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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.

  • Benedict Carter

    Awkward and Parasum – totally agree.

  • paulpriest

    most sexual abuse is committed by the young upon the young [70% of abusers are under 25] and far from ‘sometimes’ – 30% of all sexual abuse is committed by women

  • 2_Armpits_4_Sister_Sarah

    It’s none of our business what went through Jimmy’s mind at Mass. I’m afraid William Oddie has a poor record when it comes to the issue of abuse. He continued to defend Maciel in the face of overwhelming evidence for Faith magazine. I suggest he avoid the subject.

  • Matthew Roth


  • Matthew Roth

    Also, the purpose of statutes of limitations is so that people can actually defend themselves. 

  • Matthew Roth

    It was Vietnam, and he now resides as a sex offender in the UK…

  • scary goat

     Well, I must admit I had a bit of a strop at one point over one of mr. Oddie’s articles on abuse.
    However, I think he is currently in a bit of a state of shock and has realised that things aren’t always quite the way they seem. (or the way we would like to believe) It’s a scary place to be in. Very scary.  This is why people go for “denial” because if they have to face it, they go through the same horrors by-proxy that the victims go through.  It blows away your pre-conceived ideas.(especially in a faith context)  Mr. Oddie has had the guts to admit that this has confused him….well done to him for that. 

    This is a complex problem, and looking through the comments you can see all the various stances people take.  Some are quite “balanced” some less so.  I do want to make a proper comment on this, but for the moment, just take it easy on mr. Oddie. 

    It’s none of our business what went through Jimmy’s mind at Mass. In a way you are right…God knows, we don’t.  BUT I don’t think mr. Oddie’s questions are at all strange because it is very relevant to the whole abuse crisis and it’s impact on people.

  • 12Maria34

    True but some diocese went bankrupt paying and reputation of some good priest smeared …

  • Adiutricem

    All successful abusers, bullies, narcissists, and general criminals will migrate toward the places that yield the most potential victims. 

  • Rizzo the Bear

    You will find – in time – that there is a lot of truth in these rumours and allegations, Veuster.

    My sister met Savile some years ago and her impression of him back then was that there was something sinister, odd and something not quite ‘all there’ but she couldn’t put her finger on it.  

    When the big zit eventually burst in the media, she told me she was not in the least bit surprised. By the way, my sister is a qualified social and youth worker.

    Savile mentally manipulated his victims. He thought he was untouchable and the top brass at the BBC were always trying to placate their golden geese celebrities and senior staff. 

    In a recent interview, former BBC broadcaster David Hamilton got it spot on about what happened to juniors and subordinates who reported these things (I make reference to the same in my previous post on this thread).

    Irish broadcaster, Gay Byrne, interviewed him a number of times on the RTE programme ‘The Late Late Show’ and thought he was – in his words – odd.

    Also, I do not speak as someone who is an armchair critic nor from second hand info, relying on the media only.

    The victims were terrified of speaking out whilst he was alive. He would have clicked his fingers and called upon top lawyers to take out injunctions etc. in order to screw these people into the ground so tightly that it would be just as painful an ordeal to go through than what happened to them originally.

  • Rizzo the Bear

    At Broadcasting House, there is an inscription which refers to dedication ‘to Almighty God.’

    The BBC needs another ‘Lord Reith’ .

  • Rizzo the Bear

    Spot on.

  • Rizzo the Bear

    I wouldn’t put it past them!

    After all King Charles II exhumed Oliver Cromwell and beheaded his corpse, didn’t he?

  • Kevin

    I am sure Richard Dawkins will hammer the BBC over this.

  • Jason Clifford

    Many of these allegations were made years ago but were either ignored or actively suppressed. There are similar allegations against many other celebrities but we do not generally hear of them for a reason.

  • 2_Armpits_4_Sister_Sarah

    As Benedict Carter hs stated the one expert we had was Fr. Fitzgerald of the Paracletes. This priest was brought down in a coup at the 2nd Vatican Council. Instead of his best practices being shared, the Church sort to integrate post-Kinsey “sexology” experts into Church sponsored treatment centres with, at times, irrational results.There is a (anti-Kinsey) Jewish writer called Reisman who has accused Catholic bishops of lacking faith in that regard. When you have a Jewess telling Catholics they lack faith then alarm bells should ring.

  • daclamat

    Did you spare a thought for the victims? Why they stayed silent for so long? And why those in the know stayed silent? There’s an interesting thought.  Reminds one why the victims of priest abusers stayed silent, why they were afraid to speak, why they were afraid of the priests’ superiors, why those who are seeking redress from the dioceses of Middlesborough, Leeds and Portsmouth, have to jump backwards through the hoops of fire of litigation, because the bishops in all conscience have to defend the interests of the church. I know the CH is busy with all kinds of worthy causes, like saying hail marys during the bidding prayers, but might not a bit of crusading for little children who have since grown up do a bit of good?

  • karlf

    Rock n Roll began in the 1950s, and I don’t think the Beatles encouraged child abuse David. Van Morrison perhaps.

  • JabbaPapa

    it isn’t a crime to fail to report child abuse

    I’d guess it would be more accurate to say “it wasn’t a crime to fail to report child abuse” — I’ve little doubt that most Judges in the UK would accept that charges could be brought against people failing to denounce paedophiles in the current state of affairs — with the proviso that protection of professional secrecy for medical professionals, psychologists, confessors, lawyers, and so on would likely be protected.

    Also :

    The Proceeds of Crime Act 2002 has increased the scope of mandatory reporting.  It has introduced duties to pass on information about criminal proceeds with the result that professionals may have to report the criminal activities of their clients or third parties.  Unlike existing duties to report, the obligations in the Proceeds of Crime Act apply to all criminal offences and therefore represent a significant change in the approach of English criminal law towards mandatory reporting

  • Anthony

    This seems to have been an open secret. Jimmy is cruising for children on the ward/set…
    The fault lies with those who suspected and did not question. This is also true of Holy mother Church. However, with the BBC being so keen to point out the Church’s deficiency in these matters; let them answer the same questions they asked us.

  • Jonathan West

    The Proceeds of Crime Act only applies to crimes from which there are proceeds, i.e. crimes that the criminals have made money out of. It doesn’t apply to child abuse.

  • Jonathan West

    If you are familiar with this subject, it isn’t in the least surprising. Psychological manipulation of the child is a common part of the abuse to keep the child quiet and believing that he or she is complicit. It takes a very great deal of courage to overcome that manipulation, even years or decades later, and one of the things that can provide a trigger for gaining that courage is evidence that you are not alone and that you will be believed.

    Silence until the dam broke and then a flood of similar allegations is exactly what I would expect to see in the case of a prolific serial abuser.

  • Jonathan West

    The law has been changed over the years concerning child sex abuse, to recognise the psychological issues that cause people abused in childhood to delay reporting. That change was made in the interests of justice.

  • scary goat

     Can you provide evidence for this please…..I am inclined to believe you, but for the sake of others reading here.

  • scary goat

     Yes, I know about Fr. Fitzgerald.  I agree entirely they should have listened to him. I fail to understand why they didn’t  :-(

  • PaulHalsall

    If the BBC is guilty for not exposing him, are not also those Catholic priests who might have known of his actions, and yet done nothing to prevent them?

  • JonathanBurdon

    I hardly think you’re to blame here. How were you to know that the man was a predatory paedophile? When he died praise for him was almost universal. Obviously if you had known then what you know now, you would never have written that article. What you wrote then was based on the information available and like the vast majority of other people you thought Savile was a good man. I’m sure that won’t stop your opponents from using it as a stick to beat you with though, but that’s more shame on them.

  • Isaac

    The Church also claims to be overflowing with sinners. Does the BBC make a similar claim about itself?

  • Benedict Carter

    The answer to that question lies in “A Letter to Confused Catholics”.

    The Vatican II Church has broken with the divine and looks predominantly to this world for its guidance. 

    This is THE fundamental reason why Traditonalists exist (and happily, in ever greater numbers!)

  • Multitasking Litigator

    As a lawyer can I say “Absolutely right!” and add that in this country we afford the living – who have the ability to defend themselves – the right to a fair tral and a presumption of innnocence; we do not have justice by lynch mob. The more so when we are talking about the dead. I was making this point to my kids last night and my fourteen year old son who is studying “The Crucible” at school made the connection instantly. If he can then others ought to be able to as well.

  • daclamat

    I seem to remember something about the communion of saints, or John Donne. Even at mass, no man is an island.

  • daclamat

    He’s back home. Quaking in his shoes.

  • David Lindsay

    Set out at length in Chapter Ten of my Confessions of an Old Labour High Tory

    Endorsed by two peers and three professors, among other people. But not reviewed anywhere, so far as I am aware. Funny, that…

  • JByrne24

    Among all the recent comment about Savile I can’t recall any talking about his daily Mass and Catholic faith.
    Does this not illustrate that there never was any “conspiracy of silence about his faith?” when he was in the limelight and an subject of widespread affection.
    His faith was not mentioned then and is not mentioned now. It was/is of no interest to most people.

  • Rizzo the Bear

    You are a piece of work, aren’t you?

  • Laurence England

    Hi William

    I’m surprised the journalists at the Catholic Herald are so surprised by the Saville scandal when one of your own writers, Milo Yiannopoulos, in October 2011 wrote on his blog:

    ‘National treasure Jimmy Savile is dead. Without meaning to puncture the respectful atmosphere, given all the eulogising going on it is perhaps worth remembering that there was a dark side to this family entertainer too.Savile, star of children’s television favourite Jim’ll Fix It, sued the Sunin 2008 over a series of articles linking him to Haut de la Garenne, the Jersey children’s home where human remains were found and children were allegedly tortured and sexually abused. He initially denied ever visiting the home, despite photographic evidence to the contrary.In fact, Savile had close links to managers at the home. A journalist who reported on the case told me there are gruesome revelations waiting to surface that no newspaper felt able to publish at the time, given UK libel law.And then of course there’s Savile’s reported friendship with Gary Glitter. (A case for phone hacking if ever there was one.)Now that Savile is dead and no longer able to issue writs, how long before people start talking?’

    Do Herald writers not talk to each other or something?

  • JByrne24

    Well the BBC certainly doesn’t strut about the world claiming to be a universal moral authority.

  • guest

    Are you aware of any priest who knew? Or is this just a wild stab in the dark or something else?

  • PaulHalsall

    If he were indeed going to mass daily, presumably he went to confession.  Of course, that might not have been the case.  But if he did, and told a confessor, then, as far as I understand it the priest would have been obliged to act to stop further violations of the innocent  *without breaking the seal of the confessional*.

    Presumably someone investigated before he was made a papal knight?

    Still, considering that Rupert Murdoch, whose page three in The Sun did more to deprave and desensitise British society than almost anything else in the past 45 years, also got a papal knighthood, perhaps actions just don’t matter.

  • PaulHalsall

    So it’s a matter of tit for tat for you?

    Do you really mean to suggest “What a shame the Catholic clergy and bishops were caught out – but we can be glad the BBC is getting hit also”?Note, that although from a British perspective it may seem the BBC was a major accuser, the BBC has had nothing to do with the calamity the RC leadership has also faced in Ireland, Australian, the US, Canada, Germany, Belgium, and so forth.

  • Benedict Carter

    Your post just illustrates your hatred of the Faith which you once had. 

  • Benedict Carter

    And the German Bishops’ Conference owned shares in a publisher of porn, and tried to weasel their way through spin out of the embarrassment caused when they were found out. 

    Actions don’t matter to a whole depraved section of anti-Church, no.

  • Benedict Carter

    Hey Paul, how’s your campaign to have the Church forget the Ten Commandments in favour of “homosexual rights” going? 

  • W Oddie

    When did I do that?  date please

  • tbittan

    An awful lot of Catholic ostriches posting here, at least Mr Oddie seems to accept reality.

  • Martin Shaw

    Savile who I spoke to twice on the telephone was a Papal Knight. KCSG. Knight Commander of the Order of St Gregory the Great. Perhaps the Diocese of Leeds could comment on the citation and whether the honour was conferred at diocesan or national level. The man was a charlatan.

  • scary goat

    Ok, well, that was a complete waste of 2 hours. I have been saying I was going to make a proper comment on this….Jimmy Saville and relating it to the Church abuse scandal and mr. Oddie’s questions and the question of “denial”. I thought it might be helpful, give people some food for thought.  I just spent 2 hours writing it…..then deleted it all.  I explained a lot of stuff from first hand experience that could have shed some light on it all.  But I can’t.  I can’t cope with some of the replies I might get. So, sorry, I’m a big cop-out.  You’d have to be stark raving mad to try to “help” in these situations, whether you are a victim or a witness. That’s why so many things don’t get reported for ages, if ever.  That’s why the statistics are skewed. God help the victims and have mercy on the abusers. I need a break.  See you all after a couple of weeks.

  • scary goat


  • 2_Armpits_4_Sister_Sarah

    Well done awk! It’s curious that in post-Kinsey America talk of a catholic Alcatraz was deemed unacceptable so Fitzgerald was replaced. A cheap island retreat would have cost nothing back then instead the Americans have paid out 2 billion dollars in compensation to victims in order to bail out this post-Vatican II mess which was of their own creation in the first place.

    Curiously, Fr F offered a more ‘liberal’ solution than is currently in operation. Today it’s a ‘one strike and you’re out’ policy. The island retreat offered an alternative.

  • 2_Armpits_4_Sister_Sarah

    It’s news to me he was a daily communicant. Saville admitted that he did not attend Church regularly.