Well for the following couple of days, the beginning of last week actually, I wondered round in a daze, teaching by remote control. I don’t remember half the things we covered but I suppose my notes will tell me and I had lost touch with any kind of progress in the tutorials. I knew there was something fundamentally wrong at the school but I could not work it out, I knew it needed exposing but I did not know how to go about it. I felt like Kevin and poor Anthony, I felt I had been wronged but I am sure nobody would believe what I had to say and sure as eggs are eggs, I could prove nothing. I thought I would get wise advice off the only person I felt might believe me, I even thought of bringing this up with Mummy and Daddy but I had a worry that they also might not comprehend and I did not want our relationship to suffer. No this was a professional problem as much as anything.
I cornered Gordon. One lunch time I was playing a piece (name the piece and play a bit of it*) and I knew he would come in when he heard the music, he couldn’t resist if he was in the vicinity. After a few minutes he came in, sat down at a desk, gave me a smile and pretended to be reading The Times, whilst at the same time surreptitiously conducting me with his right index finger behind his journal. I let his idyll continue for a while and then I suddenly stopped playing and walked over and sat in the next desk. I told him I had something to say and for him not to interrupt until I had finished. I wasn’t halfway through my expose, when he held his hands up signalling me to stop. “Enough Miss Kirk, you have no proof, I know you haven’t. This thing has cropped up before in different ways and has always been shot down. Whether it is the ravings of a supposedly wronged pupil or even possibly the truth, you are up against a Monsignor here and you are quoting a 13 year old boy and that is a recipe for disaster. You could harm your whole career if you go forward with this.”
“I have been teaching music at this school since 1921 and I have heard this kind of rumour on and off in all this time. Monsignor Duggan has been here at the school since the beginning of the war and before that for a few years as well. He is in an invidious position, up there on the firing line facing every man jack pupil who has a grudge. Even if it was true and sometimes like yourself I don’t doubt some witnesses, you have to be a 110% sure and you cannot be. My experience is that wherever you get male teachers and more often than not priests and pupils you will get this type of rumour and for me to investigate that, exposes my whole belief system. I will start to worry about my own existence and I am not willing to lay bare the whole of my religious beliefs and teachings. I am willing enough to let sleeping dogs lie. I often think that there is an element of nature about it, as human beings we are all different in a way and I know the thought of it isn’t nice and I know if there was an element of truth in it, I would rather it not be there but the honest thing is, it is probably there or thereabouts all the time. It does not seem to do the boys much harm. With Anthony, I would suggest there were other things at play besides the story you are trying to tell me. So my advice is to forget about it and in your own small way, like a few of us on the staff, try and make sure the boys avoid these one to one situations. On the QT I know a couple of masters fear the worst and would rather send a boy to the moon than send him up to the Rector”.
“Look Miss Kirk, I am retiring in a year’s time and I have been watching your progress through this year. I realise we have put a large amount on you, more than I thought we would at interview and you have sailed through it all without complaining and you have performed admirably. The boys all love you and to tell you the truth, the old place needs more ladies like you around and less old fuddy duddys like myself. Any way my job and my department is yours when I walk out this gate, I’ll make sure of that, so please forget what you are thinking. You might be right and then again you might be wrong. Concentrate on your career and everything will be fine”. With that he folded his paper and went out the door.
I was deflated, flatter than a car tyre that had been punctured for miles, I was wobbling on my rims. Everything I had once held dear was shaken. Here was a senior master telling me I might be right but that it was an almost natural emotion that is prone to priests and some teachers and that I should forget all about it and try and not let these situations happen and realise that it is not as bad as I am making it out to be. I could not believe what I was hearing.
A couple of days later I was still mulling over what Gordon had said and wondering what was the best way ahead when he, Mr Frost that is, collared me one evening as I finished.
“Miss Kirk, I have been talking to the Rector about my retirement and I have been singing your praises, telling him what a remarkable teacher you are. He is leaving it up to me to crown my successor, there is of course, responsibilities and salary to iron out but the job is yours if you want it. So please don’t rock the boat. Forget about what you told me, go about your duties and everything will sort itself out for the best.”
I thanked him for his canvassing and his generosity but I could see I had options and I needed time to think and we went our separate ways, him to teach and bury himself in his musical world, me to work hard on why I was on this earth. This last week had been the hardest few days of my life. It was a lovely early July evening, the school was busy with external and internal exams, there was nobody about, I walked over and sat on a bench on the Master’s Lawn and let the breeze sooth my tortured brow.
As far as I could see I had three options:-
A.) Try and uncover the evil that was happening – but how?
B.) Get my head down and forget about the recent events and Anthony’s death and thinking about it, probably Michael’s decline and concentrate on being the best music teacher in the world, or
C.) Resign, walk away and be rid of the pressures and try and fight this cancer from outside but with obviously limited chances but first find another job
They all had things to recommend and I did realise that if I followed my conscience and Catholic upbringing that Option A was the favourite but then I would be fighting my Church and to a lesser extent my parents. I did not start to think what damage it would do to them and I really did not want to go there. Option B was easy, get my head down and do what I was naturally good at but it was going against every fibre of my being but was I being too scrupulous. Option C, although hard in the short term was the easy option and one I considered for quite a while but it would have been very difficult to achieve especially if I was working in a different place with other duties to perform.
I was at my wits end with no other avenues to go down, I had to decide there was nobody going to do it for me. In the end and it was only on Wednesday did I decide and against every Christian bone in my body, I went for B. I was young, ambitious and gifted, I kidded myself that I could look after the boys inside the fold rather than outside it. I forgot about Kevin and Anthony and Michael and probably lots and lots more, I forgot about Monsignor Duggan and his evil, I thought only of myself and besides, that block of flats near the school playing fields was nearing completion, I had signed my name on the dotted line and my first mortgage payment was shortly due. Mr Gordon Frost is delighted, Fr Geoffrey Burke and Monsignor Thomas Duggan now smile when we pass. I wonder how much they know. I wonder how much of the old adage they admit to. Hold your friends close but your enemies closer.
(During the last few sentences the same rousing chorus of Faith of Our Father’s is being sung by the senior choir and slowly tails off to the last sentence when it ends in a strangulated climax)
*Denotes instruction for a musical piece of the directors choosing
Monsignor Duggan went on sexually abusing boys for another six years until he retired prematurely with health problems.
Fr Burke took Monsignor Duggan’s place as Rector and was elevated to Monsignor and within a year was made Auxiliary Bishop of Salford until he died in 1990. Well paid and appointed for his stewardship of an evil man.
Mr Gordon Frost did retire in the Summer of 1961
Miss Julia Kirk became Head of Music that year and remained so until her retirement in July 2003 after 42 years teaching at St Bede’s College. She never married. She no longer saw what was going on around her to that day. What Miss Kirk did not know at the time was that there was several abusers at the school, each taking their piece of the pie. In the words of Edmund Burke that great Irish statesman and political theorist “it is necessary only for the good man to do nothing for evil to triumph”
Edward, the shy English Master, started at the College in 1957, having been educated there. He had a long and successful and very popular career at the school before retiring himself at the age of 65 after 44 years teaching.
Mr Frost was right, when you get priests and young boys together you indubitably will get abuse. It was these thoughts that sometimes bothered Miss Kirk in her following 41 years but eventually like the rest of the staff, one becomes immune eventually. It is just the generations of boys growing in to men that suffer, growing old, not realising their potential, living wrecked lives and not being able to do a damn thing about it.