Duggan: Was He Or Wasn’t He.

On the 23rd August 2011 I wrote a posting entitled Questions To Be Answered a quizzical look at an almost anonymous priest of the Salford Diocese and on the 30th April 2012 I followed it up with an allegorical look at the same question, How Not To Sew Seed: An Allegory as to whether Monsignor Duggan, one time Rector of St Bede’s College in Manchester and the plague of approximately 2500 young boys in his tenure and who died of an aortic aneurism in 1968 was in the tertiary stage of syphilis which caused this aneurism.

Just recently I have read the recently published, fantastically well written historical novel by Sarah Dunant, a specialist in this genre, called Blood and Beauty, the rise of the Valencian,Spanish Borgia family to the heights of Power and Papacy in Rome in the 1490s.  As Sarah explained in a full length piece in yesterday’s, 18th May 2013 Guardian Review, the turning point for her in the planning of the book, was the discovery of the outbreak of “malaise francaise” in Naples in 1495 after Charles VIII’s army had conquered the Neapolitan kingdom with his army of 38,000 men drawn from the backwaters of Southern Europe.  Some of whom were returned sailors from Christopher Columbus’s second voyage of discovery in the Carribbean.

Sarah in her piece in the Guardian reccommended and thanked Deborah Hayden for her massively well researched book on the Pox which swept Europe for the first time at the end of the 15th century and turned the disease into a killer of populations.  A secret disease that nobody talked about or understood but became a death sentence on sexual contact with somebody who had the spirochete parasite within them.  The big problem with the disease, once it had entered its secondary and tertiary stages was that it mimicked so many other diseases it was missed by many doctors who treated what they saw and not what was very apparent.  It took the mind of a detective in doctors to assemble all the clues and finally analyse the root cause of a patient’s symptoms.

This book by Deborah Hayden The Pox: Genius, Madness and the Mysteries of Syphilis examines the history of the disease and how it raged virtually unchecked for 450 years throughout the world before a highly successful cure was found in penicillin in 1945 which destroyed most of the damage the disease could do to the human body.  Before 1945 doctors messed about with a myriad supposed cures, which often caused as much harm as the disease itself, feeding poisons like mercury and arsenic into the body in various quantities, like modern day chemotherapy.  So for 250 years doctors recognised the disease, knew its consequences but could do very little to ease its devastating effect on human life.

One of their main problems, knowing its social impact, was how to inform or treat those closest to the victim.  This was a conundrum that defied the medical profession but eventually brought about this much vaunted doctor/patient confidentiality credo that is so strong today.  Wives, children, families all caught up in this silence, not knowing what caused all their terrible symptoms and sufferings.  I would advise everybody to read Deborah Hayden’s book for the very necessary insight into a disease that nearly stopped the world but is very rarely seen nowadays in its untreated form.  For a look at how the Church operated in those days and how the Pox invaded the powers of the papacy read Sarah Dunant’s excellent book on the Borgias and do read my two blog postings mentioned above.

To return to Thomas Duggan’s life, there are one or two periods and one or two circumstances that do not add up and can very easily be fitted into the footprint of a syphilitic.  He was born in 1906 in the textile village of Oswaldthwistle, of Tipperary Irish stock once removed from the Famine, conceived out of wedlock and showed signs at an early age of high intelligence.  He was educated at St Bede’s College in Manchester, leaving in 1923 for Rome where he studied for the priesthood and was ordained in 1930.  Already his life pattern can see a mind with no chance of emotional development having been captured at the age of 11 by the Church.  After further studies in Rome he came back to the Salford Diocese and was allocated a place at Bede’s teaching English, where after three years his talents were spotted by Bishop Thomas Henshaw, who made him his Private Secretary in 1936.  This post of Private Secretary is very important, it means he had been picked out for higher episcopal duties.  The Private Secretary knows all the secrets of the Bishop and the Diocese and confidentiality is undoubtedly required.

Henshaw died in September 1938 and Duggan continued in his role, unmanaged until Henry Vincent Marshall was appointed Bishop in September 1939 and Duggan continued his role under Marshall.  The Diocese had been without a Bishop for a year and Duggan, a young priest of 32/33 years of age must have been given loads of responsibility and without a doubt lots of freedom.  Marshall kept him for a year then unloaded him back to Bede’s in September 1940.  It is in this period, late 1938 to early 1940, the first question lies.

On a tour of duty taking a very famous American priest round the Salford Diocese in the summer of 2011 and filling him in with details of Duggan’s career, he became very interested in this period.  He could not understand the retrogressive step to Duggan from Private Secretary to the Bishop to schoolteacher.  Immediately he knew something had happened, something drastic to warrant this fall from grace.  Private Secretary’s go up not down.

It is not a giant leap of the imagination to suggest that in this unattended year of 1939 Duggan, like thousands of priests before him, had contracted syphilis and had ridden out the primary stages of the disease, the growth of an ornate chancre on his penis, without any senior management knowledge.  After a year and during the early months of Marshall’s bishopric, the secondary stages of syphilis would have appeared, high fevers, agonising pains in the limbs, rosaceas appearing on his body, none of which could be hidden from a third party.  Marshall was not daft, he knew the signs, he had seen it so often before but he was not without empathy.  Duggan could no longer go upward, it was five years before the cure, penicillin, was discovered.  So Marshall hid him away in the teaching staff of St Bede’s, away from parishioners and prying eyes and that is where he stayed for ten years, entering after a few years the latent stage of the disease, where contagion disappears and symptoms remain dormant.

After ten years and with his natural talents coming to the fore and seemingly disease free, Marshall appointed him Rector in 1950, a high post but again relatively distant from the outside world.  From this time Duggan’s natural tendencies brought on by immature emotional development had a free reign and he started to abuse the quiet good looking boys he was attracted to, reaching a peak in the late 1950s.  It is in this part of the latent stage of the disease 15 to 25 years after contraction, the medical profession say that the tertiary stage of syphilis is reached.  This becomes apparent in various ways with all kinds of dramatic illnesses which doctors could never fully put their finger on but it also brought on neurosyphilis which portrayed itself in all manner of outlandish mannerisms giving the victims feeling of euphoria, grandiosity, irritability and outlandish rages, leading eventually and in most cases to paresis and aortic aneurism and death.  Certainly by about 1963 Duggan’s sexual urges had died off but his behaviour was becoming more bizarre, his grandiose appearances and his unexplained rages were there for all to see along with alarming dilation of the pupils of both eyes.  Geoffrey Burke, the headmaster, Duggan’s now only contact with the outside world and praetorian guardian, kept as much as he could in check but not it all.  Outbursts at passing members of staff were terrible to witness and according to one very aimiable and talented teacher nearly led him to have a nervous breakdown.

By 1965 the staff were in revolt, Burke was helpless to contain the problem but would not openly report it.  The priests on the staff led, by the diminutive but strong and outraged John Groarke, headed a deputation to the Vicar General, the then Bishop Holland’s deputy.  They explained their dismay and expected the diocese to respond.  They did and by Christmas 1965 Duggan laid low by an outbreak of the disease was on his way out.  It did not become apparent while he recovered but by the Summer of 1966 he had been farmed out to Langho, a little community in North Lancashire where he died two years later.  On his death and for all his troubles Geoffrey Burke was appointed Auxilliary Bishop of Salford where he remained trouble free except for the odd rebellious priest of which there were many in Salford, post Vatican II.

Whilst researching this piece I read that posting of mine of August 2011 which contained the powerful poem by Mike Harding, Dead Man In Langho, Lancashirewhere he had the line let us not forget the powder for your shining dome as children we always remarked on this but could never understood this powder he used to coat his face and head in but now I know it was to cover and hide the rosaceas that appear on the skin during the secondary stages of syphilis and break out intermittently in the latent stage.

God we were a blessed generation of young Catholic boys.

5 thoughts on “Duggan: Was He Or Wasn’t He.

  1. Syphilis could be cured even in the 1930s, using salvarsan. I don’t find your hypothesis very compelling.

    1. Salvarsan was discovered in 1912 by Erlich, I think is name was. It was an Arsenic based injection that was as bad in its side affects as the mercury based treatment it replaced. It was popular for a time until the horror of the side affects took shape and eventually most continued with their syphilis rather than take the injections.

  2. You know the more I read about Tommy D the more I feel somewhat sorry for the bloke. What a life he must have lived. Alone, ailing and sick. I know this is all supposition but if only half of it is true how the heck did he live with himself? I watched him for the best part of 7 years as a boarder church student and presumed his behaviour was typical of a high prelate of the church! I will never ever forget his “Dominus Vobiscum”. His eyes would penetrate into your very soul. Incredible.

  3. I remember the torture of Friday Benediction-Duggan in full “Rent-a-prelate” costume giving the excruciating homilies-“Bartemaeus” was a regular!! A great start to the week-end?

  4. One symptom to look out for would be severe deafness. Also, musical creativity, due to the musical hallucinations common early in the disease. There was an epidemic of classical music composing in Europe following in the trail of Napoleon’s troops as they went round the capital cities. The future composers caught the disease at a very young age, so I would think the most likely source of Duggan’s pox was Rome. Homosexuality is a strong risk factor for syphilis, so he must surely have started abusing boys earlier than 1950. qv Wilde, whose homosexuality has now been shown to have started far earlier than previously supposed.

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