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When Jimmy Savile died, I reproached his obituarists for their cover-up of his faith. Now I have to ask: what was he thinking of during daily Mass?

Was he simply torn between good and evil? Or was it worse: did he do good so that evil might come of it?

By on Monday, 15 October 2012

Last November, people filed past Savile's golden coffin in Leeds to pay their respects (Photo: PA)

Last November, people filed past Savile's golden coffin in Leeds to pay their respects (Photo: PA)

I have just returned from a foreign absence blessedly out of touch with the internet. I came back to find an email from the Herald asking if I wanted to appear on Radio Leeds to talk about Sir Jimmy Savile. Why me, I thought at first: and then, sickeningly, I remembered: in November last year, at the time of Savile’s death, when everyone was lauding his apparently selfless charity work and all the good he had done, I had written a piece (long since forgotten by me) complaining that one thing everyone had kept very quiet about was his Catholic faith: my now deeply embarrassing headline was “Jimmy Savile’s obituaries mentioned his charity work: but why the conspiracy of silence about his faith?”

Just how wrong did I get it? There’s still a question to be asked about all this. Was Jimmy Savile a deeply conflicted human being, torn between his impulse to do good in the world and his compulsion towards a particularly repulsive kind of human sinfulness? We are all a mixture of good and evil instincts: what Catholics think of as their commitment (sometimes strong, at other times weak) towards sanctification of life is a continuing process of attempting to weaken their habitual sinfulness and strengthen their commitment to their love of God. Is that what was going on here? Or – a truly horrendous possibility – was all the good he did in the world simply a means of getting access to the young girls he abused? Would it really be worth all that time and trouble? Maybe to someone so obviously compulsive in his sexual instincts it really was. Think of those flats in hospitals he was provided with (and whose idea was that?), places he could take his victims: is that what it was all about?

I assumed at the time (not, under the circumstances, surely, entirely unreasonably) that the motivating force for all the good he did was his faith: so I reproached his obituarists (who were no less fulsome in their praise for him than I or anyone else was) for ignoring it: “Why not,” I asked, “mention that an important part of his life was attending daily Mass? There’s a deep dedication in the life of a man who gives away 90 per cent of everything he earns and so tirelessly does all the other things he did. You’d think that an obituarist would want to ask a simple question: where did all that come from? It’s almost as though they couldn’t bear to accept that the answer was his Catholicism: even that Catholicism itself could ever be the source of actual human goodness.” Oh dear.

What was going through his mind as he sat there, having slipped quietly into the back of Leeds cathedral, during those daily Masses? Was he praying for strength to resist his sexual compulsion? What did he tell his confessor? A psychologist, asked this question in one of the endless series of radio discussions about this horrible story last week, replied “probably he told him nothing: these people have an almost endless capacity to convince themselves that they have done nothing wrong”.

I remain confused about all this. Which was it: was he simply and damnably an evil man, who did good in order that the opportunity for evil might come from it? I pray that that was not the source of all the undoubted good he really did do; I really hope that he was a man torn between good and evil whose faith in the end brought him true penitence. I note that most of the cases now emerging date back to the 70s and earlier: does that mean that towards the end of his life he had changed his behaviour? I simply don’t know. Does anyone?

I usually go on for much longer than this: this time, though, I am simply reduced to silence. Thank God we are told not to judge others lest we ourselves come under judgment for it. This time I have no confident conclusions, I have nothing to say: only questions.

  • Ronk

     Perhaps in your supreme wisdom you could enlighten us all then. Was Saville struggling between good and evil (as we all are in various ways) or were all his good works merely a front and a scheme to actually facilitate him to do evil?

  • Brian

    There are considerably more paedophiles & pederasts outside the Catholic Church, then, within no matter what athiests say: in fact just promoting abortifacient birth control, chemical & surgical abortion as many athiests do is child abuse. Perhaps you should read ‘THE FIGHT FOR THE FAMILY: THE ADULTS’ BEHIND CHILDREN’S RIGHTS’, ‘THE SEXUAL DEAD-END’ and several articles by Melanie Philipps & Damian Thompson, which, show the link between childrens’ rights and gay rights groups, their link to the Nationl Council for Civil Liberties / ‘Liberty’, ‘P.I.E.’ (Paedophile Information Exchange) & ‘Paeophile Action for Liberation’ (P.A.L.) and socialist politicians (the Labour Party), not, that members of other political parties were not linked to these vile organisations.

  • Brian

    See: ‘How Hattie’s friends defended paedophilia’ http://blogs.telegraph.co.uk/news/damianthompson/100185799/how-hatties-friends-defended-paedophilia/; ‘Jimmy Savile, Panorama and Newsnight: the scandal is much wider’ http://blogs.telegraph.co.uk/news/damianthompson/100186046/jimmy-savile-panorama-and-newsnight-the-scandal-is-much-wider/; ‘Jimmy Savile: Labour faces embarrassment over former child sex claims’ http://www.telegraph.co.uk/news/uknews/crime/jimmy-savile/9614516/Jimmy-Savile-Labour-faces-embarrassment-over-former-child-sex-claims.html; ‘Jimmy Savile and how the liberal left encouraged the sexualisation of our children’ http://www.dailymail.co.uk/debate/article-2221078/Jimmy-Savile-liberal-left-encouraged-sexualisation-children.html These books support all I have written.

  • Jimmy Jangle

    A Catholic Knight of the highest order in recognition of and his contribution to the kind of work the RC Church is most famous for nowadays. And Savile’s relentless contributions and his lifetime’s devotion to such behaviour was recognised. Savile lived up to the reputation of the traits of Catholic Priests, Bishops and others.

  • Fanny111

    There are so many comments on whether justice is best served after the accused is dead. And if the victims are sincere or can they remember the events. And why did they keep quiet for so long? You have to be a victim of sexual abuse as a child to understand the deep psychological scars that will haunt you for the rest of your life to know the event remains imprinted in your mind till you die. Common amongst the stories are people are terrified of him. And those that spoke up were ignored. So , what can they do when they fear the man and the powers behind him. Dozens of adults have kept quiet, not only one or two.its not an excuse for them but certainly, it does strongly point to the fact that jimmy saville is guilty.

    BBC will not compensate any victim unless they can provide strong evidence of their claims, I am sure.

    Stop making excuse for Jimmy, or discuss the technical legal aspect of this case or judging those who were victims .

  • Robert Daniels-Dwyer

    William, when the Saville story broke I recalled your earlier piece straightaway, and rather uncomfortably.  We’re rightly quick to draw attention to how the good works of people may be due to their apparently strong faith, something the media tends to ignore/overlook.  But in turn, does that mean than when people do bad things, we should also rush to point out their faith? 

    A regular mass-goer, a heroic worker for charity, and a knight of orders of chivalry in both this realm and the Church, may in fact have been the most prolific paedophile in modern UK history?  Like you, I think we need time to reflect in silence and more than a little humility.

  • MarylandBill

    Unfortunately at this point, on this earth, there is no justice for the victims.  I wonder if there ever is justice for any victims or if the best we can do is get the predators off the street and hope that somehow we can help the victims heal.

  • susan

    This isnt about slandering the dead. This is about giving us having the chance to change our perceptions and for a culture where victims are sensitively heard to be embraced. Perhaps this is not about Jimmy’s guilt now, but ours – the evil we do by looking away when things are uncomfortable; the contamination of shame being such that it is easier to leave it with the victim. By closing our hearts, we also abuse. I beleive this man had no, or very little internal struggle. His acts of good being something he could do to attract attention and power and his seemingly malevent side being something he enjoyed- with no real feeling of malevelance, just again being about power. The feelings of evil are our horror, discust, and revulsion at something so psychologically tainted and the need t o psychologically reject it for fear of contaminatin. We. cannot understand this behavour by means of our own process – thank gooddness.

  • Johnlee2

    You have been hoisted by your own petard, so to speak.
    The reality is that being a Catholic, a Protestant, a Muslim or an Atheist – or anything else for that matter, doesn’t inherently make you good or evil, it simply indicates something about your beliefs.
    If you are feeling confused it is because you assume, wrongly, that morality springs from believing in your own particular brand of religion.
    The fact of the matter is that a person can be good, bad, middling, or anything else whatever their philosophy. Prisons are full of God-fearing believers, and people of all kinds of beliefs, including yours, have commited the most awful crimes.
    When Savile had a hero’s funeral, you wanted to claim his apparent virtues as being because of his faith. By the same argument you would have to claim his vices come from the same source, but that would also be wrong.
    If you stop equating your particular religious convictions with morality, then you will no longer feel so confused.

  • Leonhardprintz

     “What is truth?” Pontious Pilate.

  • Plaidp

    Just another nail in the coffin that is religion and Catholicism in particular.  There are no gods – it is all made up.  Belonging to a church is used as a shield from criticism by many people.  Saville added charity work to that to double down on his own personal protection racket.

  • http://www.facebook.com/profile.php?id=514204852 Leah Doner

    Perhaps the lack of mention of Jimmy Saville’s staunch Roman Catholicism in his obituaries was an attempt by the establishment to hide  the close connection of  another  pedophile rapist  to the Roman Catholic Church.

    It could be that the press was doing the exact opposite of what William Oddie in 2011 was so quick to accuse them of doing.

    It’s also interesting that Oddie enthusiastically attributed Saville’s apparent generosity and charity to his religion, but now refuses to connect Saville’s other traits to that same religion. Why is that?

  • Amkennedpayen

    Bad…sad…..sick creep !!!