UK Head of Rosminian Order Responds to BBC Documentary

A few days ago, I blogged on a BBC documentary about sex abuse in schools run by the Roman Catholic Rosminian order; the programme explained how the head of the order in the UK, Father David Myers, had declined to participate in the programme in the following terms:

…I have decided to follow the advice given in the book of Lamentations: ‘It is good to wait in silence’ 3:16

However, Myers has now apparently had enough of “waiting in silence” and has isssued a statement:

In response to the BBC documentary programme “Abused: Breaking the Silence” some points should be clarified.

From the very beginning, attempts were made to be open and transparent. Apologies were offered, without reservation on behalf of my brethren to those who suffered. Such abuse was a grievous breach of trust to them and their families. We are appalled by what was done to them. We accept that we have moral and pastoral responsibility to the survivors for the harm done to them.

When these instances of abuse were brought, the police, the hierarchy and Church safeguarding officials in the risk management of the accused were immediately informed. Information came to light in September 2009, of abuse at Grace Dieu dating from 1954 to 1958 and Soni from 1954 to 1974. Representatives of the survivors’ group were invited to a meeting. They said that that they wanted an acknowledgment of what was done to them and an apology, and not publicity.

Regarding the following specific issues raised by the programme:

Fr Bernard Collins. After an extensive and thorough investigation, we have found no evidence in our records that Fr Collins was moved to Soni in the knowledge that he had abused boys at Grace Dieu. Indeed, the records indicate that it was a long planned move.

Fr Kit Cunningham. On 8th February 2010, writing to all those who had contacted me about abuse, the email concluded, saying that if they wanted to issue a press release, it was “their call”.

In response, one of the leaders of the survivors’ group said explicitly that they did not want any press involvement. This position had not changed when Fr Kit Cunningham died in December 2010.

When obituaries were being written about Fr Cunningham I responded truthfully to those journalists who contacted me who had heard the story that he had returned his MBE. I confirmed that he had, and the reasons why.

However, the newspapers concerned chose not to publicise this.

The tone is again somewhat unfortunate and defensive, and parts are beside the point. In fact, the victims acknowledged in the programme that Myers’ initial response had been genuine, and that they had appreciated the meeting which he arranged for them in London: the problem was that this attitude changed when the topic moved on from reconciliation to financial restitution.

As for Myers’ willingness to explain why Cunningham had returned his MBE, that appears to have come after the obituaries had appeared, not “when they were being written”. According to Peter Stanford, who wrote the Guardian‘s obituary (here):

In my obituary of him in January, I wrote as I found. A week after publication I received an email. “It is good that he is remembered for his good,” my correspondent began, “but there are many who will remember the other side of Kit… a sexual, physical and mental abuser. It would be good if you just let him rest in peace, but I finally reacted as there was too much praise going on for this deviated creep.”

…My first (shameful) instinct was to wonder if my correspondent might be mistaken, but he had included in his note a means of testing his claim. “Suffice it to say,” he wrote of Fr Kit, “he returned his MBE to the Queen last year when his past demons came to haunt him.” That was something I could check easily. It was true.

According to the BBC documentary, the issue of Cunningham’s MBE first came up after an abuse victim left a comment under a blog-post on the Daily Telegraph website on 12 December; that paper’s obituary was published the next day, and so the comment wouldn’t have been chased up there in time for that.

And it seems that while Cunningham may have been willing to explain when asked about the MBE, he was less frank when dealing with general enquiries. According to the Telegraph‘s Damian Thompson:

Fr Cunningham received warm obituaries when he died last December aged 79. That’s not a surprise: many a party was enlivened by his benevolent, boozy personality and he set high standards of liturgy at Ely Place. I myself have been the recipient of his kindness; when vague rumours of unspecified misbehaviour began to circulate immediately after his death, I advised the Catholic Herald that he should not be judged guilty without evidence. The paper scaled down its planned tribute to this “legendary” priest while it tried to find out what the fuss was about; it contacted the Provincial of the Rosminians in England, Fr David Myers – but he said not a word about any paedophile offences and, as a result, neither did the Herald or the rest of the media. We were quite deliberately kept in the dark.

The author of the Herald‘s obituary, Francis Phillips, apparently knew nothing until he listened to BBC Radio’s Sunday programme two days before the documentary aired.

As for Collins’s sudden departure for Africa following a complaint of sex abuse, the  BBC documentary stated the order’s archives are closed to outside scrutiny, so we can’t judge for ourselves whether this was indeed simply a coincidence –  that’s not to suggest that Myers is being dishonest, but sometimes documents can be interpreted in more than one way.