Extract from 'The Devil's Advocate - Child abuse and the men in black'
by Graham Wilmer MBE
For my friend Noel Swift and the many other brave survivors who helped me write this book.
CTRUK - The Commission for Truth and Reconciliation
The months rolled on, and the number of victims contacting the Lantern Project continued to rise, not just victims of abuse at Salesian schools, but from all over the country. They all told the same story, albeit in different forms, but essentially, they were all the same, and they were all suffering in the same way, years after the abuse had stopped. One of the most saddening aspects of the stories recounted to me was the loneliness and isolation that all victims said they suffered from, something I knew only too well from my own experiences. It began to dawn on me that the scale of abuse was so huge, we needed a national commission to expose what was, in effect, a national health epidemic in our country, albeit one which no government seemed to be willing to admit to. I new that this was not something I could achieve on my own, but It may be possible to get others to lend me their support, which I could then use to float the concept in front of Ministers, but first I would need to gather support for the idea from people who had influence, and to do that, I would need to put together a concept document, which I did on a website: www.ctruk.org.uk, which my son Rory set up for me:
The Commission for Truth and Reconciliation UK
Statement of purpose:
‘Since the foundation of The Lantern Project in 2003, we have worked with hundreds of victims of sexual abuse, the majority of who were abused during their childhood. The psychological and emotional damage caused by the abuse they suffered has affected them throughout their lives, but, until they made contact with us, they have had little if any help in dealing with the aftermath of the trauma forced upon them.
In recent months, much attention has been focused on the extent of child abuse perpetrated by Roman Catholic priests in Eire, and more recently, in Germany and the Netherlands, investigations have begun into the extent of child abuse by Catholic priests within those countries.
Since June 1994, when paedophile priest Father Brendan Smith was sentenced to four years in prison for the abuse of children in Northern Ireland, there have been three major reports into the abuse of children at the hands of Ireland’s Catholic clergy:
October 2005 the Ferns report detailed extensive child abuse and the cover-up of paedophile activity in the southeast of Ireland.
November 2005 Judge Yvonne Murphy was appointed to head a commission of investigation into clerical child abuse in the Dublin diocese, which concluded today.
May 2009 the Ryan report detailing abuse at orphanages and industrial schools run by Catholic religious orders across the state was published.
In this country, in 2000, the Catholic Church commissioned Lord Nolan to investigate child abuse by Catholic priests here, which resulted in various recommendations, subsequently adopted by the Church, the aim of which was, essentially, to stop future abuse taking place by improved safeguarding policies and procedures, but not to address and repair the damage of abuse already committed. The Anglican Church is also engaged in similar efforts to investigate abuse by Anglican priests.
What has not happened in this country, but which is much needed, is a wider inquiry into the extent of childhood sexual abuse in the country as a whole, not just within religious organisations, and the establishment of better support for victims to help them deal with the long-term impact and consequences of the abuse they suffered.
The purpose of this initiative is to persuade the British government to establish a commission to do just that. If you would like to take part in this initiative, either as a victim, or in any other capacity, please complete the declaration of interest, and we will get back to you.
The CTRUK concept had three aims:
1. To provide a non-judgmental forum through which victims of sexual abuse can submit testimony, in person or by other means, to enable their voices to be heard and the harm they suffered acknowledged and responded to.
2. To evaluate the damage caused to victims of sexual abuse over their lifetime, and to quantify its true cost to individuals and to our society.
3. To develop and effect the delivery of a comprehensive therapeutic intervention and support programme that will enable victims to reach a nationally recognised and measurable standard for recovery.’
In March 2010, having set up the web site, I began to contact people of influence whom I thought would respond to the idea. First on my list was, of course, the head of the Salesians in the UK, Fr Michael Winstanley, a man I had come to trust over the years; in spite all of the wrongs the Salesians had done to me. He responded to the idea by saying that he thought I should talk to the Catholic Church itself, and that I should write to the Archbishop of Westminster, Vincent Nichols. I did, but the Archbishop was look-warm to the idea, although he asked me to take it up with the Chairman of the National Catholic Safeguarding Commission (NCSC), Bill Kilgallon, ‘who I am sure will give this matter careful consideration.’
I also wrote to the Pope: ‘Your Grace – I write to you as a survivor of sexual abuse in my childhood, at the hands of members of your church. My story has been told before, but my struggle for justice goes on, as does the struggle for the hundreds of other survivors, who sought my help after my story was published. Despite the recommendations of the Nolan Review and the Cumberlege Commission, we are still meeting hostility, obfuscation and denial from your bishops and safeguarding officers, as we seek the reconciliation and healing we need to enable us to move on. What we lack is the support of an independent commission, with the credibility and experience to act as a forum for all victims of child abuse in the UK; a place where victims can disclose the harm done to them without fear, shame or prejudice, have their experiences recognised and accepted, and seek and obtain the therapeutic support they need to recover. I have laid out the rational for such a commission on a web site: www.ctruk.org.uk. You have the power to enable such a commission to be created. All that is needed is a single sentence of support from you, no more, no less. I ask you, therefore, to help me help those who still suffer in silence and in darkness, so they may be guided through their turmoil and be, once more, free to achieve their potential, as they were once, briefly, in childhood, before your priests laid waste to their futures.’
The Pope did not reply, and Archbishop Nichols made no further comment. However, Bill Kilgallon, Chairman of the NCSC, along with his colleague, Adrian Child, the Chief Executive of the Catholic Safeguarding Advisory Service (CSAS), invited myself, and a number of other survivor groups, to attend a meeting in London to ‘explore how we might work together.’ There were meant to be three of these meetings, but, it soon became clear, after the first meeting, that the Catholic Church was trying to use us to improve their media image over their lack of support for victims of church abuse. I urged Vincent Nichols to work with us to clear up some of the mistrust that was emerging:
28th March 2011
‘Dear Archbishop Nichols
A year ago, you kindly suggested that I make contact with Bill Kilgallon, the then Chairman of NCSC, to discuss my proposals to establish a national commission for truth and reconciliation for all victims of childhood sexual abuse in the UK.
David Williams (Co-founder of The Lantern Project) and I subsequently met with Bill on a number of occasions, to discuss our proposals and seek his support, which he gave, albeit on the understanding that he had very little influence, and would therefore be unlikely to be able to help us move our proposals forward.
However, in July of last year, we were invited by Adrian Child and Bill Kilgallon to attend a meeting, with a number of other survivor groups, to explore how the Catholic Church, through NCSC and CSAS, could reach out to victims, and develop a more appropriate response to their needs. The meeting did not achieve very much, save to highlight the extent of the differences in the way we all felt about what should be done to improve the way the Church was acting towards victims.
To help move the process forward, I wrote the attached paper ‘Working Together To Support Victims Of Childhood Sexual Abuse’, which was circulated at the subsequent meeting of the NCSC and CSAS in February of this year. The paper was responded to by Sr Jane Bertelsen, on behalf of NCSC, who said “It is impossible to read (the document) without a deep sense of regret, sadness and shame. This is work we want to learn from and support in every way we can and it confirms our determination to change things.”
This is encouraging, but the pace of change is proving to be painfully slow, with actual progress being rather hard to illustrate. Could I ask you, therefore, to read my paper, and add your support to it, in a way that would allow me to explain to others, including the press and government ministers, that I have your personal blessing, and that of the Church itself, to move our proposition forward, by bringing it into the wider public arena. Such support from you would allow me to knock on the doors of those who do actually have the influence that Bill Kilgallon said he did not have, which is what is required to enable us to widen the support we give to the many victims we support, and to the many others who are still locked in silence and fear, not knowing who to turn to or how, in order that they may find a way to come to terms with their ordeals, and, in doing so, recover from the trauma they have suffered. With all best wishes - Graham Wilmer - Founder The Lantern Project.’
This is an extract from the paper I sent to Archbishop Nichols:
Working together to support victims of
Childhood Sexual Abuse
A proposal for discussion with NCSC/CSAS and Partners.
WARNING: THIS DOCUMENT CONTAINS EXPLICIT DISCLOSURE DETAILS OF SEXUAL ABUSE.
For victims, overcoming the many challenges of childhood sexual abuse requires more than their individual courage. With the right kind of support, it is possible, but that support is very hard to find, so the majority of victims continue to suffer in silence for most of their lives, at a cost to themselves and to society at large that is simply unacceptable.
Working with the Churches to overcome the many obstacles that stand in our way, we could make a real difference to the lives of victims, and to our society, but this will require collective courage, of a kind that that is usually only found in times of disaster. Child abuse is just that, a disaster. So let us act together with courage to put things right.
Proposition: The purpose of this document is to propose working with the Churches together to determine a complete understanding of the impact and legacy of childhood sexual abuse, with the sole aim of developing and implementing a practical, holistic and sustainable recovery process through which truth, reconciliation and healing can be achieved for victims, their families, the Churches and society at large.
Since the foundation of the Lantern Project in 2000, I have worked with more than 2000 victims of childhood sexual abuse. The hundreds of similar support groups that exist in the UK and elsewhere have also supported many thousands of other victims. In England and Wales, the Survivors Trust represents the majority of these support groups at national level, enabling us to get on with the work of supporting victims in our local areas, while TST engage legislators and other influencers on our behalf.
The nature of our work (I only speak for the LP here) has varied widely, depending on the type of support we have been asked to provide. In some cases our support has involved assessing the needs of victims, referred to us by GPs and local psychology services, based on disclosures those victims were able to make to us, but unable to make, for whatever reason, to their GP or counsellor.
In other cases, we have only become involved when police have asked us to accompany victims to court for the duration of trials, where their abusers have been prosecuted. This has inevitably led us to provide on-going support, long after the trails have been concluded and the police have gone away.
In other cases, we have been asked by the prison service and NOMS National Offender Management Service) to spend time in prisons, talking to prisoners who have harmed themselves because no one would listen to, or could deal with, their disclosures of abuse, suffered in childhood, which, in the majority of the cases we worked with, also had a direct causal link to their subsequent offending behaviour.
We have also attended psychiatric hospitals and A&E departments, to support victims who have attempted suicide, no longer able to cope with the symptoms of depressive illness and post-traumatic stress disorder, which they were suffering from, as the result of mental breakdown, often due to the re-emergence of their childhood abuse memories.
We have also acted as mediators for victims who have wanted to confront the organisations, where they had been abused as children, work which has involved us with the Churches, care homes, social services and the criminal and civil justice systems, all of which has been technically challenging and extremely difficult.
EXAMPLE: 1 as an example of the difficulties we have faced, I have the permission of Noel Swift to discuss his case with you. Noel was sexually abused over a prolonged period by his local parish priest, at Christ The King Catholic Church in Bedford, England in the 1960s.
This is his testimony: Statement by Noel Swift about the sexual offences committed against me by Fr John Parr in Bedford, England, which took place in the Roman Catholic Church of Christ The King, Harrowden Rd, Bedford, and in Fr Parr’s house and in other places in the locality, between 1965 and 1968.
This testimony is a true account of the sexual offences committed against me by Fr John Parr, while he was parish priest at the Roman Catholic Church of Christ The King, in Bedford, England.
The abuse began shortly after I went with my mother to talk with Fr Parr about what was going on with my father. My dad was a great provider but a weekend drunk. My mother was at her wits end with what He was doing. I was 10 years old at that time (1965). Why I was picked to go with her to this day, I don’t know?
The abuse started soon after that. At first it was very soft and caring He would tell me that He knew all about my father’s problems with drinking. He would tell me that he really cared for me and that he wanted the best for me. We would walk down to the Moors and look for blackberries and birds nests, as I had told him that my brother and me collected birds’ eggs.
The first time anything real happened was in a field near the moors we were sitting down in the long grass looking at a skylark hovering in the sky he told me to come closer and watch the bird start to land that it would land away from the nest and run up to it so as to lead predators away.
He pulled me onto his lap and slid his hand up my trouser leg and started to rub me on my upper leg and then went all the way up to my penis. He undid my belt and top button on my trousers and pulled them down and then my underpants were pulled down.
He rubbed my penis and my bum for a long time, and then I got what felt like an electrical shock. He said to me “Your daddy does not love you like this does He?” I said “No Father.” He then said, “Your daddy does not make you feel like this either, does He?” I replied “No Father.” He told me to get dressed and then He wanted me to listen carefully to what he was gong to tell me.
He said that I was very special and that he wanted to take care of me, but I must promise not to tell anyone about what we did or where we went, for if I did I would ”….go to Limbo for a thousand years.” I made the promise; we left the moors and I walked home.
After the first time the abuse became a regular occurrence. I would meet him after school or after Mass, as I was an Altar boy and I also sang in the Choir.
The places changed, but the abuse always went the same: up on his knee, then his hand would move gentle up my leg to my penis, and he would start to rub it, while telling me that I was his “special boy.” Then he would ask me to do the same to him. At first I could not do it, but then he would take out his penis and put it in my hand and tell me to pull it back and forward. When we were done, he would always end with “Your daddy does not love you like this, does he?”, and then the warning not to say anything to anyone.
I was taken on numerous occasions to his bedroom, where he would lay me on the bed, take of my clothes and perform oral sex on me, putting my penis is his mouth, and when he was done, asking me to do the same to him. I could not put his penis in my mouth I think it was the smell of it that just wouldn’t let me do it.
I was also taken to the church sacristy, where he would dress me in vestments, and call me his “little boy priest”, then, he would lift up the cassock, pull down my trousers and underpants and put my penis into his mouth. On of the times we were in the sacristy, and he was performing oral sex on me, his housekeeper came in. She stood there just watching, then, without saying a word, she just turned around and left the room, as if nothing was going on.
There was a time when we were on the moors, and after he had done all the things that I have written above to me, as I was walking home, an older boy appeared and said to me “I have seen what you did with Father - now you are going to do it with me.” He was riding a bike, so I took the pump and began to hit him with it until his face and nose were bleeding. I threw the pump down and ran home. One of the things that truly bothers me about this episode is that I could say ‘NO’ to the older boy, but yet I would let Fr Parr do whatever he wanted to me.
Another thing that happened, frequently, was the punishment I would get for coming home late from school, because I had been with Fr Parr. I could not tell my mother or father that I had been with Fr Parr; because of the promise he made me keep. So I would get a beating with a belt from my father, and then be sent up to my bedroom. Other times, I was hit for having dirt on my trousers, because of the grass stains; so it was go with Fr Parr, get assaulted by him sexually, and then go home and get hit and kicked for getting home late, and having dirt on my clothes or socks.
The things that Fr Parr did to me, not only traumatised me and ruined my education, but also resulted in me have to leave home at a very early age, and the only place I could really go was to join the Military, which is what I did. I stayed away from Bedford as much as I could; became a soldier and became very good at what ever I needed to do to be safe and survive. Life meant nothing to me.
Since then, as you already know, I have suffered very considerably through the rest of my life, from the long-term impact of the abuse I suffered as a child. And I am continuing to suffer because of the way the diocese has treated me since 2004, when I came back to the UK to ask you for help. Noel Swift – 14th September 2010’
To understand Noel’s last paragraph, you also need to read the following letter to Bishop Peter Doyle, Bishop of Northampton, written by Noel as part of the disclosure process I helped him with.
‘Dear Bishop Peter
Further to my last letter, I have begun the process of producing a detailed account of the abuse I suffered at the hands of Fr Parr; the impact it had on me over the course of my life, and the subsequent difficulties I have experienced in my quest to seek justice and recovery from all I have endured.
In writing my testimony, it has become clear that to try and put the whole story into a single letter to you would require much of the detail to be condensed to a point that it would fail to get across to you the full nature of what was happened, and why you need to reassess your approach to dealing with me, not just for my sake, but to enable you and the Diocese to have a more comprehensive understanding of child abuse, and, as a result, be able to develop more appropriate procedures when dealing with victims. Graham Wilmer, who, as you know, has been helping me for some time now, is also currently working to develop just such procedures, as it is recognised that the way individual bishops are currently deal with child abuse is a long way short of what is required, and my case is one of several that from the basis of Graham’s work, more about which you will hear from Graham directly.
So then, having decided that I will write my full testimony in a number of separate parts, so that the complete detail can be included, the purpose of writing to you today is to deal with what happened when I came over in October 2004, the history of which you say you are not familiar with, according to your letter, in which you said: ‘The diocesan file contains some differing and confusing accounts of what happened surrounding your next visit to the UK in October 2004 but it appears that there were some misunderstandings regarding where certain meetings were to take place with the result that those meetings did not take place at all.
This is what actually happened: I came to the UK with my niece, Andrea, to attend a meeting at the bishop’s house. When we arrived, we were asked to wait in the hall while they talked. A young priest then showed us into the office, where Virginia Bird, Mons McDermott and Sean Healy, the Acting Bishop, were waiting for us. I knew Sean from childhood, of course, as we had served as altar boys together. As soon as we entered the room, Sean Healy came over to me and I handed him a 3-page letter from my therapist telling him why I needed to come back to UK. He read the letter slowly; looked at me, read some more then folded it up and put it in his jacket. He made no comment about the letter. I suspected then that the visit was going to be a waste of time.
We sat down and Sean Healy asked me to tell him what Fr Parr had done to me. I told him in detail what had happened, and asked him if he was shocked about this? He replied: “Well Noel, it depends on how you define the word ‘shocked.” He then went on to tell me that there had been the other allegations against Fr Parr. In particular, he disclosed to me that Fr Parr had had a long-standing sexual relationship with his housekeeper. This, of course, is at odds with the statement in your letter: “there was no record of any other complaints having been made against Father Parr. “
I asked Sean Healy what had happened to Fr Parr’s vow of celibacy? He did not answer me. My niece then asked “what are all of you present in this room doing for victims like my uncle and others like him?” They gave virtually no answer, so she said: “You are not doing anything”, and she started to cry.
At this point, I said that this meeting was over, and we then arranged to meet again with Sean Healy at some of the places Fr Parr had abused me, including the priest’s house (Christ The King Church), which was what Sean Healy had suggested we do when he had phoned me prior to me coming over to the UK. We then exchanged phone numbers – Healy took my niece’s mobile phone number and mine and I took his office number.
On the day of the meeting (two days later), my niece and I went to the agreed place and time of the meeting - Bedford bus station. We arrived there twenty minutes early, and we waited around for two hours, and made a total of nine phone calls – to his office, to the bishop’s house, to Virginia Bird’s office and to Christ The King church. We got no response from any of these places.
We then left the bus station and went to Christ The King Church, in case that is where Sean Healy might have gone. When we got there, I knocked on the door of he priest’s house, and Fr Brendan Gorman came to the door. He was the current Parish Priest. I introduced my niece and myself, and He asked me if I was related to Bridget Swift – who had just passed away? I said yes, she was my mother. He said she was well respected in the parish. I then told him why I was there. He asked me in and I told him what had been done to me by Fr Parr. He appeared genuinely caring. I told him we were there to meet Healy. He said he would call Healy to see where he was. He did, but no one knew where he was. He then said he would call Mrs Dunne – a friend, who Healy would always go to see when ever he came to Bedford - to see if he was there.
She said she knew nothing about him coming to Bedford that day. Fr Brendon asked me how old I was when Fr Parr had abused me. He then said that would all fit into a time line. I asked him what did he mean? He said that at that time the then bishop was being elevated, and he would not have wanted any stain on things at that time. He went through the scenario – I told him that he had abused me in the house – so he said where, and I described to him every room in the house from memory. He said we could go over to the house and I could make my peace. I asked him if he knew about a place in ‘Aylesbury’, which is where I had been told they had sent Parr for treatment? When I had previously asked Healy about this, he had always denied that there was any such place, let alone a place where Fr Parr had been sent for treatment. Fr Brendon replied: “Noel it’s Aylesford not Aylesbury - and it does exist.” (I have subsequently talked to the director of the Aylesford Centre, John Roberts, and he has confirmed exactly what they do there.) Fr Brendon then asked me to disclose more details about what Parr did to me, so I told him what had happened with my mother, which is this: During a meeting with Fr Parr, my mother had asked me to tell Fr Parr about my ‘dream.’ I said no, at first, but she forced me to tell him about the ‘dream’ I had told her I kept having. I said that I had dreamt that I was dressed in priest’s clothes, but I was only a boy at the time. Fr Parr went ballistic at this point telling me I was “wicked” and all sorts of other angry things – how dare I say such a thing - only an ordained priest can wear holy vestment. My mother was looking amazed at this exchange. She, of course, did not know that Fr Parr had dressed me in priest’s vestments when he abused me.
Not long after that meeting, Fr Parr was sent away. Fr Brendan told me that after I had confronted Parr about the dream, he had probably gone to the bishop and told him what had been going on – but the bishop was not going to have any scandal to mar his tenure, so Fr Parr was moved to Aylesford for treatment. The police, of course, were not told anything about this. I told him that Healy had said he was going to come and pray with me in Jubilee Park, where Parr had also abused me. Fr Brendon said we could go now – which we did, and he prayed with me at some of the places I was abused. Fr Brendan became concerned, and told me to be careful. He then blessed us both and we got in the car and left.
We tried to call Healy several times again, but he would not come to the phone. I eventually got through by pretending to be someone else, and I asked him why he had not come to the meeting. He said that he had gone there and he had waited for three hours! When I asked why he had not come to the priest’s house, he gave a nervous laugh and said, “I don’t know.” He gave me the same answer to the question “why did you not phone the priest's house?” I then said “Sean – if you only knew how angry you are making me by laughing at me?” He said he was not laughing at me, so I asked him why he had not told me that Fr Parr had been sent to Aylesford and not Aylesbury as I had thought? I said to Healy you knew that when I was saying Aylesbury that it was Aylesford so why did you not say so? He said he did not know. I said I am done here and the next time I call you it will be through a lawyer.
I then called Virginia Bird, and told her and told her the same thing – she responded in a really snide way, telling me not to waste my time, as “no court would sue a dead man.” I said I was going to sue the diocese – she said I would bankrupt the diocese and how dare I do that – she never once tried to be kind to me, so I hung up. Just before I left the UK, Sean Healy called me and said he had a cheque for me to cover my ‘expenses’, which he wanted to give me. I told him that I did not want to meet with him, so please would he post it to me at home in the USA. To this day, I have never received the cheque.
In Dec 2004, I got a call from Virginia Bird after I had left a message on her phone to say I had hired lawyer. She said to me that I was “the antichrist”, and that my therapy (which you had organised the payment for) had turned me into this. She also condemns my therapist saying that he was turning me against the Church. I mentioned another of Parr’s victims – MD, to which she said: “MD was a very troubled boy and that if he thought he could get money from the diocese by saying He was abused by Fr Parr, he would be the first to do that.”
(I spoke to MD in 2005, after tracing him, with the help of an old friend MT. I told him what Bird had said and he laughed. I asked him if Parr had abused him and he said he didn’t want to go into that now as it was in his passed. He was happily married and had a 26yr old daughter and a Grandchild He did not attempt to try and say no he had not abuse him.
Virginia Bird then tried to warn me off talking to the Observer – she started shouting at me and said: “I better be very carful what I told the Newspapers because they would not want to print gossip.” I said to Her "So you are saying all I have told the Diocese is just gossip" She replied with "No that is not what I mean, Just that the Newspaper will fact check your story" I said to her great that is what I want them to do. At this she said "If you think you are gong to get millions, from us, like those yanks – you are wrong. She kept asking: “What more do you want from us?” I hung up because she would not leave it alone. I was told subsequently to desist from trying to contact Bishop McDonald.
MT who had helped me find MD subsequently told me that he did not want anything more to do with me again. Someone had got to him (it turns out he was responsible for church buildings in Bedford). Fr Brendan also told me subsequently in a phone call to “forget it – the past is the past”. He said he couldn’t talk to me anymore. Had you got to him as well?
I will end here, for now, as the whole process of writing this is difficult and distressing, however, I realise that it needs to be done, if you are going to have a better understanding of what I have been through at the hands of so many people in the diocese.
I ask you to reflect on this, and I will write to you again soon, with other aspects of the trauma I have been through. In the meantime, I hope you will ask those involved to confirm what I have said here, and think again about your statement: “Nor will I agree to any further formal procedure such as mediation or arbitration which you are demanding in order to gain financial compensation from the diocese.”
There has to be some form of structure to the dialogue between us, so if mediation is not an acceptable way forward for you, please will you let me know how else you propose to settle this? Yours sincerely - Noel Swift’
EXAMPLE 2. My own abuse began at a Catholic school run by the Salesian of Don Bosco, the full story of which has been well documented over the past five years in books, magazines, newspapers and on national TV and radio, so I do not intend to go through it again here. However, after my first book was published, numerous other victims of abuse in other Salesian schools in England came forward and told me their stories. This led to a number of revelations and police investigations into numerous allegations of sexual abuse of children in Salesian schools in England, spanning decades and involving many Salesian priests, including a Provincial of the Salesian Order.
The difficulties faced by myself and these other victims when trying to engage the Salesian Order has clearly demonstrated (as in Noel Swift’s case) that, despite the fact that these difficulties have all happened post Nolan (which was itself instrumental in the eventual creation of NCSC and now CSAS), there is still no agreed or practiced set of protocols or procedures, geared towards the needs of the victims, that are exercised when individual victims come forward. Instead, victims are met with a wall of obfuscation, denial and legal frustration, all of which is designed to protect the institutions at the cost of the victims, and the cost can be very significant in terms of the additional damage it does to the victims, damage that, to date, has not been recognised either in law, or by the institutions involved. This must change.
To illustrate this second example, I have been given permission by a fellow Salesian victim, to share the following letter:
10th November 2010
Fr. Martin Coyle SDB Provincial
Dear Fr Coyle
I am writing to ask for your help in getting a response from the headmaster or the chair of governors of Salesian College Battersea, in response to my claim for the harm I suffered, as a result of being sexually and physically abused at the school by Fr X and Mr X, while I was a pupil there between 1967 and 1970. After a meeting with your Safeguarding Coordinator in May, where I disclosed to her what had happened to me, I was asked to think about what I wanted to happen next and let her know, which I did in the form of a letter, dated 8th September. On 27th September, I received the following e-mail from her:
I'm contacting you again to follow up my previous Emails .The Salesians apologise for the delay in responding to your letter dated 8th September, which I forwarded on to them. Fr Tom Williams is now the Salesian who has responsibility for safeguarding matters. However, unfortunately, he is out of the country, and won't be back until after 6th October. I will ask him on his return to make contact with you. As you are aware the Salesians are a registered charity, which means that if they receive a claim for compensation they are required to seek legal advice as to how they should respond. In order not to cause further delay this process has been initiated and you may also receive a solicitor's response to your compensation claim. This is the due process which I'm sure Graham will explain further to you if needed. The Salesians have asked me to let you know that they wish you to have pastoral support at this time. Please do contact me if you wish to discuss this further.’
I subsequently received a letter from your lawyers, informing me that the Salesians of Don Bosco bore no responsibility for what happened to me, and that it was a matter for the board of governors. Although I disagree with that view, I subsequently wrote to Mr McCann, the headmaster, and that was the last I heard from anyone. You will understand that the wishes you expressed for me to have pastoral support has so far amounted to nothing. I feel totally abandoned now, particularly as your safeguarding coordinator has now also written to Graham Wilmer, who has supported me from the outset, and told him that he should withdraw his support for me, as she says he is not impartial! This apparent wall of silence is very difficult for me to deal with, as it is generating feelings within me that are so similar to the awful silence I have had to live with for years, not wanting to tell anyone what happened for fear of being ridiculed and humiliated all over again, but that is exactly how I am feeling now, so will you please tell me what is going on, and ask Mr McCann to write to me as well and let me know what the position is.
Yours sincerely X
These examples show very clearly that the recommendations put forward by Lord Nolan in 2000 have had very little, if any, real benefit for victims of childhood sexual abuse, committed by Catholic priests, or others working in Catholic run institutions.
NEXT STEPS: In the Spring of 2010, the Lantern Project put forward an initiative for consideration by government, the basic concepts of which were as follows:
1. To provide a non-judgmental forum through which victims of sexual abuse can submit testimony in person or by other means to enable their voices to be heard and the harm they suffered acknowledged and responded to.
2. To evaluate the damage caused to victims of sexual abuse over their lifetime, and to quantify its true cost to individuals and to our society.
3. To develop and effect the delivery of a comprehensive therapeutic intervention and support programme that will enable victims to reach a nationally recognised and measurable standard for recovery.
We sought the support of a number of influential people in government and among the religious. The Archbishop of Westminster, Vincent Nichols, indicated his support in principle, and asked me to contact the Chair of NCSC, Bill Kilgallon, to develop the concept further. I did this, but so far, nothing has come of our discussions, for a range of reasons, not least of which, has been the lack of any effective communications mechanism that we can engage with.
As said at the beginning of this paper, my purpose to propose working with the Churches together to determine a complete understanding of the impact and legacy of childhood sexual abuse, with the sole aim of developing and implementing a practical, holistic and sustainable recovery process through which truth, reconciliation and healing can be achieved for victims, their families, the Churches and society at large.
I am asking you, therefore, to incorporate these ideas into the developing work of the NCSC and the CSAS, supported by survivors groups, to achieve these objectives for the benefit of us all.
Founder – The Lantern Project.
27th January 2011.’
The Archbishop refused to meet us, saying that we should ‘continue to work with his Commission,’ but as the Guardian reported on October 2011, the talks broke down:
Shiv Malik - The Guardian, Friday 14 October 2011 17.41 BST
‘Abuse victims accuse Catholic Church of using talks as a smokescreen. Negotiations on a support package for victims are on the verge of breaking down after two survivors' groups pull out’
Negotiations on delivering a package of care for English and Welsh victims of sexual abuse by Roman Catholic priests are on the verge of collapse after survivor organisations accused the church of using the discussions as a smokescreen for inaction.
Two groups have pulled out of discussions led by the National Catholic Safeguarding Commission (NCSC) and the Catholic Safeguarding Advisory Service (CSAS), describing them as shambolic, toothless and unlikely to achieve anything by May 2012, when the pope's deadline for a progress report expires.
Graham Wilmer, who heads the Lantern Project and was himself abused by a Catholic priest as a teenager, said: "We were prepared to talk to [the institution] that had harmed us, even though it was uncomfortable, because the end of it should be worthwhile," he said. "[But] we can't trust them. What has effectively has happened is nothing."
Wilmer said the talks were meant to create "a comprehensive support package" for victims of sexual abuse by clergy but there was still no system in place for a victim to request support by telephone and that calls were answered by lawyers for the church's insurance company.
Archbishop Vincent Nichols, the head of the Roman Catholic church in England and Wales, declined to meet Wilmer or the forum before the two groups walked out.
Wilmer said another aggravating factor for his organisation was that the church had continued to oppose victims seeking compensation over the past year.
He said: "There certainly is the intention to deliver what looks like an attempt to produce a better response to victims of abuse, but when you test it, you just end up with a bunch of lawyers … they [the Catholic church] are not prepared to deal with the victims of its abuse in any way other than to fight them through the courts."
Dr Margaret Kennedy, founder of Minister and Clergy Sexual Abuse Survivors (Macsas), has also pulled out of the talks, describing them as "a complete shambles". She said: "Macsas has always been very uncomfortable with this particular group, partly because it started off with no aims and objectives and no money on the table… to put [recommendations] into place."
She said church representatives "were continually refusing to even mention clergy abuse" in the meetings, preferring to widen out their remit to all survivors of abuse in society.
"We said: 'Isn't your first response to the victims of clergy abuse whom your priests have raped and tortured?' … And they didn't want to talk about that. 'You're not the only victims of abuse' was the message we basically got," she said.
Kennedy said that one of the group's purported aims, to "reconcile" victims of abuse to the church, had angered her.
"They have this great idea that they are going to heal victims that they have actually harmed in the first place. They haven't a clue of how victims of clergy abuse feel," she said.
Pete Saunders, from the National Association for People Abused in Childhood, said his organisation and three others were sticking with the talks because there was still a "chink of light".
Saunders, who was sexually abused by two Catholic priests as a child and believes there are "thousands and thousands" of UK victims like him, said confidential proposals on survivor treatment were now going to be put before the Catholic bishops' conference in mid-November and this represented a make-or-break point.
He said: "We are aware that the Catholic church have got a lot to answer for in terms of the way that they protect abusing priests and nuns. They have an appalling record on that and the colleagues around the table, including the Catholic Safeguarding Advisory Service, have all agreed that."
But Saunders said the church's senior clergy were "now going to have it laid on the line". In November, they would be told to "stop making life difficult for survivors and challenging very legitimate claims from people who want to get on with their life and want some degree of justice", he said.
"If the bishops' conference closes down that chink of light, then we will certainly walk away because it will mean there is no sincerity," he said.
A church spokesperson told the Guardian that, when it came to compensation claims, the church's hands were tied by charity commission rules that stopped it handing out money without first being lawfully entitled to do so. It is also a requirement for the church to be insured against indemnity and the spokesperson said it could not be responsible for the actions of the insurance company when it came to compensation claims.
Adrian Child, the director of CSAS, said: "The NCSC and CSAS have been in dialogue with representatives of a number of survivors' support organisations and others for the past 12-plus months. The aim is to develop a sensitive and just response to survivors of abuse within a church setting in order to promote healing for victims of abuse.
"Regret was expressed by the group that they [Macsas] had made that decision, but the decision was respected and they were thanked for their contribution to the work so far."