Therapeutic hideaway for wayward priests

The Guardian/April 18, 2001
By Steven Morris and Stephen Bates

Our Lady of Victory near Stroud, Gloucestershire, is one institution where errant Roman Catholic priests have long been sent for rehabilitation. Built on a terrace in a picturesque valley with lawns sloping down to woods, it has the appearance more of a Cotswold manor house than a clinic.

But in the lecture hall and consulting rooms, alcoholic, gay and paedophile clergymen are offered counselling and support.

These are issues acknowledged quietly by some Catholic priests to be exacerbated by the solitary, often lonely, and celibate life of the priesthood.

Celibacy is a discipline imposed by the church, rather than by a theological imperative, and therefore one that might one day be changed, if the shortage of priests becomes sufficiently pressing.

In Britain the church accepted more than 100 married Anglican priests for ordination some years ago when they fell out with the Church of England over its decision to ordain women.

Of more concern to some in the Catholic church is the fear that increasing numbers of priests are gay. A book by an American theologian last year estimated that as many as 50% of young US ordinands were homosexual.

Being gay is still viewed as a scandal and a sin and hence a suitable reason for treatment and rehabilitation at centres such as Stroud.

But when it comes to child abuse, the church has for many years been in denial - that the problem exists and is intractable in sufferers, and that it is something that requires firm action. This has inhibited the church from tackling it, rather than just reacting to individual cases and occasionally buying off complainants.

Even though it has had guidelines in place since 1994, some clergy have been slow to acknowledge or accept them. In a deeply hierarchical church, there is a limit to what outside agencies can do.

When Archbishop John Ward of Cardiff was found last year to have ignored the guidelines - and even a warning from a fellow bishop - in ordaining a priest subsequently convicted of child abuse, there was nothing the church could do to censure him, other than calling him in for a carpeting by the papal nuncio in London.

The recommendations of the Nolan review will at least focus the hierarchy's attention on the principle that the needs of children are paramount, rather than protecting the good name of the church. But there are still unanswered questions about how priests can be disciplined - or protected from bogus allegations.

The clinic, often referred to as Stroud, is run by an American order, the Servants of the Paraclete, established in New Mexico in the 1940s. The order opened Our Lady of Victory, its only British centre, in the 1960s. The clinic offers "therapy in a spiritual context".

It is believed that up to 30 residents stay there, usually for a year to 18 months. They tend to be referred by their bishops or other senior clergy.

Michael Hill, the priest jailed for five years in 1997 for indecent assaults on children, was once there but left after three months. He was appointed chaplain at Gatwick in the 1980s by Cormac Murphy-O'Connor, now Archbishop of Westminster but then bishop of Arundel and Brighton, despite complaints that he had been a risk to children.

The centre has attracted criticism. An assistant priest who spent a week there after it was discovered that he was a practising homosexual compared it to "purgatory" complaining of the "gross invasion of privacy, the lack of freedom of movement and the oppressive, claustrophobic atmosphere".

It hit the headlines in 1993 when Father Sean Seddon, 38, was sent there after a six-year affair with a teacher. On learning his lover had lost their baby, he threw himself under a train.

Institutions such as Our Lady of Victory are apparently becoming less popular. The tendency is for priests to be treated in secular organisations.

Yesterday nobody at the centre was available for comment.

Sex attacks

Between 1995 and 1999, 21 Catholic priests were convicted of sexual offences against children. Reported sex cases include:

1996: Durham priest Adrian McLeish jailed for six years after admitting 12 charges of child abuse

1997: Michael Hill, a former Gatwick chaplain, jailed for five years for indecent assault and gross indecency over a 19-year period

1998: Eric Taylor jailed for seven years for abusing boys in his care at the Father Hudson Society's home in Warwickshire, between 1957 and 1965

1998: John Lloyd , press officer to the Archbishop of Cardiff, jailed for eight years for indecent assaults against children

2000: Joe Jordan , a Cardiff priest, jailed for eight years for sexually abusing boys

2000: Investigation at a leading Catholic school, the London Oratory . Pupils alleged they were abused by David Martin , a priest who died of a suspected Aids-related illness in 1998

2000: Robert Deadman , a Cistercian monk who offered spiritual healing to women, convicted of indecently assaulting four women. The jury heard he carried out attacks in the confessional

2001: Allegations of torture, beatings and sexual molestation at St Ninian's school in Stirlingshire

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