Review: Abused, Breaking The Silence (2011, UK)
Abused: Breaking the Silence (hereafter known as ABTS) is an independently produced BBC documentary. It reported on two Catholic Schools run by the Rosminian Order sect; The Grace Dieu in Leicestershire, England and St Michael’s, Soni in what is now known as Tanzania, back in the late 1950s and early 1960s. All the men featured in the programme reported systematic physical and sexual abuse, and the recording of photographic Child Abuse images as well by one priest.
The filming recounts shades of the BAFTA-Award winning documentary Chosen, except that in Channel 4’s film, the survivors told their story and verbal voiceover was dumped in favour of short subtitling and clever CGI illustrating the school environment. ABTS chooses the more conventional pictures of the men as kids and a voiceover that treats the viewer like an idiot, especially in its introduction.
The men describe how the token disclosers and parents who tried to complain were stonewalled and the children ostracised after speaking out. The alleged offenders were, as we have heard many times over with Catholic CSA, moved on to other Catholic establishments, usually in contact with more children. Sadly there were also cases of parental failure as some parents disbelieved their children or did nothing post-disclosure, so the film is at least balanced in sharing out the blame and doesn’t just attack the church.
During an enclosed online school reunion for the two colleges from people who had re-emigrated across the world, one disclosure over Skype opened the floodgates to the mass disclosure of at least 35 men. At first they co-operated with a separate church inquiry into one of the priests that was already happening. However one of the alleged offenders had been decorated with a Royal Honour, a MBE, which was returned when the allegations became more public. Only then did one of the ostracised survivors learned that the priest silencing him had been implicated in the allegations of abusing other children at the school.
Following its internal inquiry the Rosminian Order later admitted wrongdoing leading to the surprising move of individual priests writing letters asking for forgiveness for their offences. If these were not satisfactory though, individuals requesting meetings sometimes had to endure blanket verbal denials, the complete opposite of the earlier written admissions and the request for forgiveness became a more repeated, manipulative demand from the instigator of the inquiry. Also, one of the deniers mentioned another child who grew up to be a lawyer, in part explaining the class action lawsuit involving at least 23 of the 35 disclosers.
ABTS is a powerful documentary but packaged in a more conventional way than Chosen; it was dumped out at a late time of 10.35pm which seems to have been BBC policy for the summer and worst of all, it has been screened before the legal action has finished, leading to an incomplete story. We hope it will receive an extended repeat when the legal judgement has been made in the future and we get to hear more experiences from other kids at the school and their feelings at the end of the lawsuit rather than focussing on only a few of the 35. The film hasn’t done them justice in its present, too-short edited form. To be fair to Olenka Frenkiel’s documentary directed by Maninderpal Sahota, it underlines the Mike’s earlier point in the main blog about how the internet has helped male survivors in a big way.
At least the documentary can be seen on the BBC iPlayer for another seven days (to 10.35pm Tuesday 28th June) and we highly recommend that you catch it before it goes, despite its shortcomings. The iPlayer direct page is here and should revert to a summary page when the week for streaming the show expires, or go to the iPlayer’s front page and search on the alphabetical bar if the previous link fails to work.