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Catholic Church must not be allowed to police itself

CHRISTOPHER Walls's cry from the heart woke me yesterday.

"I was robbed of my childhood. I was robbed of my education. I am left swallowing anger, frustration,' he told the Today programme on Radio 4. I am left to deal with that on a daily basis, on my own. They can be of no help to me."

This man, now in his sixties, was responding to an apology from the Bishop of Aberdeen following revelations of abuse at Fort Augustus Abbey School.

Mr Walls, who was beaten daily and sexually abused when he was a pupil at Carlekemp (the Fort Augustus prep school in East Lothian) said: "I think these are sins crying out to heaven for vengeance.'

The Bishop of Aberdeen, Hugh Gilbert, has been applauded for offering an apology for the "shameful abuse" days after a documentary that exposed it to the public.

But Mr Walls remains cynical. He finds the apology "thin". Over the years he has told his story to members of the clergy and been "shushed". He made an official complaint to Dom Richard Yeo, Abbot President of the Benedictines, in 2010. An inquiry was launched yet no-one interviewed him or his brother David, a fellow victim.

So was it the abuse that triggered a public apology from the bishop - or was it the television exposure?

Are we seeing a church penitent or a church image-conscious?

Christopher Walls was about eight years old when the beatings started. His teacher, Father Aidan Duggan, asked a question and the boy raised his arm, keen to answer. It was the wrong answer. Duggan thrashed him for the first time.

Fifty-eight years later he recalls: "It was horrendous. My abuser/tormentor taught me religious knowledge and Latin. He beat me every day then abused me sexually in the confessional. Six out of the seven core members of staff abused me physically."

When the BBC documentary, Sins of Our Fathers, was announced as an expose of child abuse by Catholic priests, my first thought was: "Not again." We have seen and read about so much abuse suffered at the hands of Catholic clergy I couldn't believe there was anything new to uncover.

I was wrong.

The documentary made compelling viewing because of the articulacy of the victims. Here were ageing middle-class men whose lives were still blighted by paedophiles and their protectors.

Their parents had paid fees to give them a decent education with trusted men of God. Instead some of those men sodomised and beat them while others covered the abusers tracks.

The Benedictines even harboured paedophiles from elsewhere in the school. One self-confessed abuser, Richard White, was shifted to Fort Augustus from Downside Abbey in 1993. Yeo admitted this was a mistake but said White would have been surrounded by a "circle of support" to help prevent him reoffending. Would that have reassured parents had they known?

There was of course no support for the abused.

When teenager Donald Macleod, a lonely new boarder from Australia, was raped by Aidan Duggan, he reported the attack to the headmaster. He was accused of lying.

When Father Chrysostom Alexander, another paedophile, was reported by parents he was shifted to Australia. He was not reported to police. The Australians were not told of his criminality.

Duggan too returned to Australia where he became a parish priest and continued to abuse. A victim in Sidney, still haunted by his abuse, went to court for compensation. He told how the church spent $700,000 protecting itself against his $100,000 claim. It was money well spent since it became a test case that protected the church against any further claimants in Australia.

Mr Walls now intends to sue for compensation. Will his legal action also test the depth of remorse so recently expressed?

I hope not. On Sunday, Bishop Gilbert also said the church was anxious for a thorough police investigation and that "all that can be done should be done for the victims".

He continued: "We want to work with public bodies who care for the young and vulnerable adults. We wish to share our experience and to share best practice so that lessons can be learned and children can always be protected."

I find that as astonishing as it is arrogant.

I speak as someone who had a Catholic education without encountering abuse of any sort. My immediate family share my experience - as do most Catholics. I also accept that the church is attempting to put its house in order. I am however far from certain that it has succeeded.

So, given its track record with child abuse, given that it has covered up for paedophiles and conspired in allowing them to continue to abuse children, why does the church deem itself fit to share best practice in caring for the young?

Why would any self-respecting agency consult with it until the church has given up all its guilty men to the authorities and until its new internal procedures are independently verified?

Until then how could it pass the rigorous checks required for child protection?

The Catholic Church in Scotland is offering to publish an audit of accusations of abuse dating back to 2006. It will thereafter publish an annual audit. But who is conducting these audits? Unless they are done under the supervision of external scrutiny why would we trust them?

Older accusations of abuse will take longer to publish, apparently. The files are said to be in each diocese, in each vault. Time is needed to go through them, to scrutinise them and collate them before their contents can be revealed.

I have three questions. The first is: why hasn't the Scottish church already collated and scrutinised cases which predate 2005? The second: shouldn't this be done by the police? And lastly, following these new revelations of abuse, is the Catholic Church in Scotland fit for purpose when it comes to the welfare of young people?

That is a question no institution can answer about itself.

Reverence and deference have, until now, allowed the church at large to get away with cover-up after cover-up. Too many children world-wide paid the price and too many corrupt and criminal men got off with wrecking young lives.

They escaped under the cloak of untouchable holiness. They were nurtured, protected and cared for by the institution of the church. Their victims were silenced and abandoned or forgotten.

Let me remind you that three years after reporting his abuse Christopher Walls still had not had a visit from any religious or secular investigator.

Meanwhile Police Scotland is receiving more reporats of abuse from former pupils of Fort Augustus. Inquiries are being pursued across Scotland and beyond the UK.

This seemingly never-ending trail of abuse continues. An apology is something but it's not nearly enough. God knows.

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