As I was lying back this summer, feet up and enjoying my slothful retirement, I received an urgent call to arms. As a result of a preliminary report I had sent in, the Salford Diocese, in the form of their Safeguarding Commission wanted to see me as soon as possible to talk through the claims I had made in the report; that Monsignor Thomas Duggan, one time Rector of my alma mater, St. Bede’s College in Manchester, was an abuser of young boys, physically, mentally and sexually for 16 years whilst in charge of the school in the 1950s and 60s.
Safeguarding Commissions were established in all the 22 dioceses of England and Wales in the wake of the Nolan Report of 2001 which dealt with the clerical abuse on minors. The objective of these Commissions is to protect children (those under 18 years of age) and vulnerable adults from predatory assaults by officers of the Church. The welfare of the child being of paramount importance.
To date they have had some bad press but their task is unenviable, a little like holding back a tsunami. To do it right they have to show empathy and understanding with the victims and mean it. Unfortunately compensation and legal costs are the inevitable consequences of abuse and the natural reaction for these Commissions is to go on the defensive bolstered by a pack of lawyers that are naturally attracted to this scenario. At this point for me this defensive wall is the biggest drawback to their professed humanitarian values.
So in some ways I was amazed at the alacrity of their response, having read of the Church’s poor performance in this field of abuse. They almost wanted to invade my house in Ireland at 24 hours notice but it was finally arranged that a meeting in Manchester in early September would suffice.
With some trepidation that day approached and I wondered what their response and atitude would be to the very serious accusations I had made in my report. I asked a friend of mine, who had been at school with me and who had helped with the report to accompany me. Two always being better than one, I had visions of us being two Spitfire pilots attacking massed flights of German bombers and fighters in the Battle of Britain.
All the way through the school we had been cowed by the presence of this man Duggan, he had the whole school, priests, lay masters and pupils terrified by his presence. The priests because their natural reaction to perversity is not belligerance, the lay masters who worried about their employment and what a blot, instant dismissal would have on their records and the pupils because they were immature, lacking in confidence and aware that if they complained they would not be believed and therefore subject to more punishment. Some pupils would have been as young as 11 years old and would not have appreciated what was going on.
Tommy Duggan as we ‘affectionately’ called him, used to meet boys in the corridors, put his arms around them and rub his face into theirs, whilst asking “are you being pure boy?”. On other more secluded meetings he would put his arms round boys and lean into them, rubbing his face and his body into theirs and groaning and moaning into their ears or sometimes with the more naive boys threaten them with expulsion from the school for nothing in particular but just to put the fear of god into them.
All boys in those days were used to regular corporal punishment meted out by a master especially appointed to the role. He was known as the Prefect of Discipline: his job was to collect dinner money and strap boys, some were more efficient than others but they all did their job diligently.
As a punishment of last resort and this could be for failing a monthly Latin test or some such evil crime. a pupil would be sent up to Duggan. His preferred method of punishment was to tell the pupil to remove his clothing below his waist and stand naked in front of him whilst he spoke to the boy of his poor record. He would then either lean him over the arm of a sofa or put the lad over his knee and wallop him with a strap and at the same time fondling his rear end to presumably make the pupil more pliant. The testimonies I received all said the same with obvious small differences.
So nobody can tell me that there was not physical, mental and sexual abuse going on almost daily at the school. He had a man employed to dole out the corporal punishment, he did not have to threaten expulsion on the naive good guys, he did not have to lean into us and rub his body and his despicable face into ours, he did not need to fondle our arses, full stop. No other master did it. We were horrified and terrified as young boys, he did not bother the 6th Formers and there is evidence that when he was rebuffed by a boy who would stand up to him, he backed away but held this slight in his mind and dreamt up excuses to remove him from the school. He really was a nasty piece of work.
Off to the meeting we went and I was surprised at the warmth of their welcome, the web seemed very comfortable. The first question they asked was what we wanted to achieve from our campaign. I told them Acceptance, Acknowledgement and Apology: they looked visably relieved and set off at a cracking pace telling us all about their past good work in this difficult field, all their successes and how seriously they treated the report. Except on a few points they were studied, serious and almost word perfect. I should have left satisfied, but I wasn’t; it had all gone a little too much like clockwork. Their practised and professional manner did not completely cover up their worries and fear of repercussion.
It was over before we knew it, with the burden on us to remove the anonimity from our witnesses so that the Commission could interview them. Over the next few days I did it with the strongest men but there are one or two who are still too emotional about their ordeals and I have left them out of the equation for the moment.
Nothing can remove the thoughts from my mind how the Safeguarding Commissions have sheltered these abusing priests in previous cases. You can read about it every day in the newspapers or on the internet and see it on television, especially on Channel 4 News. So at the meeting we were amazed that after they had finished blowing their trumpet, they told us that there was nothing in Duggan’s files. They did say that these files were poor and even an intimation that some files might have been edited in the past and that there might be other files but as far as they were concerned Duggan was snow white, even though the Coordinator of the Commission said that he had been hearing rumours of Duggan’s behaviour many times in the past, on the golf course etc. My mind came to a full stop; the web was getting sticky. I was glad to be out.
That night I awarded myself a prize; a bottle of Malbec from Argentina, courtesy of the citizens of Mendoza. I had won first prize. I was the first man in 60 years to complain about this sexual deviant who held sway over 2500 boys in his period in control. The Commission did say that they would look further into their records. Let us hope they do, but whatever they come up with does not bother me. There are more ways to skin a cat than sharpen a knife.