THE IMPORTANCE OF FIGHTING BACK

The recent newspaper article about an abuse victim killing a 92 year old clerical abuser by shoving a crucifix down his throat made me reflect on the various ways Survivors fight back.

Sadly, fear and violence, horrible as this example is, is all these clerical abusers seem to understand. I wish it were otherwise, but in an age of endless cover-ups, when the current head of the Catholic Church – Pope Francis – is provably guilty of deliberately lying to cover up abuse – it’s inevitable.

See the final section of a French TV documentary (In English) Sex Abuse in the Church:  Code of Silence.

It’s well worth seeing because when the Pope is caught lying (Over the Grassi scandal), the guilt is clearly written all over his face. He’s caught red-handed and papal apologists will have to tie themselves into knots to excuse his reaction. Even Bill Donahue would have difficulty. I guess he’d just bluster and shout at the camera as he usually does.

But with a long line of Popes like Francis in charge, it sends a message to these perverts that what they’re doing is okay, and is tolerated and IMO, for which I have some evidence, is actually encouraged by the clerics at the top. Such priests are not abusing their vocation, as critics or defenders usually claim, because it’s actually part of their vocation.  I believe it’s always been part of the Church’s belief system. It’s actually no different to PIE (Paedophile Information Exchange) attempting to legitimise its crimes against children, and with a similar evil, if pseudo-spiritual, logic.

It’s never been one rotten apple in the barrel. When I was growing up, all the apples in the barrel were rotten and I very much doubt my parish was unusual. That’s when you start to realise the Church is actually like PIE; it’s hardwired into the religion itself. It’s something the media dare not say, because it’s thinking the unthinkable, but it seems blindingly obvious to me.

My own experience involved three parish priests based in Ipswich in the 1950s era, all three paedophiles: Canon Burrows, Father Wace, and Father Jolly – chaplain to St Joseph’s College.

So I thought I’d share three examples of fighting back against clerical abusers and how valuable it was for me personally. Even if I didn’t always win.

The one thing all three priests had in common was that they were English upper class, the product of Catholic public schools, and two of them, at least, were Knights of St Columba. (Canon Burrows and Father Jolly). I believe that their elite English Catholic background gave them a Droit du Seigneur and a pseudo-spiritual rationale for their crimes. 

For the sake of brevity, I’m just going to focus here on the fighting back, although I have extensive notes on all three individuals. I even hired a private detective to gather information on one of them. A useful and positive step, by the way, which I would recommend to Survivors.

So Canon Burrows first: parish priest at St Pancras, Ipswich. Burrows was a very close friend of my Irish widowed mother. He was always round our house, doing practical jobs, like rebuilding a fireplace. I was 5 years old when he bought me an expensive cowboy suit, amongst other gifts, and he always referred to me affectionately as ‘The Sheriff’. One wintry afternoon he drove me to a deserted lumber yard down by Ipswich docks where his ancient car broke down and it needed a hand crank start. I can still remember wanting to hit him with that crank handle. Instead, I remember kicking him (a valuable symbolic gesture in retrospect) and then I did a runner. Maybe because he called me ‘The Sheriff’, instead of going home, I went to the police station to report what had happened.  After all, that’s what a Sheriff would do.

I don’t remember the details, but I do recall vividly a kindly and positive response, where the cops made a real fuss of me. A classic Dixon of Dock Green cop brought me a cup of hot chocolate – a beverage I still drink today if I’ve had a shock. The official family story became that ‘I got lost’ and that’s how I ended up at the police station, because the truth was just too difficult for Catholics to deal with. Sadly, I doubt it was High Noon for Burrows – not in those days – but I think he may have been warned off.  Anyway, my experience at the police station was so encouraging, I believe that’s what’s turned me into a life-long whistleblower. They listened to my story and they believed me. That was very rare in the 50s. So I’m still grateful to the boys in blue and that’s why I’m writing this whistle-blowing post today.

The second was Father Harry Wace – he was Chaplain to Canon Burrows. He was from a wealthy military family – his father was a Lieutenant Colonel in a Sikh regiment of the Indian Army. His brother, too, was a priest. According to his obituary, Harry liked to wear dead priests clothes and his dead father’s suits.   As they were the same gender, I guess there’s nothing Norman Bates there. My mother was his housekeeper. So when I was around seven, I followed her around as she made Wace’s bed and folded his pyjamas. His pyjama jacket, casually left out on the unmade bed, was covered in the most amazing metal badges. A collector’s paradise. I was in awe and I can still recall that feeling of really coveting those super-cool badges. They were every young boy’s dream.

Wace was 28 years old at this time. He had been in the Rifle Brigade of the Suffolk Regiment and served in Palestine in the 1940s for two years.  So he was not some immature young Father Dougal from Father Ted.

That pyjama jacket would have been impossible to sleep in, but my mother simply smiled at me as she put his pyjamas away. She was surely a classic example of Stockholm Syndrome, which is how the Catholic Church got away with so much – and still does. They call their denial system – when faced with overwhelming evidence – the highly prized Gift of Faith. You believe in the Church, no matter what. Every Catholic aspires to it.

So then I joined the Catholic Cubs, which was run by Wace. He was Akela and all I can recall visually is a memory of his bare knees and his special Cubmaster grey socks.  The rest is still hazy but I guess he thought that my mother being a widow, I was fair game. But what he didn’t know was that although my legal father was dead, my biological father was still very much alive and would visit us from time to time as a family ‘friend’. He was from a working class background in Dublin and was fond of the notorious ‘Bucky’ – Buckfast Tonic Wine – the ultimate tongue loosener, which is how I knew that he was actually my dad.  So I told my dad – I blew the whistle on Wace – and, to my delight, he paid the priest  ‘a visit.’ I then mysteriously left the Cubs and Wace shortly afterwards left his chaplaincy at St Pancras church.

Filling in the gaps on these minimal details is conjecture but I believe it’s pretty close to the truth. Because, annoyingly, adults rarely tell kids what actually happens on these occasions. But it would certainly not have been a polite middle-class exchange of views! However, dad – under the influence of Bucky – once opened our front door with his shoulder, so I’m convinced he would have dealt with Wace in an appropriately ‘physical’ way. Even though he too was an Irish Catholic, there was no danger of him being affected by Stockholm Syndrome.

And that makes him quite unusual. In the same era, a middle-class dad gave his son a horrific beating for making up ‘terrible lies’ when he complained about the notorious Brother Solomon abusing him. And that was the usual reaction of parents in that time – the child must be punished for being a ‘malicious liar’ in order to protect the corrupt institution and corrupt individual.

What makes me know my dad was different and say this with conviction is the song, ‘Oh! My Papa’,  which was very popular in the 50s. When I listen to that song today, the tears stream down my face, but they are never tears of sadness or loss – which the words usually evoke for most people. (E.G. ‘Deep in my heart, I miss him so today.’). Instead, surprisingly, they are tears of happiness, of joy and celebration! Celebrating what? I’m pretty certain I’m celebrating dad’s visit to Father Wace. Dad may not have shoved a crucifix down Wace’s throat, but I like to think he gave that upper class pervert a good hiding, which he certainly deserved.  ‘Oh, my pa-pa, to me he was so wonderful.’ Thank you, dad.

And lastly we come to Father Jolly – the chaplain at St Joseph’s and my parish priest at St Marks. I would help him paint his yacht moored at Pin Mill, and he took me sailing as a reward. He also took other St Joseph’s pupils on sailing trips.  When he wasn’t buying me wooden clogs – one of several souvenirs he brought back from his visits to 1960s Amsterdam – and loaning me his 1930s super-long skis, he was part of a wider Catholic community of like-minded souls. This involved weekend ‘retreat’ trips away in his Hillman Minx car and I would sometimes accompany him. Once again the details are hazy, but let’s put it this way – I still have a fanatical hatred of Hillman Minx cars, specifically their dashboards, which I’d still like to smash with a hammer. Because when you can’t attack a perpetrator, you displace the anger onto a nearby inanimate object.

But kids’ revenge is sometimes as devious, ingenious, nasty and – most important – deniable as the groomers’ actions themselves, and this needs honouring and recording. So here’s a case in point. A friend of mine, who I’ll call Paul, also knew Jolly very well, disliked him intensely for some mysterious reason, and – in recent years – described to me an incident which I had no knowledge of at the time.

Paul related how he and his friends, all fellow pupils at St Joseph’s,  (not in my class) ‘made a pipe bomb and blew up the remains of an old tree in Father Jolly’s orchard.’

Why?

‘Because we were interested in chemistry.’

(Next time I see Paul I must ask him if Mike Kearney was their teacher – although I doubt their bomb would qualify for his memorial prize.)

So I quizzed Paul further. He and his friends bought all these specialist ingredients to make a bomb. But why choose Father Jolly’s orchard of all places to detonate it?

Paul shrugged his shoulders. ‘I don’t know,’ he said, his sphinx-like face giving nothing away.

Any old boy of St Joseph’s from our era will tell you that Jolly’s orchard was small – it was just a garden, really, overlooked by Jolly’s house – and it was so close to the school that the risk of being caught was high. If you’re going in for crazy chemistry experiments, as kids used to do, there were other places nearby where you could carry them out without any fear of discovery.

I tried interrogating Paul again.  ‘Was Jolly there at the time? What was his reaction to you exploding a bomb near his house?’ I was wasting my breath. I doubt Paul would break, even under waterboarding. He came back with his standard reply whenever I push him too hard for details about his days at  St Joseph’s.

‘It was so long ago, I don’t remember now,’ he said, his face a picture of complete innocence.

Fair enough. So I’ve filled in the blanks myself, and a fictional version features in my novel ‘Serial Killer’. Doubtless you can reach your own conclusions.

Bottom line on all this?  Kids do hit back in their own unique ways and we need to remember their victories over the priests, teachers and De La Salle brothers in Ipswich, cowards who have otherwise largely escaped justice.

This is because of a Catholic Diocese that has shown zero interest in historic crimes by its priests. Instead, it does a Pontius Pilate and refers them to the police, which is all too often wasting valuable police time as the crimes are historic and, invariably, there’s nothing the police can do. But they still have to look at every case passed to them. I’ve personally found the police as supportive today as when I was six years old.

In a similar way, the De La Salle brothers are still going strong, but the organisation also ignores the numerous historic crimes its order are notorious for. Unless they’re fetched. Then, of course, they will wring their hands with expressions of regret which I doubt fools anyone, including themselves. 

Meanwhile, St Joseph’s maintains its links with its past  (e.g.  a sadistic teacher like Kearney. See an earlier post), but otherwise does a complete Pontius Pilate while at the same time proudly proclaiming that it is ‘In the La Sallian Tradition’.

Which particular aspect of the tradition would that be?  As a Survivor, that means something quite negative and disturbing to me.

Yet the reaction of Catholic authority is hardly surprising when the Pope, their leader is caught lying on camera. He is clearly telling Catholic perpetrators: ‘It’s okay to lie. I’m on your side.’ Stockholm Syndrome, cognitive dissonance, or whatever you choose to call it, is still as potent today as it ever was.

But we don’t have to always talk about all this in sad, hushed tones as stereotypically represented in the media. These sick individuals, when they’re still alive, probably enjoy that because it means they still have the power and power is ultimately what all this is about.  Especially when – as the facts have shown time and again – they’re still protected by their Pope, despite his phoney words to the contrary.

Naming and shaming them is one way of us taking back our power and I’m looking forward to doing more of the same shortly. There are other ways, too – like suing them or their organisation or having abusers arrested and banged up before they can plead senility. If you’re a Survivor, whichever path you decide to take, I wish you luck and can assure you it will be worth it. 

Because you’re fighting back.