Exposed: The Church’s Darkest Secret, BBC 2, BBC iPlayer, Director Ben Steele

https://www.bbc.co.uk/iplayer/episode/m000dbq7/exposed-the-churchs-darkest-secret-series-1-episode-1

https://www.bbc.co.uk/iplayer/episode/m000dbjd/exposed-the-churchs-darkest-secret-series-1-episode-2

But whoso shall offend one of these little ones which believe in me, it were better for him that a millstone were hanged about his neck, and that he were drowned in the depth of the sea.

King James Bible, Matthew 18:16.

I’ve never heard the term ‘de-arrested’. Yet this is what happened to The Right Reverend Peter Ball in 2012. He was re-arrested in 2014, charged and pled guilty to two counts of indecent assault and one count of misconduct in a public office after admitting the abuse of 18 young men from 1977 to 1992. In October 2015 he was sentenced to 32 months in prison. He served 16 months and is now dead. Job done?

Sheep in wolf’s clothing and paedophile priests have become clichéd. Cover ups in the Roman Catholic Church – see for example, the book and film Spotlight – and the pronunciation on the issue by Pope Francis and promise of reforms in reporting clerical abuse are rightly seen as too little and too late.

‘God weeps for the victims of sexual abuse.’

A whole army of churchman go to work applying whitewash and victim blaming. People in high places don’t like to be screwed. They prefer to do the screwing. Institutional cover ups are old news.

I was reminded watching this programme of an unpublished book written by scratch on ABCtales. The protagonist is taken from church school and sexually abused and passed around the clergy. Phil Johnson reports a similar, but historical narrative. He only went to the police after her realised his brother has also been sexually abused as a kid. Choosing the victim, isolating him (or her) and making them feel powerless and terrified of being caught for a crime they didn’t commit is the first step.

The Reverend Roy Cotton, for example, ‘groomed me (10-year-old Philip Johnson) pretty much from the first time that I ever met him’.

Johnson was working class and easy meat for politely spoken middle and upper-class men in positions of power. In March 1954, just six weeks before the date of his intended ordination, Reverend Roy Cotton was banned from the Scout Movement. A Scoutmaster, he was found guilty of indecently exposing himself to a child in an organ loft. He was still ordained and reports of him sexually abusing boys followed him from school to school. He was re-appointed as a Scoutmaster. Perhaps that’s where we get the term re-arrested.

Cotton in 1974 was appointed as parish priest at St Andrew’s Church in Eastbourn and Johnson was a choirboy.

Cotton took Johnson, when he was 15 years old, to stay with Reverend Colin Pritchard. This bit is pretty much identical to how scratch described the scene in his unpublished novel. Johnson awoke the next morning to find himself naked in Pritchard’s bed, having being plied with booze having no memory of the previous night. Pritchard then sexually assaulted him in the kitchen, He would later plead guilty to this assault and like Cotton had a long string of previous that where logged by Church authorities and buried.

Johnson reports another visitor to the gathering of paedophiles. The Right Reverend Ball had Johnson sit on his lap and felt up under his shorts and stroked his genitals as he had a conversation with Cotton. Ball was sexually aroused.

Neil Todd also described how Bishop of Gloucester Peter Ball asked him to strip naked and beat him with a whip. Ball was also naked, but claimed in a police report that if he did ejaculate it was out with his control and accidental.

He’d appeared on The Terry Wogan Show as the friendly face of Anglicism and a saintly figure that has set up an informal monastery to channel young men into a Godly life and find their vocation. He had friends in high places. The same friends as Jimmy Savile, most notably Margaret Thatcher.  Prince Charles who provided a house for Ball in the Dutchy of Cornwall, and through him connections to other royals such as the Queen Mother. Friends in the House of Lords and of course friends in the judiciary such as Lord Anthony Lloyd who was Lord Justice at the time and was more than happy to pick up the phone and give any local constabulary plod that dared to question his friend Reverend Ball an earful.  Anglican Church leaders at Lambeth Palace, Archbishop of Canterbury, George Carey.

Here we have a Keystone Cops type interlude in which Carey appoints another Bishop who used to be a private investigator to use funds from the Anglican Church to investigate the victims of Ball’s crimes and rehabilitate him. The report concluded that Ball was a multiple abuser in cases which had stretched back years. The report like many others from victims of Ball’s crimes was buried.

Guilty Peter Ball.

Guilty Roy Cotton

Guilty Colin Pritchard

Guilty of criminal neglect: Archbishop of Canterbury, George Carey et al. Prince Charles. Lord Anthony Lloyd. David Cameron’s godfather, Conservative MP Tim Rathbone.

Neil Todd R.I.P.  The Establishment fucked you up. We did not listen. We have let you down.

John Cornwell (2015) The Dark Box. A Secret History of Confession.

the dark box.jpg

I was looking for a review I’d written for John Cornwell’s autobiography Seminary Boy, a fabulous book, but it seems I haven’t written it. Nor have I written a review for The Hiding Places of God (Powers of Darkness, Powers of Light). An unsettling book. These are sins of omission. Ah, you may ask, what do you mean by sin? That’s really the crux of this book.

My personal definition of sin is selfishness. Selfishness in thought or deed or word. That may sound vaguely familiar. I’m a Catholic and, in an earlier incarnation, was even an altar boy. I’ve got a whole Cathedral inside my head of rote learning and memes for every eventuality.  Non-Catholics can take a shortcut and watch Jimmy McGovern’s Broken series (I watched the first one). There is a better self, somewhere inside me.   The quote by Aristotle taken up as a mantra by the Jesuits,  ‘give me a boy at seven and I will give you the man’ couldn’t be more apt. Michael Apsted’s  7-UP series was based on that premise and it did show consistently that this was the case. Sin, John Cornwell, tells us is derived of the notion of being ‘wide of the mark’ and the priests in his book, generally, are very wide of the mark. It’s no coincidence that the Irish priests on Craggie Island in Father Ted came in three recognisable stereotypes, old and alcoholic, Father Ted, a bit cynical and not yet alcoholic and then there is bumptious Dougal. Cut off from life and childhood and the outside world is something Cornwell is familiar with, a process Richard Holloway also writes about. It’s unnatural enough to produce a generation of sexual predator priests protected by the Roman Catholic hierarchy. And Cornwell has personal experience of being groomed to be abused. He outlines how it happened in his autobiography and here. The sickness in the Roman Catholic Church is systemic and derives from a hatred of the human body and a plague of priests steeped in hypocrisy and schizophrenic thinking. It wasn’t me that done it but the devil made me. God will forgive me, as long as I confess my sins.  Michael Foucault argues in History and Sexuality,  Confession shaped the modern perception of sexuality.

Take, for example,  Maria Goreti murdered by a lodger, but at least she died a virgin. Rape is a sin against chastity. A far more serious sin is the sin of masturbation. ‘Pullito’.  I, of course, have never masturbated, but I have had a few wanks. Pope Pius XI also warned against the dangers of motion pictures. This was before Dirty Dancing, but of course, any kind of dancing was frowned upon, a breaking of God’s rules. A model priest was someone like the ascetic parish priest of Ars, near Lyon, Jean-Marie Vianney. Born in 1786 Vianney heard tens of thousands of confessions and had preternatural knowledge of who was going to hell. He could tell who the masturbators where before they dared open their mouths or their flies. My favourite story of Vianney was his believe that the best thing to do to stop hungry children stealing apples was cutting down all the apple trees, which he did. Some priests attempt to, or have, cut off their penis.  God likes virgins. So it seems do many priest, based on the premise that you can’t hurt an altar boy because they are the equivalent of Barbie’s Ken.  Adam and Evil in the garden. I’ll let you guess which of the sexes was evil. The Virgin Mary balances that out. Cathars of course thought the Virgin Mary sprang from Jesus’s ear. I’m not sure how that worked. I just hoped it wasn’t a sexual thing.

Cornwell calls for the sacrament of Confession to be brought into the modern world. Children should not make their first Confession when they have no idea what sin is and therefore have as much chance of committing a sin as a banana. Childish innocence should be cherished.   He doesn’t hold out much hope of that happening. And I’m with him on that one.  I also think there is a role for the confessional, but I’m not sure how it would look or how it would work. But I’m willing to be proved wrong. As the agnostic Richard Holloway has consistently argued the most dangerous man is one who refuses to believe he might be wrong. Fundamentalists are Us.