Abused: Breaking the Silence, BBC One, review

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Chris Harvey reviews BBC One’s harrowing documentary about former pupils of two Catholic preps schools who allege they suffered sexual abuse at the hands of Rosminian Fathers.

Father Kit Cunningham
Father Kit Cunningham Photo: MICHAEL PATTISON

The Telegraph

7:00AM BST 22 Jun 2011

The BBC One documentary Abused: Breaking the Silence told the extraordinary story of how the internet helped expose a culture of violence and abuse at two Catholic prep schools in England and Africa that went back at least 50 years. Olenka Frenkiel’s film described how former pupils who had logged on to share memories of two schools run by the Rosminian order – the Grace Dieu school in Leicestershire and St Michael’s school in Soni, in what is now Tanzania – found themselves sharing stories of abuse that, as boys, they believed had been suffered alone. The men were now in their fifties and sixties. Each had been terrified into silence as a child.

Account followed account. Rory Johnston, a former pupil of the school in Soni, alleged serious and repetitive sexual abuse at the hands of a Fr Collins. “There was no way I could get out of it,” he said. “There was no one to tell. You couldn’t trust the priests, so who else are you going to trust?”

The conversations between the victims also revealed something else. Father Collins had been removed from the Grace Dieu school after Donald MacFaul, now a barrister in Newcastle, had complained about him. The Order, however, had simply relocated the priest to Soni, where pupils said they became similarly terrified of him.

In Soni, it became clear, there was more than one abuser. Some had later gone on to high notice. Fr Kit Cunningham, who became the rector of St Ethelreda’s in London’s Holborn, would receive an MBE. “He sexually molested me,” said one former pupil. “Then made it clear if I ever said anything I would be in trouble.” Events were remembered minutely and many described the depression and “permanent sense of fear and dread” left behind. When Cunningham died at the end of last year he received several laudatory obituaries.

In September 2009, the former pupils had compiled a dossier of abuse and confronted the Order. It was taken seriously. The men began to receive letters from their former teachers, now elderly, confessing to sexual abuse and sadism and expressing contrition. One received a letter from Fr Cunningham asking for forgiveness. (Cunningham also returned his MBE.) The current head of the Order invited the victims to meet their abusers.

Rory Johnston went to see Fr Collins in Surrey. Their meeting was secretly filmed. Johnston told him that the events were indelibly marked in his memory. “Oh no Rory,” said Collins, suggesting that his former charge must have been experiencing hallucinations. “I was not the sort of person that would do that.” The power of the documentary was in showing how these previously young, vulnerable people now had a collective voice that could not be so easily dismissed.

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COMMENTS

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I believe this order also features prominently in the Ryan and/or Murphy reports published in the Republic of Ireland last year.
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These crimes are disgusting and appalling, and I watched last night in outrage and shame that members of my Church could inflict such pain. The victims should be given compensation and every assistance in finding healing and peace, and the perpetrators should be prosecuted to the full extent of the law and punished. There must be further strengthening of the safeguards to ensure that this can never happen again.
My heart went to these intelligent, articulate men whose lives had been devastated by the very people who were supposed to be educating, nurturing and caring for them as vulnerable young boys, living away from their parents. I felt sickened by the horrible abuse they had suffered, and the years of inner torment thay had had to endure as a result of the abuse.

The documentary was extremely well-produced, allowing these men to share their stories in a dignified and non-sensationalist manner, and revealing how the renewed communication between them will go some way to relieve at least part of their suffering.

Hopefully, as a result, some official recognition and compensation by both the Rosminian order of the Catholic church and, in addition, our legal system, will be reached.

The abused men’s courage in breaking their tormented silence has to greatly admired, and will hopefully encourage the many others who have had similar experiences to come forward to tell their own stories, if only to prevent those hypocrites who purport themselves to be trustworthy clerics from ever being put into positions of trust with our children again.

3 Responses to Abused: Breaking the Silence, BBC One, review

  1. Rosemary says:

    Many reports about Kit Cunningham refer to complaints of abuse by him in Tanganyika/Tanzania “in the 1960s”. Possibly he stopped abusing in the 60’s. However, I met Fr. Kit Cunningham in Tanzania and was a guest at his community’s house near Soni, Tanzania, for about five days at the end of December 1972 and beginning of January 1973, during which time he drove me to see the exterior of the school in Soni where he was still teaching – this was during the end-of-year school break. Another priest in the same Rosminian community near Soni, Fr. Con Malone I.C. who hailed from Armagh, Northern Ireland, sexually assaulted me. Fr. Malone was in his thirties at the time and, by his own admission to me, had a “mistress” who lived in a nearby town. I was in my early twenties. Knowing, as I now do, the horrific abuse Kit himself perpetrated, it amazes me that Kit attempted to intervene and prevent, and then to halt, Fr. Malone’s assault on me. It’s my understanding that Father Con Malone is now back living in Northern Ireland. I don’t know whether or not he remains in the priesthood.

  2. 1yellowknife says:

    Dear Rosemary: I am so very very sorry this happened to you.

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