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In 2009, over 100 men from all over the world
used the internet to look up their old prep schools.
They swapped memories. Slowly, secrets emerged.
What they learnt shocked them all.
'It was like being in a dark room and what happened last year'
is like the light being switched on and finding you're in a room with lots of other people.
It dawned on everyone who was part of that email society
that there had been some real damage.
The men on the chat site had been to two related Catholic boarding schools, in England and in Africa.
As they chatted in cyberspace from the security of their homes,
they felt able to share the truth of how, as young children,
they suffered violence, terror and, in some cases, sexual abuse.
You don't sexually play with young children.
It sticks with you for the rest of your life.
It was an environment of fear.
It was terrible.
What became clear was many were still haunted by the abuse.
'It's just depression and constantly thinking about suicide as a way of dealing with the depression.'
That started when I was 14 years old.
Each one, as a child, had been terrified into silence,
but now in their 50s and 60s and united by the net, they were ready to speak.
Just step up, take responsibility, bring this out into the open so that it doesn't happen again.
But today their former tormentors are elderly men and half a century has passed.
What will it take to repair the damage?
Can they ever forgive?
And what needs to happen for the abused men to feel justice has finally been done?
'My name is Donald MacFaul. I'm a barrister in Newcastle upon Tyne.
'Whilst it appears that there are the trappings of success associated with my work,
'a lot of it has been survival.'
What was created by what happened at school
was a permanent sense of fear and dread.
Grace Dieu Manor House is a Catholic preparatory school in Leicestershire.
It was run by the Rosminian Order when I went there in 1954.
A beautiful building set in beautiful grounds.
Father Bernard Collins was the teacher in charge of discipline.
The violence that was perpetrated by Collins goes beyond what was appropriate at the time.
He used to shoot at boys using an air pistol and occasionally actually wounded them.
That carries five years.
There was no escape.
And it was in an environment where this person could beat you one minute
and then be fondling you personally and intimately within the space of hours.
He would take me to his room after lights out
and remove my pyjama bottoms and fondle my genitals, my penis in particular,
saying that this was for purposes of hygiene.
And that continued on a number of occasions.
The particular instance that I recall was
waking to find him crouching by the bed, his eyes on the level,
and his hand coming under the bed clothes towards my groin area
and I intercepted that to stop it and he pulled away at that point.
That was terrifying.
11-year-old Donald confided in his father, an experienced family doctor.
He took seriously what his young son had to say and complained to the school.
A letter was delivered to the headmaster from my father
and during the next holidays I was told he would not be there when I went back, so not to worry.
When I did go back, he was still there.
And I encountered him in the corridor, which was frightening.
And he said to me, because he had very piercing blue eyes, this individual,
he looked down and said, "I thought you were a little angel.
"In fact, you're a little devil." That's the last I saw him.
Once Father Collins had left, Grace Dieu returned to normal.
I had always had the impression...
..that as a result of my father's action,
Collins was sent away. I thought he was working in a mission in Africa.
Through his internet contacts,
Donald discovered Father Collins had in fact been sent away
to another Rosminian prep school where he'd preyed on other boys,
in Tanganyika, today Tanzania.
St Michael's, Soni, was a Catholic boarding school tucked high up in the mountains.
When I first got to Soni, Father Collins was my dormitory master. Within days you were told,
"Watch out for him. He's a dangerous man."
One day, after French lessons, Father Collins said to me that he would like to give me extra lessons.
Because there were so many boys at school, he didn't have time to help others and didn't want them to know.
He told me when I came in to take off my top, t-shirt,
shorts and underpants. He said this would enable me to breathe fresh air
and feel better, I could work better.
He then started touching me.
He went down to my genital area and touched my testicles and penis.
And it was repetitive.
There was absolutely no way whatsoever I could get out of it.
There was no one to tell. You couldn't trust the priests, so who else?
I couldn't tell my mother about it. That would have killed her.
She had five other children to look after, younger than me. So I sort of kept it in myself.
Those on the network who weren't sexually abused by Collins remembered him for his brutality.
He introduced what I called the three-core wire.
It was known as the Black Mamba.
It was a whip, like Harrison Ford's whip in Indiana Jones.
When Collins got behind this whip,
he hit you so hard that your body would jolt forward a couple of inches.
He administered a form of caning
that was...that was not corporal punishment,
it was violence.
It could have been a nice place,
but it was a hell hole.
It was a very loveless, violent, very sad place.
What their web chat then revealed was that Father Collins wasn't the only abuser at Soni.
Father Kit Cunningham was a charismatic, intelligent,
ambitious man who had a dark side to him.
..an unfortunate combination.
One night, Father Kit Cunningham came into the dormitory
and he caught me. He caught me with my radio.
So he grabbed me and pulled me into his bedroom
and... I thought that I would be beaten.
I was terrified.
And, much to my surprise, I was not beaten.
He pulled my pants down and began to fondle me.
Eh...not only did he fondle me,
he then proceeded to remove his...pants
and grabbed my hand
and put my hand onto his penis.
And showed me how he liked to be manipulated.
..he had me manipulate him...
..until he had an orgasm.
I didn't even know what an orgasm was or what had just happened, really.
I just knew it was wrong.
And this first encounter was repeated,
I'm thinking, in the range of 6-10 times.
He spent a great deal of time talking to me about how it was important that I not tell anyone
and that no one would believe me anyway.
Each boy was warned to be silent.
Each boy was left thinking he was the only one.
Brother Jackson was a lot younger than the other guys.
He was like a breath of fresh air compared to the old dragons that we had there.
He pulled me into his room on the pretext of asking me to help him sort the mail.
It was when he fondled me, basically.
He sexually molested me.
When Father Cunningham found out what had happened,
he made it very clear that if I ever said anything about it I'd be in trouble.
His exact words were, "Woe betide, young man, if you ever say anything again."
I was made to feel really, really guilty about the whole thing.
It was as though it was my fault.
I felt as though I was being punished.
I woke up one morning early and went through to the toilet.
And when I came out,
Jackson was standing at the entrance to his room.
His penis stuck out of his pyjamas.
And he called me to his room and then told me to lie on the mattress.
I lay there because I was frightened, I was scared.
And...he lay behind me
and sort of tucked me into himself.
And started performing a sexual act on me.
When I got back to the farm, I told my dad what had happened.
And he was very upset, he was very angry, as was my mother.
McCarthy, the Head, gave my father some sort of comment that he would see to the matter,
but all he did was move Jackson from the dormitory to the main house.
My brother-in-law threatened McCarthy that he'd go to the police.
It wasn't long after that that Jackson simply vanished from the school.
I was captain of the cricket team
and then, after the abuse,
I was completely isolated by the priests. I was no longer put down to play cricket
or participate in any team sport at all.
Rayner was an intimidating, cruel person
who enjoyed humiliating boys and at the same time he had a sexual perversion.
He was also a very keen photographer.
I was photographed in the showers, naked, for whatever purpose.
And he needed people to help him with his photography.
There was an opportunity for Rayner to take you
into his room, invite you in, slide his hand down your shorts,
indulge your genitals.
And I'm thinking,
"God, my parents never taught me this."
It was excruciatingly...
Because you knew what was coming and you couldn't...
You couldn't just walk out and go home
because the walk out would mean you would end up going down to your bed in the dormitory
and he would be back at you
and you'd get six beatings the following day and then he'd try it on again.
I know it only went to genitals in my case
and people might argue that's not physical pain, but Christ...!
This is...this is MY body.
And then I had to face him the next day.
I told my mother when we got home about the sexual abuse
and it didn't go anywhere.
She didn't say, "I will do something about that." Nothing happened.
It made me feel so lonely.
That word "lonely" was the one singular word
that I came away with to describe the experience at Soni.
Some kids came out of Soni unbroken and pretty intact.
I really think Soni broke me down and broke my spirit.
And when that happens, you withdraw into yourself and you don't reach out to people.
After leaving Soni, all of us disappear to the four corners of the Earth.
Australia, South Africa, England, Canada, USA.
It had taken them half a century to find each other again.
For the first time, in the safety of cyberspace, they started to piece together their whole story.
Clearly, there was an impulse in many of us to try and connect
and had it not been for the internet, we would never have come together as a group.
I had said to my wife that my father didn't believe me
and she helped me find the other Soni colleagues.
After about a year of general historical chat, what brought the subject up about actual abuse
was somebody who said that Father Collins was very strict,
but thank God wasn't involved in anything else. And I thought, "I've got to put them right."
So I did. I wrote to this man and said, "No, he was a paedophile."
And I left it at that. That brought out the whole can of worms.
They knew that Jackson had abused others.
They didn't know I had been abused or why Jackson suddenly disappeared from the school.
And it was through my contribution of my story that that puzzle was completed.
Had anybody taken action on Sam Simeonides' complaint, immediately, I wouldn't have been molested.
There were claims about what Jackson did and what Cunningham did.
There was universal disclosure about Rayner and Collins.
Soon after the episode of me telling everybody that Collins wasn't super priest of the year,
one of the other chaps on the website brought to my attention that there was
a number of gentlemen from Grace Dieu, also a Rosminian prep school,
that were instigating an inquiry into Father Collins' behaviour.
Up to that stage, I hadn't known where he had taught. He was 40 when he came to Soni.
I became angry when I learned that he'd been sent to somewhere else
where he continued the activities he perpetrated at Grace Dieu.
Outraged by what they'd discovered, the men felt compelled to write their testimonies down.
By September, 2009, they had a dossier of abuse.
I think I was the first one to write about Cunningham.
I knew I had to do it because it's important that we make these things public and bring it into the open.
These were events that I'd played over and over in my mind. I'd never reduced it to writing.
There's a deep pain associated with what occurred and that's not something that's easy to share.
This was the first time I was writing the full details down.
Not just the words sexual abuse. And it felt really good.
I said that I wanted to confront Kit Cunningham and Bill Jackson,
knowing that that was going to be read as such a mark of progress towards being healed.
When I pressed the "send" button,
it was going to be the beginning of something important, something that would come out into the open.
When I showed the other testimonies to my father,
he was absolutely straight and said he had never known about the sexual abuse,
that he was appalled by what he had learned in the emails.
The fact that my father believes the events at Soni now
makes a huge difference to MY sense of relief
that I was telling the truth.
The testimonies were emailed to the head of the Rosminian Order in Britain, Father David Myers.
A trainee priest when the abuse took place, he never taught at either school.
Father Myers replied immediately.
He accepted their testimonies and acknowledged their distress.
In November, Father Myers invited those who had submitted testimonies
to a meeting at St Etheldreda's Church, the Rosminian base in London.
The personal reaction of Father David Myers
was a genuine, open response of a compassionate, caring and appalled individual
who was reacting in a very human way
to what were clearly expressed,
and powerful hurts.
Father Myers promised he would take action.
The accused priests were presented with the testimonies and asked to respond.
They would no longer serve as priests in public,
they would sign confessions to their victims and would not be considered priests in good standing.
After Africa, Father Kit Cunningham had become a prominent public figure.
He was made rector of St Etheldreda's and awarded an MBE.
Now the MBE would be returned. It arrived at the Palace with no explanation,
just a request for no publicity.
By January, 2010, personal letters began to arrive from the priests themselves.
"Dear John, it is with deep shame that I write
"to ask your forgiveness for inappropriate actions that I did to you while I was in Tanzania.
"I have been reading over and over your account of the barely bearable depression you have suffered.
"John, what can I do other than express my remorse and beg you to forgive me?
"Sincerely, Kit Cunningham."
I know I'm supposed to receive this letter and I'm supposed to say, "Thank you, thank you, thank you,"
and, you know, all is forgiven,
I'd like to know a lot more about...
why he did what he did.
So if having Kit Cunningham apologise to me
and express remorse to me, the expectation is it'll heal me, it's simply not.
The man who'd been silenced by Cunningham also got a letter from him.
"Please accept the enclosed apology in the manner in which it's intended. I was also aware of sexual abuse
"and I should have done more to have stopped it. I recall a number of occasions for which I am responsible.
"After much reflection, I have decided to return my MBE.
"Sincerely, Kit Cunningham."
I was completely unaware before we started this whole process that Kit had been involved
in any...paedophilia activities whatsoever.
I was actually quite shocked by that.
And...and...and... to a large degree,
that goes a long way towards explaining why he handled
what happened with myself and Bill Jackson, why he handled it the way he did.
The letters revealed something even more disturbing about Soni.
These abusers must have known between them
that they were abusing the kids at the school
and didn't do anything about it. It comes through in their apologies.
In my case, when Jackson abused me that morning,
I was indignant at the fact that Cunningham never woke up.
Let me just show you. Here is Jackson's room, there's his door.
There's a gap and there's Cunningham's room with his door.
And Jackson's standing by his door with his penis sticking out, calling me in a loud voice
and I knew that Cunningham was awake and I was hoping that he would pop his head out of the door
and find out what the commotion was. Yet he didn't.
And that's what irritates me and makes me hard as an individual
not to simply accept these...poor apologies. To me, they're vague.
They're... It's just not from the heart.
"It causes me deep anguish after reading your account of Soni
"that I realized more fully the terrible suffering I caused you.
"Don, Father David Myers tells me you're hoping to come and see me.
"I rejoice in this as we can talk over these things at a deeper and more personal level
"and hope to arrive at reconciliation and peace. Yours, Father Bill Jackson."
That's a step forward, I guess.
It wouldn't be enough to bring the issue to rest, but it's a long, long step forward.
Father Myers had invited all the victims to meet their abusers and offered to pay for counselling.
In February, he flew Don McFarlane to London to see 68-year-old Father Bill Jackson.
I felt I possibly might be in with a chance of getting some closure,
which was completely out of the question beforehand.
I guess I got into a cycle of depression and I think the sexual abuse had a lot to do with it.
I've had to deal with the most debilitating...
Yeah, just... Really dark, dark thoughts.
We went into a room and we started to discuss what had happened. That was when I put my foot down.
I called him a fucking paedophile
and if he wanted to make amends he was going to have to stop beating around the bush
and start telling a few truths.
He and I chatted for about two hours.
I felt he was quite open and honest about it. I got the impression that he was genuinely sorry.
I told him that I remembered the making of the lanterns for the carol service at the end of the year.
And his eyes lit up. "Oh, do you remember that?"
Don's next visit was to Father Kit Cunningham, by then in a care home.
I despised Kit Cunningham and despised him all my life.
He was an ogre in my mind.
He'd established himself as this pillar of the community
and I knew differently.
It got to me that there were people out there who could hide that shit.
And when I met Kit he was in a wheelchair, he had two broken fingers, he could hardly walk.
He was knocking on wood.
To see him like that, after having not seen him for 40-odd years,
to see him like that...
..was quite sobering.
It removed all urge I had to have a go back at him.
It was almost as though someone had done the job for me.
'When I got back to Australia,
'it suddenly dawned on me that this whole thing was past me.
'I could forget about it.'
I can now...move forward.
That was so powerful.
I...I woke up... I went to bed one night, actually,
knowing, fully lucid and knowing that I would never be depressed again.
For Don, there may have been peace.
For the others, the written apologies had done little to heal the pain or incline them to forgive.
"I was tempted at times to punish because I got sexual pleasure from it, and that is sadism.
"How unwise I was in the way I questioned boys about sexual matters.
"This prying into private lives gave me sexual pleasure,
"but in my own mind at the time this was not the main motive.
"I did inspect the genitals of a few boys at the request of the nurse."
No qualified nurse
would ask an adult priest
to examine the genitals of boys.
"I have left behind a legacy of violence and pain and confusion."
Signed Bernard Collins in the presence of David Myers.
It's very hard to know what to say in response to that.
He's admitted the actions, but tries to justify the motivation.
He accepts that it was sexual.
So it just sounds like a pervert trying to justify his gratifications.
Nothing more to say.
Father Collins' transcribed confessions posted online were too impersonal for Rory.
He wanted Collins to admit what he did to him.
The letter he got enraged him.
"Dear Rory Johnston, I must say with the deepest humility and regret that I contributed to your misery.
"If there is any other thing I can say or do, I would like to meet you
"and we could just go over contacts, but I cannot remember you.
"Sincerely, Bernard Collins. January, 2010."
He doesn't mention here at all
the fact of the sexual abuse, which is very important to me.
Rory decided he'd take up the offer to visit Father Collins and a date in May was agreed,
while Father Myers was urging the men to forgive.
He's not accepting that he has any further reconciliation to undertake,
other than using words
which I can get from the book of quotations. It actually needs more than words.
Just step up, take responsibility, bring this out into the open
so that it doesn't happen again.
In September, 22 out of 35 pupils who'd submitted testimonies
told the order they planned to sue for compensation.
On the same day, the Pope came to Britain and expressed deep sorrow to victims of clerical abuse.
I was hoping with this whole business of the Pope's visit to England,
this infernal business of covering up the scandals
would come to a stop, but it doesn't seem to have made a blind bit of difference to the Rosminians.
The only way they're going to be made
to accept the truth is by legal means and that's by paying compensation.
Money is one of the few ways
to express a value
in what you do.
The whole of western society is based on the value of money.
It mustn't be insignificant, I'm afraid, otherwise it means nothing.
If they went bankrupt, I would...I would be...
I would be happy! You know?
I think it's an institution that should be disbanded. They don't exactly have a great track record.
I'm not going for compensation because I was told there was no money there.
If it transpires that there is money there and other people get paid out, then I shall be asking why I wasn't.
Father Myers now raised "a moral objection to paying compensation".
It would take money away from the order's charitable work.
Why should innocents today pay for the wrongs of others 50 years ago?
Is it immoral because it's the Catholic Church?
If a lay person abuses a child
and is sent to prison and is fined,
is that amoral?
Is the Catholic Church some sort of special category that it should be protected from legal action?
His first responsibility
should be to deal with the people that they've victimised in the past.
When Father Myers found out that I was joining or had joined the legal compensation group,
regarding Father Collins, he immediately withdrew permission for me to go and see Father Collins.
By now, the dialogue had stopped.
The openness had ended.
Promised access to the Order's archives had been withdrawn
and, crucially, Father Myers denied they had known a complaint of abuse had been made against Father Collins
when they sent him to another boys' school in Africa.
Rory decided to visit Collins without permission.
Father Collins' round-robin letters confessing to sexual pleasure and sadism were not enough.
He wanted to ask Collins why he'd fondled him.
He wanted a record of what was said and decided to film the meeting secretly.
'The day I went down to Surrey to see Father Collins,
'I really didn't know what I was going to do.
'When we got very close,
'I could see in the mirror on the car that my face was white.
'And then I started feeling an incredible amount of fear.
'I was going to see someone I absolutely loathe and hate.
-Morning. Lovely to see you.
-How are you? I'm Rory.
Why did you do it? When you touched and fondled, was it to explain to them that it was wrong?
I honestly, Rory, think there's some mistake in your memory.
-I have not the slightest recollection
-of ever fondling anybody.
-I was not the sort of person that would do that.
I was brought up almost with a Puritan view
..any physical contact with other people.
I thought for 50 years that I was the only person in the world that this had happened to.
-I never told a soul, not my mother, father, sisters.
What happened was that.
People started talking on this...
Yes, but what happened between you and me that you describe as sexual?
-You were fondling me.
-Oh, no, Rory.
-This is indelibly marked.
Yes, but it's...
It's either an hallucination
or maybe something built up from the sheer hatred you would feel for me.
Not because I did those things. I never did, I can swear to that.
-In my whole life.
I have never committed any sexual act whatsoever
with male or female.
Far from confessing, Father Collins denied to Rory what he had already acknowledged in signed statements.
When Father Collins told me I was hallucinating, I was very, very annoyed
because I knew... I can still picture to this day what happened.
Father Collins claimed not to remember Rory
but he did remember another boy, Donald MacFaul,
and the incident at Grace Dieu, the English school, before he left for Africa.
'And there was a boy named Donald MacFaul.
'As I came in to the room, the door was there
'and there was Donald's bed.
'And...I thought I heard a...
'quite a rubbing, quite vigorous.
'And it struck me, almost in a panic, "Gosh!
'"I wonder if he's trying to masturbate?"
'And in utter stupidity
'I put my hands under the covers to grab his hands
'and he said, "What are you doing?"
'And I said to him, "What are YOU doing, Donald?"
'That's as far as the talk got. I daren't explain
'about masturbation in case he'd never heard of it,
'you see. So, obviously, when he got back home,
'he must have told his father
'and it was his father that came to the conclusion,
'an older, experienced man, that I was a paedophile.
'And he said I was trying
'to put my hand onto Donald's genitals,
'which, of course, was miles from the truth.'
I'm just appalled at that,
that the incident that so upset me then and has been with me ever since
can be... justified in this way.
It even beggars belief.
He is saying that what he was doing,
trying to have a grope in my bed, weren't sexual acts.
What he is saying there is a lie. It's not true.
I know that personally.
'And then it was interpreted
'as paedophilia by Dr MacFaul
'and he wrote to the Rector
'and the Rector asked my permission to refer the whole case to the President, which he did.
'And, as I say, I heard no more about it.
'The President and the rest gathered together and thought,
'"It's an open and shut case."
'And it wasn't, but my story was utterly feeble.'
What is clear is that it was reported up the chain
and, as Collins himself says, nothing happened
other than that in November
he went out to East Africa.
Today, the Rosminian order still denies they knew Collins was a suspected paedophile
when they sent him to Africa.
December, 2010. Kit Cunningham died, aged 79,
with glowing obituaries in three national newspapers.
This is fresh off the press, yesterday's paper. It's the Guardian.
Here is the third obituary that I have read now, all with the same photograph.
His self-congratulatory smirk that he has on his face.
I find it offensive.
The obituaries refer to the fact that he was appointed an MBE in 1997,
but they don't report the fact
that he agreed to return the MBE.
So at this point Kit Cunningham's reputation is fully intact.
Publicly, he put his best foot forward, but privately he was a monster,
certainly to us as kids.
When I went to the computer, I found out that Father Kit had died.
The first thing that came up was the Daily Telegraph blog.
So I read it and here we go.
"He was greatly loved by many people whose lives he touched."
But they didn't mention the boys that he touched.
I decided that I'd put my own comment about him and I said that he had handed his MBE back
and that if they wanted to they could contact Father David Myers to find out why.
So I'm looking at an internet notice on the Catholic News website
which is an announcement of a memorial service that's planned for Kit Cunningham.
The church is once again, consistent with their long history,
covering up the truth.
What other interpretation can their be?
We presented our testimony.
The Rosminian Order, Father Myers, has known the truth for over a year now.
Father Myers professed interest
in healing the wounds of the past.
It seems a complete contradiction to having a memorial.
How does that contribute to my healing?
It seemed that Father Myers had made his choice
to protect the interests of the Rosminian Order over its victims.
This only strengthened their resolve to sue.
If I get some relief, personal relief, out of this,
that's an added bonus, but that's not really what I'm after here.
What I went into this process for was to bring this out into the open so that people know what happened,
so that hopefully it doesn't happen again. That's my objective here.
This whole forgiveness thing is a funny thing.
When you forgive somebody, what are you doing?
Are you making it better for them or making it better for you?
From my point of view, once you forgive someone,
you've stopped them renting space in your head.
If they said, "You've got a choice between having a full apology from us about Father Collins
"and everybody knows that he was a paedophile,
"or here's £20,000," I'll take the apology.
Whatever happens to the compensation group, the thing that is most important to me at the moment
is that the story is told and the truth will come out and not be a secret as it has for 50 years.
The compensational damages that are paid
in cases such as this can never actually deal with or cure
the damage that has been done.
This is a form of wrapping up. I'd put it that way.
As opposed to carrying it. That's what it'll do for me.
The memorial service for Father Kit Cunningham.
The tiny church was packed.
Rory decided to attend and took a tape recorder.
A year after the victims had submitted their testimonies,
it was all still a secret known only to a few.
The mass was led by Father David Myers.
Be silent, adore and rejoice.
Father Myers declined to participate in this documentary,
quoting Lamentations, Chapter 3, Verse 26.
"It is good to wait in silence."
Subtitles by Subtext for Red Bee Media Ltd - 2011
Email [email protected]
In 2009, over a hundred former pupils from two Catholic prep schools in England and Tanzania were reunited via the internet. Chatting in cyberspace, they discovered they had all suffered terrible abuse at school: mental, physical and, in some cases, sexual. As young children they were frightened into silence by their abusers.
Now, as men in their fifties and sixties, and strengthened by the group, they want the truth to come out. Twenty two men have started legal proceedings against the Rosminian Order for compensation. They want justice. But half a century has passed, and their abusers are now elderly. What will it take to repair the damage and for the victims to feel able to move on?