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Fr Kit the ‘monster’ and the kindly priest I knew didn’t just seem like different people: they were different people

He had been granted the grace of ‘time for amendment of life’; and he had used it well

By on Friday, 24 June 2011

The greatly loved Fr Kit Cunningham will be remembered by most people for the terrible crimes he committed

The greatly loved Fr Kit Cunningham will be remembered by most people for the terrible crimes he committed

Like Fr Alexander Lucie- Smith, I, too have come to the conclusion “after much hesitation” that I have to say something about Fr Kit Cunningham. This is not an easy topic to write about. I have written about child abuse in the Church before; and however much you make it plain that this is a crime for which there is no excuse, if you try to write about it in anything less than an uncompromisingly condemnatory way you will be accused of trying to excuse this hideous crime or in some other way diminish its seriousness.

This is the first time I have personally known one of these “monsters”, as one of his victims described him. And at first, I simply did not credit it (I suppose that’s why it’s so easy to cover these things up – nobody believes it). I was glad that Fr Kit had died before having to run the gamut of what I assumed were a string of unjust and fantastic accusations (it would not have been the first time, after all, that a priest had been falsely accused). But there was no getting away from it. The accusations weren’t unjust or fantastic: he had accepted that they were true. He wrote to the victims asking for their forgiveness: he resigned the MBE he had been given for his services to the community.

It is as though the abusive priest, the “monster” he undoubtedly had been, and the good and kindly priest I knew were different people. And of course the reason for that perception is that they were different people: not because behind the kindly façade there still lurked the monster I was too imperceptive to detect, but because however bad you are, with God’s grace it really is possible truly to change: and he had changed. Ever since these dreadful crimes were revealed, I have had another of the Anglican prayers I wrote about the other day – this time the words of absolution after the General Confession from the Book of Common Prayer – running through my mind. The minister says: “The Almighty and merciful God grant unto you, being penitent, pardon and remission of all your sins, time for amendment of life, and the grace and comfort of his Holy Spirit.” That’s what Fr Kit had been granted, being penitent: “time for amendment of life”. And during that time, over 40 years of it, he had indeed amended his life. He had become a different person.

It is also true, of course, that though he had amended his own life, the lives of his victims had been permanently scarred. And now, the greatly loved Fr Kit will be remembered by most people for the lasting harm that he did, for the crimes he committed. Perhaps it is right that it should be so. But it is surely also right that he should be remembered too, by some at least, not only as the evil-doer he had been, but also as the person he had become. He did great harm to a number of people: but he also did a great deal of good to many others. So let us remember, too, the words of Fr Alexander (who knew him well in his latter days) in his Tablet obituary, about “his profound loyalty and love for the Church and the Gospel” and about “those he helped in distress…” Fr Alexander was right to say that “his sense of good humour and his kindness of heart will be remembered by many with profound gratitude”. Despite everything, they will be remembered by me, for one. Consider, too, the words of Mary Kenny, written in shock after the dreadful revelations about his past life had been blazoned across the media:

Fr Kit Cunningham, who died last December in Dublin, was one of my oldest friends. He was an adorable man; great fun; a little too fond of the vino, perhaps; and, on occasions, a benign flirt with the ladies – he had that unmistakeable glint in his eye of a man who likes women…

Above all, Kit was kind. As rector [of St Etheldreda’s] Kit never overlooked the down-and-outs who often came to the door for help. He set up a special cafeteria to feed the needy…..

We wonder why clerical abuse was “covered up”, as well as how it could have occurred. Now I know the answer. Because, at first, you just cannot believe it. It seems so utterly uncharacteristic of the guy you knew.… he was always so kind to all our children… he was like a genuine father. My sons and my niece had enormous respect and affection for Kit—and they knew him from childhood. You just cannot put together the man you have known and the “monster”.

No, indeed; you can’t put them together: because they were different people. There had been a conversion, a metanoia, a “turning again”. It is, after all, the whole point of the Christian religion. Of course, the law, rightly, takes no cognisance of such things. And if he had still been alive, the law would doubtless have taken its course. He would have ended his days either behind bars or, at the very least, in public disgrace. And few would have had any sympathy for him.

Perhaps I am wrong to say so: but I am profoundly grateful that it never came to that.

  • Celtes

    Kit CUNNINGham was a cruel paedophile who preyed on young boys.  Lucky for you Mr. Oddie he didn’t abuse your children.

  • roidesicile

    This whole matter is profoundly disturbing and the admission suggests Fr Kit was guilty of something; but what?

     I don’t think we can make any judgments based on the TV programme alone.  The letters were a compassionate response to suffering.  Whether the allegations are true as presented  is another matter.

    Does that matter?  I would say it does.  Because Fr Kit  and the Rosminians are being held responsible not just for the offences  as presented, but for the ruination of lives.  And at a ransom  which,  in the the words of one of the complainants in the programme, ‘should not be insignificant’ .

    Let’s get real – this was a barrister talking about an allegation (not against Fr Kit) in the mid 1950s which he – despite being a criminal prosecutor  – had not resurrected in over 50 years.  He could have reported it to the police at any time.  Any there’s still nothing in principle why it should not be reported now and prosecuted.

    The same would not extend to the overseas allegations at that time.  However the fact that despite the welter of publicity about historical  clerical abuse over the last 20 years, not one of these complainants made a retrospective complaint until they social networked is odd. 

  • roidesicile

    This whole matter is profoundly disturbing and the admission suggests Fr Kit was guilty of something; but what?

     I don’t think we can make any judgments based on the TV programme alone.  The letters were a compassionate response to suffering.  Whether the allegations are true as presented  is another matter.

    Does that matter?  I would say it does.  Because Fr Kit  and the Rosminians are being held responsible not just for the offences  as presented, but for the ruination of lives.  And at a ransom  which,  in the the words of one of the complainants in the programme, ‘should not be insignificant’ .

    Let’s get real – this was a barrister talking about an allegation (not against Fr Kit) in the mid 1950s which he – despite being a criminal prosecutor  – had not resurrected in over 50 years.  He could have reported it to the police at any time.  Any there’s still nothing in principle why it should not be reported now and prosecuted.

    The same would not extend to the overseas allegations at that time.  However the fact that despite the welter of publicity about historical  clerical abuse over the last 20 years, not one of these complainants made a retrospective complaint until they social networked is odd. 

  • RJ

    Correction: no human punishment/reparation in the absence of grace

  • Celtes

    What those filthy Rosminian priests did was far worse as they not only abused those poor little boys they also abused their position of trust.  It makes me so angry that the church continues to cover up the crimes of self-righteous liars and hypocrits.

  • American Friend

     I don’t understand how a priest can be ‘forgiven’ and resume the priesthood for 40 years with little personal or religious repercussions after having robbed the innocence of little boys and scarred them for life.  Though stained, many of these men were ‘covered’ by their bishops or religious orders for decades.  However, in an era where over half the Catholic marriages end in divorce, remarried Catholics, are barred from the sacraments – Penance and Communion – and made to feel like ‘sinners’ even though they may exemplary in every other way.  I understand Jesus’s injunction that marriage being forever being invoked as justification for this ostracism but Our Lord also said if your eye is a source of temptation you should pluck it out!  

    Have you seen many one-eyed or one-armed priests lately?   It appears to this observer that there is a double standard for sinners.  Should molesting little boys and girls be treated a bit more harshly than the average divorced Catholic? 

  • IDesireMercy

    Maybe you should be a little more informed before you sound off in Catholic comboxes, then. As for sanctimonious…mote, beam, pot, kettle…

  • GD Survivor

    If there is anything to be remembered and used from my 4 years at Grace Dieu Manor from 1071-75 is to forgive. The school has marked me for life, I have got on with making my life brick by brick, but for many years I would remember how I was at 9 or 11 a small skinny kid with dreams of how life could be maybe less violent and frightening. I remember being a young kid and full of life and happy, then, there’s a period that last 4 years, it’s a hard changing point of my life where the adult is a frightening person. Adults were very dangerous, the teachers the priests could hurt you for any small reason. I was beaten some 20 or so times at Grace Dieu. Once I got what we called the ‘Jacari’ like a much heavier ping pong bat – I was beaten for throwing 3 penicillin pills into a toilet and after flushing one remained…to show how weird and frustrated the discipline master a certain Fr G. D (a man of about 40 very strongly built) actually found the pill and visited the school infirmary looked at the nurse’s (matron’s) book and noted that I was the only pupil taking penicillin for a sore throat. The result was brutal and very shocking, I was called out at 4.30 pm after tea break in front of the school as they lined up in the common room (120 boys 2nd-4th forms) and Fr. G.D said “You stupid boy go to my office I will punish you severely”. I was beaten with a Jacari bat for 7 blows (it was to be 6, but I collapsed at 5, so he added an extra blow). I was 10 about and weighed 6 stone. 

  • A Survivor of GD

     Grace Dieu Manor from 1971-75 …keyboard again !

  • David Armitage

    For evil to thrive, it is enough for good men to remain silent. Abuse certainly existed in Rosminian run schools in the ’40s and into the 80′s. It is impossible for abuse to remain a secret in boys’ boarding school, and impossible for good men who rose from these ranks to become priests, superiors and bishops not to have known.   Why did they remain silent? Boys who were horribly abused bear the scars to the end of their days.  If they sometimes howl with pain and anger and sheer disbelief they are mockingly described as torch wieling mobs. You wonder what the yellers did with their lives. What are you implying?  Cunningham is presented as a lovable old rascal, something of national treasure. The filthy old man turned his grooming skills to being an old charmer. I’m not screaming for revenge.  I’m still wondering  why his fellow priests and superiors who were certainly in the know let him get away with it.   

  • StraightTalker

    Why dont you ALL resign yourself to the fact that Kit Cunningham was just a Dirty Old Man who should have been locked up years ago and left to rot for what he ADMITTED he had done. Simple as that !!!!

  • Sickened

    There is the ‘assumption’ that he was somehow a reformed pedophile.  London offers many opportunities for anonymity once the roman collar is removed.  How do we that his secret sex life did not continue for many years after the confessed incidents?  There is something very sick and twisted – I would say diabolic – for a priest to abuse little boys and live a charmed life in the centre of London.  

  • SS1

    Of course there was good in Fr Kit Cunningham, and may God recognise the good he did. But the fact remains that he did terrible wrong, and I think a true and complete “metanoia” would have involved him confessing to his crimes and allowing the judicial process to run its course, so that justice could be done and be seen to be done.

  • Celtes

    The ones who turned a blind eye to Cunningham, Collins, Jackson and Raynor sexually and physically abusing those poor little boys are just as evil and cowardly as them.  They know who they are.  Anyone who covers up child abuse is rotten to the core.

  • Celtes

    It makes me upset and angry that these so called men of God destroyed your childhood and many others too.  Physical and sexual abuse of children and also the elderly is the lowest of the low.

  • Straight Talker

    Well said American Friend I wholeheartedly agree with your comment.

  • guest

    Are you going to say that Fr Cunningham was a practising Christian? We all sin but Fr Cunningham should have in jail for life for what he did..How many of the children that he abused have any faith in God? Or was that and any faith destroyed by this man’s actions…

  • guest

    Why should Priests be immune from criminal prosecution?  Don’t the victims deserve to see justice of some kind?

  • Jonathan West

    Independent Catholic News has issued a “clarification” from Fr Myers in which he says.

    “When obituaries were being written about Fr Cunningham I responded truthfully to those journalists who contacted me who had heard the story that he had returned his MBE. I confirmed that he had, and the reasons
    why.

    However, the newspapers concerned chose not to publicise this.”

    This statement is very interesting, as much for what it has left out as for what it says.

    For instance, he doesn’t mention which journalists or how many contacted him about the story at the time.

    And he doesn’t give any details as to what exactly he said when he gave “the reasons why” Cunningham returned his MBE.

    I
    suppose we will have to wait to hear from any journalists who did
    contact him and get their side of the story. From the way in which the
    information here is very thin, there is every reason to think Fr Myers
    deliberately misled journalists by providing a truthful but incomplete
    account of the reason, not including for instance the contact with the 
    survivors of Soni who had confronted him, and not including anything
    concerning abuse at all.

  • David Armitage

    Please read carefully. I know exactly who beat me between September 1947 and June 1951. I don’t allege. I state a fact. It is also a fact that good men knew, and kept silent. Including priests, religious superiors, bishops. And so evil went on for decades. Enlightened self interest seals their lips. I am trying to work out why you use sick insinuations  to undermine the credibilty of people who suffer all their lives from childhood trauma, and sanctify the workings of a dirty old man.

  • Oliver

    This still sounds like less than half the story. In the Catholic Church, and especially in its religious orders, you do as you are told. Fr. Cunningham didn’t write his letter of apology and return his MBE out of the goodness of his heart. He certainly didn’t do these things because he’d been outed as a paedophile. Quite clearly he was following the orders of his superiors, who in turn believed that written “apologies”, which have been accepted by the media as full and damning signed confessions (which they aren’t), would get the money-grubbing “victims” off their backs. (Of course, this isn’t quite how things have worked out. Quite the opposite, in fact!)

    If a man asks for forgiveness then it is the duty of the Christian to give it. How can man deny what God Himself has so freely given? Jonathan West though (and others) want to believe the worst of Fr. Cunningham and to use his letter of apology as justification, whilst at the same time complaining that Fr. Cunningham’s letter has not been self-incriminating enough.

    There is a logical as well as a moral incosistency here.

  • IDesireMercy

    It should be quite obvious that I was not talking about the victims but about the men who come on here to yell and scream about repentant clerical sexual offenders as if men of all religions and none have not been abusing not just boys but especially girls and women for centuries. 

    What Dr. Oddie’s article, and the accounts of other friends of Fr. Cunningham underscores, is that it is indeed sometimes impossible for people to know what has happened or what is going on. It might shock my parents and the parents of every girl in my class and even our teachers and kids in higher and lower years to know what was going on in the playground 25 years ago.  If it wouldn’t occur to you in a hundred years, and you are not looking for it, and the perps are hiding it, and the victims say nothing, you might just not see it. There are married women who have no CLUE what their husbands are doing, from surfing porn to cruising for men to abusing kids.

    I did not imply anything about the yellers–by which I mean the “hang ‘em high, God may forgive but complete strangers to these priests and the  victims never will” brigade–I said it outright. Amongst all the self-righteous huffers and puffers will be men who have themselves used and abused woman and girls and possibly boys, or been complicit in the pornography trade. Heck, the BBC itself flashed that erotic shower photograph of the underage victim more than once, possibly so we could see just how erotic it was, or just how beautiful the boy. Nice going, BBC. 

    Catholic institutions and agencies have long since put in guidelines to protect children from abuse. Highlighting the crimes of priests in the 1940s and 1950s becomes a smokescreen hiding where the sexual abuse is happening NOW. 

  • Charles

    You are to be commended for this piece.

    Thank you.

  • Celtes

    Oddie IS wrong in his last sentence.  This filthy old man should have ended his days behind bars for destroying the childhood of so many young boys.  My heart goes out to them.

  • Padraig

    What an astonishingly ridiculous ‘explanation’ for Cunningham’s character – monster and showing kindness. History records many individuals who concealed monstrous behaviour with a charming exterior. No excuses should be made for this appalling person – he should have received the full force of the law – we must hope that he is now receiving this in the afterlife.

  • Celtes

    Me too.

  • Yamila

    Wiliam Oddie, I am so appaled that you are defending this monster, how can you be grateful that he has died so he could not pay for his crimes?  I wish he is rottening in hell.  He should have repented in public but instead he was a coward, I don’t care about any good he did, he did it for his own public image and not as a redemption,he should have paid for what he did, he is a crimimal.  I was raised a catholic and my son is going to a catholic school, what a shame… I am doubting every priest now, and will certainly tell my kids to watch out. How can Fr David Myers sleep at night? One of the letters that the documentary showed was signed by Fr Myers and Fr Collins and the latter said he was only checking the kids genitals as per nurses instructions… How can Fr Myers accept this and sign it??  He was not opened at all, he was just trying to keep the image of the church intact…

  • yalima

    I agree with you. This criminal never faced his crimes and lived a fake live so who knows how many others he abused while apparently doing good…

  • Yondi

    You should be the one ashamed of defending this horrible person

  • Jonathan West

    It isn’t in the least bit odd that there was a delay of decades before somebody came forward with an allegation.This is in fact very common in child sex abuse cases. If you haven’t been abused, or haven’t taken the trouble to learn about the subject, including hearing descriptions from victims, then you will find it hard to understand the extent to which the children are drawn into a world over which they have no control, and which gets deeply embedded into their minds long before their adult rational mind is fully formed. When the fear and shame is so deeply embedded, it takes huge courage to tell anybody what happened. I know somebody who waited 45 years before telling anybody about the abuse he suffered at the hands of a now-dead priest.

    And I’m also not in the least bit surprised that the story came out after the victims had started to compare notes, and so gained the courage that comes from no longer being so very alone. I fully expect more such stories to come out as a result of other groups getting together by means of social networks.

  • Dr Cork

    Yeah, Mr Oddie. Stick to the birdwatching.

  • Dr Cork

    Yeah, Mr Oddie. Stick to the birdwatching.

  • Jonathan West

    To some extent, what caused him to abuse the boys is a secondary question, and one which we are unlikely ever to know the answer to.

    It seems that the primary question is how to keep children safe, how to prevent as far as possible such abuses from happening in the future.

    And if that is going to be done effectively, it has to be acknowledged that even among those who outwardly are holy and loving priests, there are a small minority for which this is a cloak of respectability to deter suspicions about their abusive activities.

    As William Oddie has found out to his shock, you can’t distinguish such people from the real honest priests who remain true to their vocations. So the only way you are going to stop them is by cultivating a culture of awareness, and having procedures for reporting allegations of abuse. The only way you can stop a clever career paedophile is by getting reports of his activities and properly investigating them.

  • Celtes

    So you would rather sweep all this filth under the carpet. You show no respect for these poor victims and what they’ve been through.  It would be a different story if your children had been cruelly abused by these self-righteous liars and hypocrits.

  • http://towertales.tumblr.com/ Londonistar

    Excellent points about the hypocrisy that exists OUTSIDE the church. Men in particular are full of so much baloney on this issue.

  • roidesicile

    What does ‘deeply embedded into their minds long before their adult rational mind is fully formed’  mean in this context?  Some of the boys appear to have been 13 at the time, not under-7s. 

    This is the rationale of crimen exceptum and the witchfinders. 

    Sexual offences against children are acts taking place in space and time and children of 7 plus know it is wrong which is why they are are secretive about illicit games such as ‘doctors and nurses’ among themselves. 

    In any closed community such as a boarding school rumours spread like wildfire – whether true or not.  The idea that  pervasive sexual abuse was a secret each unto themselves until 50 years later on the internet doesn’t add up. 

     

  • IDesireMercy

    Christ may be defending him to the Father even as we write.

  • IDesireMercy

    I don’t have children, but I certainly wonder why fathers sent their sons, generation after generation, to public schools knowing full well what “discipline” they would suffer and what sexual abuse they ran the risk of, of older boys, if not of the staff.  Some of the parents of the boys did not take the boys’ complaints very seriously–at least, they did not pull them immediately from the school. They did not go to the police. They did not go to the Sunday papers It seems to me that whole generations simply did not understand that abuse was wrong. Heck, there’s a joke about public school homosexual rape in “Four Weddings and a Funeral.”  But then the man who suffered it was not presented as a sympathetic character.

    Far from wanting to sweep filth under the carpet, I hope everyone keeps an eye out for TODAY’S filth and instead of screaming about events of 50 years ago, stops being so complicit in the ongoing sexual abuse of children, teens, women and vulnerable men by the great majority of abusers who are not Roman Catholic priests. This includes everyone spending as long a time looking at their own sinful tendencies as they spend complaining about the sinful tendencies of the dead and very old, or demanding punitive revenge on such non-abusers as the new superior of this order as it is in 2011. 

    At the same time, I hope people understand that the Christian message is that Christ came to redeem sinners and so that the repentant sinner, no matter how horrible his sins, can hope for his redemption.  Certainly the people who knew and loved Father Cunningham (I never met him) are hoping and praying for this redemption. 

    I can only say again that the man who tried to rape (not fondle, rape) a 12 year old girl and stabbed her to death when she resisted, was forgiven by her before she died, and was present at her canonization as St. Maria Goretti. Voicing outrage about a priest and then about the priest’s friend’s attempt to make sense of the mystery that a man was once a very bad man (and then my remarks) may make you feel good, but it is not consistent with Christian faith or hope. 
     

  • IDesireMercy

    You and generations of boys were beaten as a matter of course at schools across the world for hundreds if not thousands of years. That was a terrible injustice, and it is  a crying shame. Thank God it is now illegal. Thank God men who were themselves beaten at school no longer take it out on the boys they themselves teach. Thank God it is no longer considered appropriate discipline. But what I don’t understand is why this is being highlighted as a solely Catholic problem, or why every old school across the UK is not finding itself overwhelmed with lawsuits. 

    As for sick insinuations, as a woman I am perfectly aware of dangerous the world is for children and women, not because of a handful of Roman Catholic priests, but because other men are perfectly capable of crying shame over other men’s sins and then going on to commit their own. Children are more likely to be sexually abused by their relations or their mothers’ boyfriends than by anyone else. 

    As someone who suffered childhood trauma, I grew up, got a job, paid for counselling, forgave those who hurt me to the best of my ability, and got on with my life.  This is no doubt easier for some than for others, and I feel badly for those who cannot. However, as Americans know, not even the death penalty can take away a thirst for revenge. And the vengeful, because they are in the grip of their revenge, cannot see how it hurts not only innocent bystanders but themselves. 

  • Little Black Censored

    Yes, he is.

  • Little Black Censored

    For all we know:
    Between the saddle and the ground,
    Mercy he sought, and mercy found.

  • Anonymous

    When you consider that most cases of paedophilia committed by heterosexuals occur in the domestic environment, you begin to wonder if such complainants are trying to distract the attention of the public away from their own crimes.

  • Frank

    Hang him high! All black and white on this site (and others including that of the preposterous Damian Thompson). The fact is that Fa Kitt did many good things as well as horrendous ones. To those without sin apparently on this site only the bad counts and he must burn. Can anyone be sure how the Lord G-D would view Fa Kit if he had repented deeply and sincerely and conducted a life of remorse and good works for the last 40 years say? Yes I am speculating but arent the rest of you likewise. Be careful to condemn as you stand there with that stone in your hand.
    Franco

  • Frank

    Lack of evidence = lack of repentance – simples. I think Dawkins would agree with you on “lack of evidence” proving non existence of a fact. See where your thinking leads?

  • Celtes

    All paedophiles are monsters.

  • Alexander

    I meant, of course, ‘Precisely because the crimes were committed in private…’

  • Alexander

    True, justice serves the law, not the victims of crime. However, since punishment would have been appropriate in this case anyway, the satisfaction of the victims would have seemed a desirable secondary outcome.

  • Celtes

    Perhaps you should consider the experiences of the boys who were abused and the consequences  for their lives. Human ‘frailty’ does little to mitigate such inhuman behaviour. Such ‘miscreants’ can have little reason to claim to be human beings when their actions have done such terrible damage to the future lives of those young impressionable and vulnerable boys. I recall that one of these boys described the abusing priest as a ‘monster’. I stick to my conclusion that ‘All paedophiles are monsters’.

  • Celtes

    What a shocking contribution.

    One important point is that a fundamental aspect of this exchange is about how the church did not deal appropriately with what they knew, including, for example, moving a known paedophile to another school facilitating his continuing abuse of children. Neither did they submit their offending priests to appropriate action under the law.

    Perhaps it is also worth remembering that culpability does not diminish with time. Similarly, appropriate pursuit of wrong doing does have an impact on the discouragement of further wrong doing by the perpetrators and others. Sadly, also, it raises awareness of potential wrong doing which in itself assists society in protecting vulnerable people.

    Pity that you found it necessary to make that offensive suggestion that ‘voicing outrage’ makes me ‘feel good’. On the contrary, as a mother of three young children, it makes me feel utterly sick.  You have no idea.

  • Celtes

    To suggest that the sexual abuse of children does not have a significant effect on their future lives is unbelievable and shocking.  I repeat that sexual abuse of children IS monstrous.  In this case the priests, when confronted, admitted sexually and physically abusing those boys.  May I suggest that you never defend the indefensible.