As shown in the following article, the Comboni Missionaries response to the abuse at Mirfield was similar to the Irish Christian Brothers response to abuse in Sunderland — “it is purely a commercial transaction.”
The Catholic church continues to quietly pay out compensation to victims of alleged sex abuse at Catholic schools in Britain while refusing to accept liability.
Leslie Turner, a retired primary headteacher, was paid £17,000 in compensation by the Irish Christian Brothers in 2014, after claiming two members of the Catholic order sexually abused him at school in Sunderland in the 1960s.
Turner, now 66, has waived his anonymity in a film for the Guardian to allege he was molested from the age of 12 by two teachers at St Aidan’s Roman Catholic grammar school in Sunderland between 1961 and 1967. Both are long dead, but he sued after being diagnosed with delayed onset post-traumatic stress disorder in 2012 as a result of what he says he suffered as a child.
“After the abuse stopped was actually worse than when the abuse was taking place,” Turner told the Guardian. “I tried to become invisible. It never occurred to me to tell anybody. When the headteacher has been abusing you, who do you tell? I put it into a cupboard in my head and I shut the cupboard door.”
Turner is speaking out as the film Spotlight, is released in UK cinemas, which tells the story of the Boston Globe’s investigation into sexual abuse within the Catholic Church in Boston in 2002. The Globe’s investigation helped unveil a pattern of abuse by Catholic priests on a global scale.
“The church in Boston tried to sweep it under the carpet,” Turner said. “You read about cases [of abuse] in this country and other parts of the world … I lost my faith.” Describing the alleged abuse of children at St Aidan’s, Turner says: “It was so frequent it was what we expected to happen. It was normal.” As a child, the abuse made him scared and upset, and that he was letting his mum down, Turner said.
In September 2014 the Congregation of Christian Brothers agreed to pay Turner £17,000 after he brought a compensation claim for psychiatric injury, cost of therapy and loss of earnings, arguing that the Irish Christian Brothers were vicariously liable for the alleged abuse, owing him as a child a direct duty of care.
Numbers of members of the Irish Christian Brothers dwindled after the order became embroiled in sex abuse scandals in the US, Canada, Australia and Ireland. Its assets are now administered by the trustees of the Congregation of Christian Brothers.
The Congregation settled just before the claim was due to be heard in the high court, when it would have been forced to disclose whether any other pupils at schools run by the Irish Christian Brothers, including St Aidan’s, had claimed to have been abused. It would also have had to publicly reveal whether the teachers Turner accuses of abuse had been the subject of any other complaints, and how such complaints were dealt with.
When settling the claim, the Congregation said it was unable to admit or deny the allegations and insisted the Christian Brothers could not admit liability for what Turner claims happened to him. It said it would be “quite impossible” to investigate the allegations more than 50 years on, with the two alleged perpetrators dead.
Turner claims that one, Brother Norman Williams, would habitually abuse him during English lessons when he was 12. He alleges that the teacher would call him to the front of the class to read aloud to other boys, standing behind a large wooden table. As he read, the brother would reach up through his shorts and touch his genitals, pinching between his legs when he made a mistake, Turner says.
He said that the school’s then headmaster, Brother Dennis O’Brien, abused him in his office when he was 13. He said the headmaster asked if he had impure thoughts or actions, and in order to “check”, then abused him. Turner claims the head teacher told him he should say Hail Marys, and felt “great shame and guilt” when he got an erection.
Turner says he is going public to encourage other victims to come forward. “It had a profound effect on me, subconsciously, because more than anything else I wanted to be a teacher. I find this hard to explain to anyone but … I wanted to be a teacher who treated their pupils with respect.”
One of Turner’s classmates had provided a witness statement corroborating his account of what happened at St Aidan’s. Ray Stewart, who also went on to become a headteacher, said Brother Williams sexually assaulted him behind his desk in 1961. He claims he saw the brother “feeling up other boys in my class in exactly the same way”. Stewart also alleges that O’Brien once called him into his office and asked inappropriate questions about his sexual habits.
Turner said he suppressed his experiences throughout his career as a primary school teacher, which culminated in him serving on the Lancashire Safeguarding Children’s Board. He said he only disclosed the alleged abuse in 2007, when watching The Magdalene Sisters, which told of abuse at Catholic schools in Ireland. He reported it to the police in 2010 and was eventually told that Williams had died in 1977 and O’Brien died in 1998. Turner claims a police officer told him they knew of one other sexual abuse complaint made against Williams and four against O’Brien.
In a statement, lawyers for the Congregation said: “It is the unequivocal position of the Congregation of Christian Brothers Trustees that no young person should ever suffer abuse.
“In 2012, when Mr Turner first notified the Congregation of his complaint of abuse from around 1961, we apologised. Mr Turner accepted that apology with good grace. We are pleased that we were subsequently able to reach a mutually acceptable resolution to his claim at the high court.”
The lawyers refused to answer a series of questions from the Guardian, including details of other complaints of sexual abuse made against Williams and O’Brien and other brothers at St Aidan’s.