Monday, 1 January 2018

A survivor of Soper's abuse speaks out

"Peter" (not his real name) is one of the complainants in the trial of Fr Laurence Soper. He has spoken out about Soper and St Benedict's in an interview published on the the Guardian website today: London Catholic school abuse survivor speaks of 'constant violence'

You can of course read the full article if you follow the link above, but it's worth quoting a few of Peter's words here.
  • "There wouldn’t be a day when there wasn’t a queue of boys outside [Soper’s] study to be caned"
  • "[The abuse] was accepted, it was the norm, it was routine. Everybody had been into Father Laurence’s study. I realised it had happened to lots of boys before me and would happen to lots of boys after me.”
  • “Mine was the last generation where [abuse of children] was acceptable. Because of the culture at the time, it was excused. Now the whole system is changing. There’ll always be those who slip through the net, but it needs to be a bloody good net.”
Some comments to previous articles here have suggested that this sort of violence was common to most private schools in those days. Peter started at St Benedict's age 11 in 1979. He is therefore a few years younger than me, I took my A levels in 1979.

I didn't attend St Benedict's, I was educated elsewhere. But I can say that at the two private secondary schools I attended, there was not the culture of violence that Peter and others have described. Yes, the cane was used (very) occasionally, and yes there was something of a bullying problem, but I do not remember anything like the culture of violence that has been recounted at St Benedict's. St Benedict's might not have been unique (the IICSA heard similar accounts about Ampleforth and Downside during its recent hearings), but that level of violence certainly wasn't typical.

The violence and the fear it kindled among the pupils facilitated the abuse, as pupils were too terrified to complain.

23 comments:

  1. When is the government going to deal with Ealing Abbey, Downside and the others? Clearly the Roman Church is singularly incapable and unwilling to to respond radically to serious crimes commiited at these venues.

    I thought state intervention into the monasteries ended in the 16C; Undoubtedly we need a state 21stC Dissolution of the Monasteries.

    When are we going to see action from the government here?

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  2. Jonathan, pupils weren't necessarily too terrified to complain. The sad thing is that the violence was normalised. I and many others who were regularly at the receiving end simply accepted it because it was part of the institutional framework - part of the way things were done.

    My impression was that mostly the individuals who administered brutal physical punishments for trivial offences also regarded it as normal. At the time corporal punishment was legal and often "politically correct". I wonder if this ethos of notionally well-intentioned cruelty was ever challenged by any of those involved with the school's governance. Perhaps if it had been, closer attention might have been paid to the potential for abuse.

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  3. Just to set the record straight.
    Soper said he would have me killed if I spoke or ever came up on his radar along with anyone I love.
    So stop with the" my parents were too Christian" bs
    So talk you die, get anywhere in life you die.

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  4. Henry VIII destroyed more good than bad in the 16thC and talk of a new Dissolution of the Monasteries is doing just the same - dismissing the huge amount of good that the monasteries have done in schools and parishes since the reformation and especially the last 200 years after they were re-established in England.

    I had a very happy and fulfilled 9 years of Benedictine education and you will find that 99% of the 7000+ living old boys of Downside will say the same.

    I absolutely agree that there has been some terrible stuff going on for which the abusers must be brought to justice but at no point in the inquiry did anyone say that the majority of monks are good honest men and it shouldn't be the aim to remove the EBC from existence.

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    1. The Catholic abuse scandal has never been about the fact that some monks and priests have abused. That can't altogether be prevented in any occupation involving the care of children.

      The Catholic abuse scandal has (as far as I'm concerned at least) always been about the cover-up, that non-abusing monks and bishops put the welfare of abusers among the clergy above that of their victims.

      And it seems to me that just about everyone in a senior position within the Catholic church have been to some degree complicit in that cover-up. Certainly all the Benedictine abbots appear to have been, even when they weren't (like Soper) abusers themselves.

      That cover-up enabled abusers to carry on abusing. The way the church addressed this could hardly have been better designed to achieve the maximum amount of harm to the largest possible number of children had it been designed with that express aim in mind.

      Even if we were to accept the 99% figure you offer, does that excuse the harm done to the rest, harm which was known to be occurring?

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    2. I'm not excusing the harm done and I accept that there has been a cover-up and those involved need to be brought to book (whatever that entails) but that doesn't equate to the abolition of the EBC and throwing every single monk out on the streets, as the first comment in this thread is seeking. I have known , and still know , so many good and honest monks who are working tirelessly for the greater good. Yes, strict checks and controls need to be put in place under the control of independent bodies but if you are looking for abolition of the EBC then I must take the opposing view.

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    3. The presence of abusers among the monks was known to all or nearly all of the monks. The principle of Christian forgiveness was twisted to justify keeping this secret. This policy of secrecy was handed down from one Abbot to the next - not one of them thought it a bad idea. The monks you know may have been in other ways working tirelessly for the greater good, but they have all been complicit to some degree in this cover up which I have to regard as a deeply evil matter.

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  5. Jonathan, thank you for keeping up the flow of information and criticism.

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  6. On the 'culture of violence' bit of your post and "the IICSA heard similar accounts about Ampleforth and Downside during its recent hearings" I can say that, as far back as the late 60s at Downside, the cane was used very occasionally (as in your experience) and only by the Headmaster -
    Aelred Watkin , who comes out blameless as being the one who dealt with Michael/Anselm Hurt correctly from the start. Punishments were either lines on blue paper or an early morning run to the Pavilion and back (called Quads because it started as 5 times around the quad before start of classes at 9am). Certainly not a culture of violence with queues of boys waiting to be caned.

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    1. I'm sure we have all seen the film " the Hill" about a British wartime penal facility.
      Just in case you haven't Mr Agius it's where men are forced to run up and down a hill until they are either broken or dead.
      Sounds great for the kids in your book ( no room for sadistic abuse there) . How you can say you know how much caning was going on ? That's like the police saying there is no longer any crime in Britain because one of them went for a walk around Bethesda, and didn't see any wrongdoing.

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    2. Mid-1970s. St Benedicts Junior School. I would have been about 9.

      That's when I FIRST witnessed another pupil being beaten with a bat in front of the entire class by a teacher.

      Leaving aside the astonishing fact that this was legal behaviour at that time, can you begin to imagine the effect of that? Public beatings of fellow 9 year old children??? (And, for the record, the teacher concerned was not one of the paedophiles...) I lived daily with that violence, threatened on us all, from about the age of 7. Until I 'escaped' at 16.

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    3. So much talk on here about caning. That's not the point. As you said, Sean, caning was legal behaviour at the time, and Soper wasn't charged with caning for that very reason. He was charged with sex abuse. I do worry that the two matters have been hugely conflated, and because he caned he has been sentenced to 18 years for sex abuse. That would be plain wrong.

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    4. It was Soper who conflated the two, using caning for sexual gratification. Why the hell are you sorry for him?!

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    5. Did he though?
      That's the point, I suppose.

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  7. Peter Agius, your comments highlight to me yet again the moral void at the heart of the Catholic Church. You have come on here and presumably read all about the Soper case, and the other Ealing cases, and the cases at Downside, etc etc ad nauseam. . .and your concern is that good monks are being vilified! Jonathan's point is irrefutable: the majority of these men knew exactly what was going on, and they kept silent. And yet you STILL rush to their defence. There IS no defence. If you had any shame, you wouldn't sleep at night; shame is clearly alien to you and to so many others.

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    1. His concern is that he'll be out of a job.

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    2. I think it's deeper than that. he has sunk a large amount of loyalty, time and probably money into this vile organisation over a long period of time and it is never easy, when you have done that, to see the truth and to admit that you were conned just as many other people have been. When Peter Agius was being pious and devout, the men he held in high esteem were raping children and/or aware of their colleagues raping children. That's the ugly truth and on one level I can see why some people refuse to face it. They are cowardly, nonetheless.

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    3. 22:56 on 10.01.18 puts his finger exactly on it, I think. I notice that in a previous comment Mr Agius hopes the new abbot president will rid the EBC of the few bad apples. I am incredulous that anyone can still be sufficiently in denial to use the few bad apples image. He also doesnt understand the role of the abbot president.
      Fortunately the EBC itself has made sure it's on the way out, without any need for external action.
      Put it this way. If a young man thinks he has a vocation to a religious life of an EBC flavour and is also a bit canny about the reputation and history of the place he goes to, he's now a bit stuck. Without naming names, once he's ruled out the monasteries who've had abbots subsequently imprisoned, the ones run by a few old men, and in fact anywhere that's had an avoidable scandal he's a bit stuck. Douai and Belmont don't have schools. Every one of the monasteries is declining. Any intelligent aspirant to religious life will avoid communities who can't get or keep applicants. I think my hypothetical young man would be limited to St Louis Abbey at this point.
      There is an associated danger that communities at risk of extinction then take on dodgy applicants to bump the numbers up, who then prove to be the rotten apples Mr Agius refers to.
      Incidentally his website about Worth is fascinating.

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  8. Caning is according to some theories conflated with sexual gratification. Soper wasn't the only one - others not convicted.

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  9. In this Unesco publication,
    http://unesdoc.unesco.org/images/0013/001392/139209e.pdf
    Committee on the rights of the child finds corporal punishment is linked with other forms of violence against children, including explicitly sexual harassment (p. 29) are interlinked.
    This tallies with the 'caning for thrills' type part of the case made against Soper, and the caning is one part of those thrills. There are a lot of other daily caners at St B.s in the 70s for example whose practices now need scrutiny.

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  10. Soper got two 12 year sentences to run concurrent and then various other sentences from indecent assault to sexual abuse. I feel sure it's not the last we have heard of him or the abuse that ran through the school. Yes he caned but what he was charged with is what he did when he caned. And what thoughts were going through his mind when he not only caned me but bent me over the desk and raped me. Yes I was a victim of the recent trial so if you are all so interested and prepared to argue points I suggest you get a transcript of the sentencing which is available and find out exactly what this sick and selfish man actually did. Not once has he shown remorse but at least us ten victims won our case!!

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    1. Dear Victim,

      I am pleased you and the other nine victims, got justice. I cant imagine the pain and suffering, you guys had to endure and my deepest sympathies go out to you all!

      Are the sentencing remarks available to access?

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    2. We don't need to explain ourselves. We fought and won.
      However certain of them don't understand that when you lose a fight, you stay down. Or you get more of the same.
      St Benedict's pretend to apologise to us but send us no letters, just this joke of a troll. Don't worry about him I'm sure our guardian angels from operation winter key still have our best interests very close to their hearts.

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