Category Archives: Personal / QTC

Hackattack? Like the Phoenix, Still I Rise!

For almost a month, my primary site, “Queering the Church”, has been down. Readers cannot access it, I cannot access it – or the admin dashboard. I’ve spent time investigating, hours (and money) on the telephone to the hosting company, and still no idea if I’m on the verge of retrieving it – or no closer than ever before. Only two things I know for certain: I will soon be taking a final decision on which of two approaches I will adopt – and that like the phoenix, the site in one form or another, will rise again.

In the words of Maya Angelou, “Still I Rise”.

Continue reading Hackattack? Like the Phoenix, Still I Rise!

"Can you be gay and Catholic?" (I Go Head to head with "Catholic Voices")

church and rainbow flagf

Terry Weldon
Some time ago, I described how Catholic Voices arranged a supposedly public discussion on how Catholics should respond to the political debates on same – sex marriage – but when I and a friend attempted to register for the event, we found that at a Catholic Voices discussion about Catholics and gay marriage, gay Catholics were not welcome. I was therefore interested when I was contacted by the BBC religious affairs department recently, about participating in an email debate with a representative of the orthodox Catholic view, on that very subject. The original intention was for the discussion to be completed for publication on the BBC website for Sunday 10th, last week – but it seemed to take the producer a remarkably long time to track down someone willing to debate that topic with me. By the time he did have a volunteer (in the end, representing Catholic Voices), it was too late for publication last week, and the topic had somehow transformed into the more general one – “Can you be gay and Catholic?” Continue reading "Can you be gay and Catholic?" (I Go Head to head with "Catholic Voices")

Won’t someone please think of the kiddies?

Hello all. This is Robynn, Terence’s daughter, responding to his invitation to comment for myself on the terrible, terrible hardship I suffered growing up with a gay father. Wait, that’s not quite right…I feel a little out of place writing here, as I am not Catholic; indeed, not a believer at all. Normally I am happy to stick to what I know and keep my opinions on Church policies to myself, but then, the Church doesn’t seem to follow the same principle, insisting as it does on telling us all that gay couples make terrible parents. Not only do the bishops not have any special knowledge on the subject, they seem to be denying what evidence and experience is in fact out there. And they’re certainly not keeping their prejudices opinions to themselves. Continue reading Won’t someone please think of the kiddies?

My Journey in Faith  

 One of my readers has asked in a comment to meet and interview me about my experiences as a gay Catholic. In preparation for this meeting, I have put together a brief description of the key influences on my journey in faith, which I now share with you all.

Childhood & Education

I was born in a Catholic family in South Africa, and educated entirely in Catholic schools.  In particular, my secondary schooling was in a small school run by priests, in the ears immediately following Vatican II.  For 5 years, religious instruction was a daily part of the school syllabus, delivered by a man with a strong commitment to the VII reforms, and (for the time) an unusual emphasis on Scripture. I remember in particular an extended period of instruction on Biblical ideas on the nature of God, along the lines of “God is…..” , such as “God is Truth”, “God is Life”, “God is Light”, “God is Hope”, “God is Wisdom”, and above all, “God is Love.”   For each of these statements, we laboriously wrote out and memorised endless biblical texts in support of these themes, together with their chapter and verse references.   I regret that I no longer remember any more than a handful of these texts, but they strongly coloured my perceptions of the nature of God. If I have forgotten the details of the texts, I clearly remember and treasure the themes, as listed above.

At university, my religious education was continued less formally by active participation in student Catholic societies.  Against the background of strong student opposition to expanding apartheid repression, I developed a strong commitment to the social Gospel, and was influenced by ideas around liberation theology and what later became known as contextual theology.

Sexual Awareness & Marriage

From a very early age, I was aware that in many ways I was ‘different’ from other boys, sharing several interests more usually found in girls.  Through adolescence, I came to realise that this was based on sexual attraction to boys, and began to wonder seriously if I might really be ‘homosexual’.  By the time I reached university, I clearly recognised my ‘inclinations’ but very conscious of Catholic teaching on sex, attempted to repress them.  I then, with far too little thought or premeditation, at a young age rushed into marriage to an equally young Catholic woman. Adhering to Catholic teaching on contraception, two young daughters followed soon after.  The experience of parenthood while still very young, before either of us was properly ready for it emotionally or financially, soon placed the marriage under increasing stress.

After marriage, I found I was drifting gradually away from the church, attended Mass less and less regularly, and stopped receiving the sacraments altogether, largely over issues around sexual guilt.  In time, I came to see myself as specifically ‘agnostic’. (It is worth spelling this out now:  my clear attempts to follow church teaching on sex, from masturbation to premarital sex and contraception, led me into an inappropriate marriage, premature fatherhood, and in time to movement away from the Church, towards avowed agnosticism.)

After marriage, I found I was drifting gradually away from the church, attended Mass less and less regularly, and stopped receiving the sacraments altogether, largely over issues around sexual guilt.  In time, I came to see myself as specifically ‘agnostic’. (It is worth spelling this out now:  my clear attempts to follow church teaching on sex, from masturbation to premarital sex and contraception, led me into an inappropriate marriage, premature fatherhood, and in time to movement away from the Church, towards avowed agnosticism.)

Coming Out.

During the gradual breakdown of my marriage, I came increasingly to recognise that I was ‘probably’ primarily homosexual.  Once the marriage had ended, I finally recognised the truth, and came out:  first to myself, and then to others.  I became active in ‘Gasa Rand’ – the local gay activist association – where I met Bruce, who became a major part of my life for nearly 20 years.  During the time leading up to and after coming out, I sought out and read as much as I could find on ‘gay lit’, including fiction, gay history, and gay politics.  In South Africa in the 1980’s available supplies were limited (a function of censorship, significant relative expense, and a small market).  Still, my reading became extensive, if eclectic.

A year after meeting Bruce, we moved in together (sharing our lives for the next 18 years).  At the time we met, he too was not practicing any religion, but had been raised an Anglican. (As a young man, he had thought of becoming a monk) After a few years together, he began to attend church services once again, in an Anglo-Catholic parish.  Later, he became more interested in Catholicism, and began to attend the Latin Mass of the ‘traditional’ Catholics.

This left me increasingly uncomfortable, because it through into the foreground my conflict with the church over sexuality, and because the traditional Catholics offended my strong Vatican II sympathies.  Still, we agreed to differ on religion, while agreeing that in spite of religious teaching, homosexuality itself was not intrinsically immoral, and that our relationship, being committed and monogamous, was as valid as any legal marriage.

Return to the Church

Later, there came a point when I considered returning to the Church.  I learned that a former student friend had become a Jesuit priest, and was then parish priest in the university parish where I had been many years earlier. I went to see him to discuss my reservations.  Among the very important observations he made were that faith was a matter of experience, not of reason or dogma; that I should not prejudge the Lord’s (or the Church’s) response  to my sexuality;  but that he personally did not believe the Lord would expect me in a committed and loving relationship, to live to harsher standards than anyone else.  Above all, he urged me to make a leap in faith, and see how things worked out, which is what I did.

The resulting experience was wholly positive and enriching.

When I told Bruce that I was thinking of returning to church, he immediately responded that he would abandon the traditional Catholics and join me at that same university parish.  My daughter Barbara, who by that time was herself a student and was then living with us to attend uni, also said that she would like to join us, and so we began regular Mass attendance as a family. Over the years, we were both drawn ever deeper into the life of the parish, assisting in many branches of parish life, and even serving together for several years on the Parish Pastoral Council.  Although we very much visible as a couple, in a relationship that was obvious to all, we found no hostility from anyone, and a very warm welcome from many.

As a Jesuit parish, we were also drawn gradually into exploration of Ignatian spirituality, and in time into deeper exploration thereof in the Christian Life Community (“CLC”).  Amongst the key Ignatian ideas that became of great importance to me were:

– the idea that the Holy Spirit is constantly attempting to communicate with us.  By learning to read, or ‘discern’ the movement of the Spirit within our hearts, we can come to hear God speaking to us directly;

– the importance of regular (ideally daily) ‘examen’ of consciousness.  This is a form of prayer, in which we reflect on our experience and the resultant emotions, in order to discern those movements of the Spirit.

-‘Ignatian indifference’:  the idea that the moral value of things or states lies not in themselves, but in what we do with them, and how we apply them to building God’s Kingdom on earth.  (The “Principle & Foundation” speaks of “seeking neither riches nor poverty, neither sickness nor health”)

– the value of communal sharing and reflection with others, to assist in the process of discernment

– ‘Mission’:  the idea that the Lord has a unique task for each of us, with which we are sent into the world to do his will.

A further idea that hit me with powerful force was not specifically Ignatian, although I did first encounter it in the CLC group.  This was the argument promoted in the book ‘Redemptive Intimacy’ by Dick Westley, that revelation is not something that was given in biblical times, and then static, but is continually unfolded by the Holy Spirit, and needs to be constantly reinterpreted for changing times.  (I have since learnt that this idea is widely accepted by theologians, and was restated by Benedict XVI in one of his Christmas addresses). Westley argues that all of us, laity as well as clergy, have a part to play in interpreting this unfolding revelation by communal sharing and reflection on our experiences.  In short, theology is constantly being remade, and we all have a part to play in making it.

Under the impact of Ignatian ideas, I regularly took into prayer, alone, under the guidance of Spiritual Direction, or on silent retreat, the whole question of sexuality and faith.  On every occasion, the resulting conclusion was that I was reaffirmed in my existing conviction that homosexual expression in my relationship was not sinful, but on the contrary was good and life-giving. (I did not then explore issues of sex outside such a relationship).

Emigration

Eventually, we both reached a decision, taken after extensive research, thought and prayerful discernment, to leave South Africa and to emigrate to the UK.  We were then both teachers, and before departure secured posts in English schools.  However, the school year had barely begun when Bruce concluded that he had made a mistake in emigrating, and after a few months returned to Johannesburg.  I reached a different conclusion, and remained behind.

This put me into a very difficult emotional position, having to deal alone with the simultaneous stresses of adjusting to emigration, the sudden break-up of a long relationship, coping with a dramatically new and different school environment with more challenging pupil behaviour, and adjusting as a single person to dramatically different financial calculations to those I had expected.  All this in a country I did not know, where I had no personal friends, and indeed knew nobody other than school colleagues, and (fortunately) my daughter Robynn, who had preceded me to London a year before my own move.

With no existing support system, I deliberately set out to create one.  I sought out my local parish and parish priest (but signally failed to find the sort of community I had previously been accustomed to).  I joined a local gay friendship group, and signed on to Gaydar internet dating.  In time, I met up with the Soho Masses where I found a very strong welcome and sense of community, and where I became a regular participant.

Once again, I was forced to reconsider the question of reconciling faith and sexuality.  I took myself off to a rural monastery for a short private retreat, and steeped myself in prayer.  Once again, I found myself reaffirmed in the belief that my sexuality was not intrinsically immoral, and this time more:  I began to believe that finding other gay Catholics and working together with them for mutual support, was an important part of the ‘mission’ that I needed to undertake, indeed, was part of the reason that God’s plan had brought me here.

Reflecting on my experiences in the (gay) support network I was developing, as well as the few sexual experiences I had found, I saw that some of these at least had been enormously beneficial – good sex can be a powerful antidepressant.  And so, I came to recognise, in the light of experience and discernment, that sex does not necessarily have to be in the context of a relationship to be healthy and valid.  (But also, that not all sex is good).

Soho Masses

I have now been attending these regularly for almost 6 years, even though the journey into Soho from my home in Surrey is time consuming (for every Mass or meeting I set aside 4 hours total travelling time).  I have been gradually drawn ever deeper into the activities, first as a reader, then as a Eucharistic Minister, and then as a member of the Pastoral Council.  I have also joined other lesbian & gay Catholics in London’s annual Gay Pride March through central London.

The rewards are incalculable.

First of these is the Mass itself, which is always uniquely rewarding:  the liturgy is invariably rich, the homilies intelligent and thought provoking, the congregational singing vigorous and the occasional additional music superb.  The welcome, sense of community, and friendships formed are invaluable.

There have been specific, less routine highlights. First, I was privileged to have been serving on the Pastoral Council when the Diocese approached us about a move from the Anglican premises we had been using to a Catholic parish, and so was drawn into those negotiations, and into the process of discernment within our congregation of the most appropriate response.

In an ongoing attempt to wrestle with the tension between the gift of sexuality that the Lord has given me, and the formal teaching of the church, I have been deeply grateful for the extensive reading lists and direct access to selected books for sale, that I have had access to through the Masses.  These have been complemented by some intensely moving workshops, retreats, lectures and days of recollection on ‘matters Catholic and gay.’

At a strictly personal level, it was emotionally gratifying when my new partner (an Anglican) joined me for some of the Masses at our former home at St Anne’s, and when the civil partnership we entered into a few years back was noted in the bidding prayers.

A Paradox.

Arising out of the negotiations concluded with the diocese, there is one important paradox and source of tension.

During the discussions, it was made clear that the diocesan expectation was that the Masses should be strictly ‘pastoral’, and should not be used for ‘campaigning’ against church teaching.  This we were (broadly) happy to accept, although there was never any clarification of just what was meant by the terms. It is my belief that the distinction between them is not nearly as clear cut as the Bishops seem to assume. Also, the public statements from the Cardinal at the time and after clearly stated that there would be an expectation that those living would be living ‘in accordance with Catholic teaching’, that there would be no ‘ambiguity’ in our presentation of church teaching, which should be presented ‘in full’.

This presents an obvious paradox, as many of us, including myself, appear to be living in a manner clearly in conflict with official teaching, and some of us believe that we have a moral obligation to other LGBT Catholics to provide them with sound counter arguments to official teaching, and also to work towards changing this teaching.  (Does this constitute ‘campaigning’ against the teaching, or contributing to the development of new theology?)

Part of this tension, on living in accordance with teaching, I resolve precisely by looking to the teaching ‘in full’:  that is by looking not only at sexual theology in isolation, but also at teaching on conscience, on justice and peace, on how the process of making theology works, at the contextual background and history of how the theology was developed, and on the importance of prayer and personal discernment in the formation of conscience.  Against this wider background, I would argue that I am living not in a state of sanctity or free of sin, but certainly in as much accordance with church teaching as most other Catholics  – and with somewhat more reading and reflection than the average behind my decisions.

The second part, the restriction on using the Masses for ‘campaigning’, I resolve by recognising first, that in a very real sense the pastoral is political: our simple presence makes an important statement.  But further, there remains, I believe, an obligation to work more directly and actively towards countering and changing the standard official teaching.  This I resolve by separating my activities with the Masses, and elsewhere.  Specifically, it is to play my part in this respect that I set up my blog in the first place.

More Worms (Sexual Abuse and Me: continued.)

Preamble:

Scroobious responded to my previous post by quoting Chandler from Friends: “Can – open. Worms – everywhere!”  Sorry to do this, Scrooby, but today there are more cans and more worms – and they’re breeding.

The content of this post does not belong on this blog.  It has (almost) nothing to do with the church, and nothing strictly to do with LGBT/queer.

It is also not easy to write (especially as my daughter is one of my most loyal readers), and may be disturbing to read. Those of a sensitive disposition – be warned. However, it is an important  sequel to my last post on the subject, and an essential prelimiary to my more important observations on abuse in general, and of the church in particular.  And so it must be done.

The Gang Show, Johannesburg, 1960′s.

In my early teens, I spent some very happy years as a boy scout in a troop affiliated to our Catholic parish (although the church connection is only minimally relevant here).  A highlight of these years was my annual participation in the local “Gang Show” – a variety concert produced annually as a regional fundraiser, by individual boys and adult scouters drawn from scout troops across the city.  From my own troop, there were three adults fully involved (sometimes more), and 6-8 boys.  Transport was provided for the whole group by the dedicated scoutmaster, who drove a typically 60′s VW ‘Kombi minibus, in which we all travelled twice a week to rehearsals, and later to performances.

During the third year of my participation, when I will have been about 13, I found myself being befriended by a man who was the District Commissioner for my own troop.  It did not occur to me to question why I should have been singled out for his attentions – although I did become aware that he had a reputation for having befriended other pretty young faces in previous years.  On a few occasions, he volunteered after rehearsals to drive me home in his smart red convertible.  These trips were without incident – exccept for the  icecreams he treated me with en route.

The climax of the rehearsal period always came with a weekend scout camp, for intensive rehearsals, wardrobe fittings, and technical preparations,  as well as more conventional scouting fun things – an evening campfire and the like.   Given the large numbers attending, there were not tents for all, so the boys and some of the adults spread our sleeping bags in a large shed of some kind:  30 or 40 boys, and perhaps 6 or 8 adults.  Surprise:  one of those adults was my district commissioner, who contrived to lay his sleeping bag next to mine.

After lights out, after quiet had begun to settle, he began to whisper endearments, then surprised me by slipping  his hand inside my sleeping bag, and caressing me – before giving me my first experience of fellatio.  I vividly remember two incidental features in particular:  his constant assurances that what he was doing was not wrong, as he was simply expressing his great affection for me; and the after action cigarette he lit up, the red coal glowing brightly like a beacon in the night.   (Complaints from the other adults about the smoking made it clear the other adults were not yet all asleep).

During the 40+ years since, I have never thought of the experience as particularly traumatic.  What I found remarkable, and want to stress now, is not that the event occurred, but the obvious (albeit passive) collusion of the other adults around us.

This man will have been well known to the adults of my own troop – he was our district commissioner. They must surely have known of his reputation – if I, in my innocence and naivety, overheard rumours of his attentions to other young boys, so would they.  Yet they went along with him in allowing him to butter me up on transport home.  Then, on the night of the camp, could the other adults n the shed really have been oblivious to what was going on amongst them?  Even if they did not realise the full extent, nor made out the actual words, surely they must have realised that the constant low murmuring was from an adult man addressing a young boy under cover of darkness?

Final reflection:

Whenever I have had cause to recall these events, I have felt and believed that I did not  feel particularly ‘traumatised’ or ‘victimised’.  That was certainly so at a conscious level. However, in starting to write this series of posts, and thinking about this one in particular, I have found myself emotionally affected at a level I have not done before.  I also now recall something previously forgotten – a deep feeling of confusion and panic as I realised he was doing down on me.

Now I have to ask:  if writing about psychological trauma is healing and therapeutic, but I have never before felt traumatised, why have I now felt the need for healing?

I hope this has not been too uncomfortable to read, but you were warned. Thanks for sticking with me.  Now there will be no more dirty lttle secrets – the next instalment will move on to the lessons and conclusions I draw from the experiences.

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The Paddywhack and Me.

“The Time has come, the walrus said, to talk of many things:
Of school, and sex, of paddywhacks, and too, of boy scouting.”

Preamble

I have up to now steered clear of much commentary on the persistent and abundant stories of clerical abuse.  There is however a limit to how long one can hold one’s tongue.  The reasons for my silence up to now are simple:

1)   This is personal.

2)   The issues are far more complex and multifaceted then press reports, or popular commentary, would lead us to believe.

3)  Too often, those attempting to spell out in honesty the complexities and subtleties of the issues, are simply branded as apologists for evil.

So, silence has been easier. Now, however, reports are coming closer to home, and I can no longer bite my tongue.   Before spelling out my take, though, some obvious points in full disclosure.

First, I speak not from abstract knowledge, but from personal experience.  I was myself at the receiving end of some of these things, in two separate contexts.  To my own experience, I have added reflections on stories I have heard from others, and from published sources.

Second, I take it as axiomatic that any form of abuse of young children, whether sexual or physical, or evn simple neglect, is inexcusable and unacceptable.

I state freely that my own sexual orientation is primarily homosexual; – that is, I am attracted sexually to other men.

This attraction, however, is emphatically to men – adult men – and not in any way to children, adolescents, or even to young men.  My own attraction has always been to those of around my own age.

I have no intention whatsoever, of excusing, explaining 0r justifying sexual abuse by anyone.  And yet…..

The Problem

The problem as I see it is that too much of the standard reaction is one of near hysteria, bundling a wide range of behaviours into the catchall ‘abuse’, and assuming that all instances of inappropriate behaviour by adults with children are damaging to the child’s future development.  I am not so sure.  Further, there needs to be a little more recognition paid to the allocation of responsibility in these matters:  at least in the case of older children, some at least are at times complicit in welcoming,  encouraging or even inviting inappropriate attention from adults. there is surely a huge gulf in significance, and possilbe longer term harm,  between the vicious rape of a young child, and inappropriate touching or caressing of a flirtatious teenager.  Yet both of these extremes are loosely and carelessly lumped together, along with other behaviours, under the blanket term ‘abuse’. I am also a little cynical about at least some of the claims being made, and wonder if the case for substantial monetary compensation is always fully justified.  Finally, discussion of the problem of clerical abuse frequently struggles with the issues of just where, realistically, one can apportion responsiblity and blame, and what is to be done to prevent future problems.

Trying to spin out these complexities will take me down several byways, sharing experiences and reflections, and cannot be brief.  To avoid a tediously lengthy post, I will spin it out into several bites: my primary school experience with the Christian Brothers;   secondary school with the OMI priests; parallel experiences in the boy scouts; my thoughts on the lasting impact on my life; and my conclusions on the implications for the church.

My experience: Double abuse with the Christian Brothers.

Reports of clerical sexual abuse of children have been emerging for several years now, particularly from the USA, but also form other countries. The reason I have been personally stung in particular by the latest scandal, is that they emerge from Ireland, that great source of missionary educators during the 20th Century, and at whose hands I and my sister received a substantial a substantial part of our schooling in South Africa.  Much (not all) of what is described in the Irish reports is immediately recognisable to me, as having been directly replicated by Irish men and women transplanted across the globe.

My earliest schooling was in co-educational classes in local convent schools in Cape Town, later in Johannesburg, run by two orders of religious sisters, about which I have nothing to say – my memories are blurred but generally positive.  I was then removed from the increasingly female environment, to a Christian Brothers school some substantial distance from my home, where I stayed for two years, before transferring, with great relief to a small secondary school much closer to home.  Those two years with the Christian Brothers were, without any doubt, the unhappiest years of my school career.  Over the ensuing four decades, whenever I have met people who like me have experienced education with the Brothers, I have shared my views – and always found agreement.  ”The Christian Brothers are notorious”, has been a common response.

I freely acknowledge there were external, unavoidable reasons why I would in any case have been ill-disposed to the school:  a long, cumbersome journey involving a bus, a train, and a lengthy walk were too much for a ten year old;  I did not enojy compulsory participation in a sport (rugby) that I did not care for or understand; and suffered as an outsider for arriving as a painfully shy, sensitive bookish lad two years later than most of my classmates had done – by which time friendship groups and social routines had been long set.  I was never going to fit in too easily.

But those I could have coped with.  The real problem, shared by so many others I have spoken to, was the unrelenting regime of physical punishment. I make no claims to angelic virtue, but as a bright and naturally quiet student who enjoyed schoolwork, I cannot imagine that my behaviour can have been particularly bad, while my academic results were consistently good.  Yet my memory (probably faulty) was that scarcely a day passed when I was not beaten in one way or another, for some misdemeanour at least once during the day.  It must surely have been worse for naturally rowdy boys, or for those who were punished ( as some were) for simple ignorance or substandard work.

Not all the Brothers were equally vicious, although there was a general expectation that most would use the cane or the strap as the first line of correction for any fault, whether of behaviour, academic slackness, or ignorance.  Two exceptions stand out in my memory:

The first, exceptional as being even more vicious than the others,  was one man who had a particular fondness for the “paddywhack”, an infamous Irish instrument of schoolboy torture constructed of strips of leather stitched together down the edges, containing within it pennies – hard coins to give  the instrument additional weight and bite. I can still see the distinct gleam in his eye as he caught sight of some poor boy caught out in minor wrongdoing.  ”Lookitt, lookitt”, he would cry at frequent intervals through the day, before bringing the weapon down hard on the miscreant’s outstretched palm.  This creature terrorised me for almost half my lessons, over both the two years I was there.

The other was exceptional in quite another way.  This was the teacher of religion, whom we saw for just one lesson daily, for one of my two years.  He was gentleness itself, seldom (if ever) resorting to physical punishment. Instead of the stick, he preferred to use the carrot of praise, with which he was generous to a fault.  If any one achieved any minor success in written or oral work, he would be sure to find himself called to the front of the class for public recognition, where he would find himself standing on top of teacher’s desk, for all the class to get a better look at the little saint.  To further show his approval, this teacher would then give the boy a gentle little pat on the knee, while explaining just why the achievement in question was so worthy.  In doing so, the hand would somehow remain in place on the knee, and then slowly sidle up the thigh, and under the shorts.  Even at ten years old, and widely ignorant of the ways of men, we knew just what he was doing, and snickered about it amongst ourselves.

The Irish report describes three broad categories of ‘abuse’:  physical neglect or harsh conditions, excessive physical punishment, and sexual abuse.  I have no experience of the first, but do have direct personal experience of both the others. What was the impact on my life?

There is no doubt I resent the beatings. Physical punishment of course was not unusual at the time, and I experienced it also in my later school – but not to anything like the same degree of frequency or severity, and I was able to take in in my stride.  But my experience of punishment from one of those Christian Brothers in particular was so gratuitous, so clearly sadistic, that it has always remained a bitter memory, colouring my recollection of the order as a whole.

The touching (more accurately, groping) was entirely different.   Viewed with adult eyes, this was clearly sexual in intent, and entirely inappropriate, as even at that age we recognised.  But to us at the time it was more a joke, the weakness of a sad old man, than actual harm.  I did not then resent it, nor do I now.  Indeed, it would be true to say that I welcomed the attention and delighted in the praise.  If the price was a little bit of touching up on my thigh, that was fine by me.

The nature of my experience was, of course, much less severe than that experienced by many others, nor can I imagine how others on the receiving end might have viewed their own experiences.  But given how so much of the standard media attention focuses on the sexual abuse, I have to point out that for me, this was not what mattered.  I condemn unreservedly any abuse of the very young, and of more substantive sexual contact.  But I do have to ask, in the light of my own experience, are the milder forms of inappropriate touching really as heinous as the public outcry usually suggests?  Ek vra maar net.  (Afrikaans:  ”just asking”)

I should also add, as an aside, that my sister says her own experience of what she saw as the sadistic punishments meted out by the convent sisters, was enough to turn her against the Catholic Church, and organised religion, for life.

More, later.

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