s meaningless just saying ‘sorry’ to multiple cases of extreme violence, torture, rape and sexual abuse. The deeds do not have to mean financial compensation necessarily. There are other ways of proving sincerity and I’ve suggested some to Safeguarding, in line with actions in the States against a Benedictine order there. That order have shown full transparency and compassion to survivors and that’s what I, for one, am looking for rather than cash. It could actually save the DLS money!
I have passed details of allegations of sexual and physical abuse by THIRTEEN DLS brothers and lay teachers and a school chaplain at St Joseph’s – and also at DLS schools elsewhere in Southern England – to Catholic Safeguarding.
They have in turn passed them to Operation Hydrant, the police force that deals with historic abuse.
As these 13 cases have already featured on my blog, and are thus already in the public domain, I can publish them again or forward them to any interested party. They include, of course: Brother Solomon aka The Swinging Monk aka Mike Mercado, Brother Kevin and Brother James.
And they also include a detailed account of just how the DLS covered up abusive crimes by their members.
To quote from it
‘What is abundantly clear to me is that it was not just one individual who was responsible for moving these monsters around to avoid detection, but an administrative organisation. Someone somewhere knew exactly what kind of person Brother Kevin was/is and actively appointed him in a position of trust and authority over young boys, some as young as 6 or 7 years old.’
Here’s what Safeguarding have told me: ‘I have forwarded it to Operation Hydrant and have asked for their comment and advice on any next steps.’
They have also told me that they will consider further steps regarding the DLS once Hydrant have looked into it. They had this to say:
‘As a police investigation is ongoing I would wish to see the outcome of this before the SCOE commission considers and determines what more needs to be done in respect of the issues you raise.’
I’d absolutely agree with this and can understand and appreciate we may now have to wait some time. Hydrant may or may not want further statements from survivors who have written to this site. These include myself. But I would also hope that the sheer volume of testimonies – combined with endless cases nationwide against the De La Salle order, historic and more recent- would indicate that corruption, cover-ups and abuse was clearly rife with no indication when it stopped and therefore today’s DLS order should be investigated at every level.
It should also be born in mind that the DLS today are still in charge of children. At what point in the past the DLS changed their ways – and why – I have no way of knowing.
CATHOLIC SAFEGUARDING’S RESPONSE TO THE DE LA SALLE APOLOGY
Catholic Safeguarding officer Rev. Des Bill alerted me to the existence of the apology when he said to me “It is disappointing if the statement recently issued by the order may not be seen, by victims and survivors, as acknowledging any abuse that may have been committed in any De La Salle school setting.”
‘Disappointing’ , to me, is a weaponised word. I and many others use it as a rebuke for conduct or responses we don’t like. I assume his rather oblique disappointment is with me personally.
One of my twitter followers also had this to say about his response: ‘That’s really **** lawyer-speak.’
What I took away from Bill’s response, rightly or wrongly, is that the view of Catholic Safeguarding is that DLS have apologized, we survivors should accept their minimal, general and unpublicized apology and that should be it.
In short, we (or perhaps me, personally) should be silent now at least until Hydrant reports and advises.
I can absolutely see Bill’s point of view, but in the interim there are other serious aspects to all this, some of which Safeguarding could deal with alone or at the very least acknowledge.
That hasn’t happened thus far.
THE RELATIONSHIP BETWEEN THE DE LA SALLES AND CATHOLIC SAFEGUARDING
I had thought that the reformed Catholic Safeguarding of today was there primarily to support survivors, rather than to safeguard the Church and its religious orders against survivors.
Des Bill’s statement above and the statement below indicates otherwise. Remarkably, he had this to say to me, without any evidence:
“I believe De La Salle are not distancing themselves from their responsibility and accountability for historic abuse at St Joseph’s or elsewhere.”
This indicates to me that Safeguarding are primarily supportive towards the De La Salles, rather than the survivors.
I have asked Des Bill for clear evidence when the DLS have been pro-active as he suggests, rather than distancing themselves.
This has not been forthcoming.
By comparison, I can provide endless clear evidence where the DLS have seriously distanced themselves from responsibility and accountability for their abuse.
Here’s the view of one survivor
Here’s an excerpt from this link:
I’ve asked for an education from the De La Salle order. I was treated with utter contempt by a representative. The order didn’t have the courage to meet with me in person, so they sent a messenger to scold and embarrass me. All I was asking for was a chance to be educated.
And here’s the opinion of a National Newspaper, Scottish Mail in 2003 on the DLS St Ninian’s case.
MONKS BID TO ROB VICTIMS OF JUSTICE
DE LA SALLE monks are trying to wash their hands of 200 sex abuse claims that could cost pounds 20million in compensation.
The order is using a technicality to try to stop a mass claim in a landmark civil court action.
They say cases dating back to the 1970s are timebarred and should have been raised within three years of any attack – or by the time victims were aged 19.
Here’s the Guardian in 2001 showing, once again, how the DLS are trying to distance themselves.
Former pupils at the school, which closed in 1982, have alleged they were tortured, beaten and sexually molested by a number of the monks and civilian staff.
A spokesman for the order said all the allegations were vigorously denied, and the home had been run in an “exemplary” manner.
(The account later continues)
“I was battered so many times on my head and ears I cannot hear a thing on my left side, and I’ve undergone extensive surgery because of it. There was a field next to the school with an electric fence. I saw the monks, on a number of occasions, forcing boys to grasp it until they cried out in pain.”
John McCormick, a Glasgow-based lawyer representing the De La Salle order, said the monks had cooperated fully with police. “Nobody has been charged,” he said. “The allegations are vigorously denied.
“All the evidence available to me indicates that St Ninian’s was run in an exemplary manner. Unlike those making the allegations and their advisers I will reserve any further comment until after the results of the civil action are known.”
Solicitor John McCormick’s dead father Frank was a governor of St Ninian’s at Gartmore, Stirlingshire.
McCormick has been blamed for labelling the victims attention seekers and accusing them of being motivated by greed.
He told the Catholic Observer: “There are many reasons why people make spurious allegations, including, of course, the obvious, a claim for compensation.
“There are also people with various attention-seeking psychological conditions.”
McCormick also battled to stop victims getting financial assistance to fund civil actions against the Catholic order despite their tormentors gaining Legal Aid to defend themselves in court.
He told the Scottish Legal Aid Board the De La Salle order never “owned, governed, or ran” the former List D Schools, St Mary’s Bishopbriggs, St Joseph’s, Tranent, St Nininan’s, Gartmore, or St John’s, Springboig.
Yet all of these schools were listed in the Scottish Catholic Directory as De La Salle Schools, and large number of Catholic Church heirarchy held responsible positions in them. “
Despite the efforts of the DLS and their front man McCormick, three men from St Ninians – including a DLS brother – have been found guilty of abuse and will be sentenced on November 3.
I pointed all the above ‘distancing’ out to Catholic Safeguarding and they have chosen not to respond.
THE TRUE FACE OF CATHOLIC SAFEGUARDING
I’m extremely grateful that Safeguarding have passed the charges to Hydrant. That is very positive! Neverthless it’s clear to me from the foregoing that Safeguarding are partisan towards the DLS and either dismissive of my objectives – truth and justice – or disbelieving of the questionable role of the DLS.
That is worrying.
I also found their attitude at odds with their mission statement:
Care and support of those who have been harmed by abuse with whom we build these relationships will be foremost, ensuring that any engagement does not create anxiety or the possibility of re-traumatisation for the individual involved. Positive engagement can be part of the healing process for the person who has been harmed by abuse and care will be taken to ensure that those we speak with are not adversely affected.
Suggestions from those who have been harmed by abuse will be welcomed and considered as part of the ongoing development of the safeguarding service.
I found Des Bill’s reponse to me extremely terse and hardly welcoming to the evidence I submitted to him. He also did not respond to important points I raised – separate to Hydrant and relevant for a response from Safeguarding alone.
The result was it was indeed retraumatising.
As a boy my claims of abuse by key figures in the Church were dismissed by Catholics in authority and here it was happening all over again. Hardly a unique story.
I also felt, rightly or wrongly, that he was exasperated by the sheer volume of claims against the DLS whom you can see for yourselves he clearly holds in some regard. Even in summary with links to more testimonies the document amounted to over 6,000 words. That’s a measure of just what we’re dealing with here and how very serious it is.
I’m hardly alone in my concerns. Other Catholic survivors have endlessly complained about the singular lack of compassion in their dealings with the Church. To also quote from IICSA’s report into the Catholic Church:
‘The support offered to victims which was in some cases entirely absent or, in one case, “grudgingly offered”.680.She told us that when reading the records she could feel “the compassion” for those accused of child sexual abuse.“When it came to the alleged victims, that was rarely visible in the reports. If there was consideration for their needs, it was rarely … with any sense of great compassion.”’
In my future dealings with Safeguarding, I will now have to sadly recognise that they remain part of the problem with the Catholic Church as well as being part of the solution.