A Roman Catholic priest has given a unique insight into day-to-day life at a remote and little-known rehabilitation home used by the church to treat alcoholic, gay and paedophiliac clergymen.
The priest was sent to the residential treatment centre in Gloucestershire after his bishop found out that he was a practising homosexual. Writing anonymously in today's Independent, he gives a detailed account of his week-long assessment at Our Lady of Victory - a place he describes as being like "an open prison" - situated high on a Cotswold hill in Brownshill, near Stroud.
The church is guarded about life inside the centre. It is run by the Servants of the Paraclete, a religious congregation of men dedicated to ministering to priests and brothers with "personal difficulties". Anyone who is "sent to Stroud", as Catholic circles put it, for longer than the initial assessment must sign a confidentiality contract.
To residents living near the centre, it is simply a "drying out clinic for boozy brethren". But the priest recalls a "sense of listlessness" among inmates, "as if, realising the game was up, all the fight, all the desire for independence had gone." He believes the "glassiness in their eyes" betrays "some form of brainwashing". "How," he asks, "is paedophilia `cured' or any other form of addiction, sexual or otherwise?"
Our Lady of Victory purports to offer "therapy in a spiritual context". But according to Father Kieran Conroy, director of the Catholic Media Office, the approach is more "therapist's boot camp" than "therapist's couch". Fr Conroy said he understood the treatment to be "quite confrontational". "They do face you with your own shortcomings and there's no question of denial, at all. It's a process of knocking down and building up again, which I think some people find difficult to deal with because they are particularly vulnerable."
The Servants of the Paraclete was founded in 1947 by Father Gerald Fitzgerald, a priest from the Archdiocese of Boston, in the United States. It has about 30 priests at Stroud, and there is a waiting list. Our Lady of Victory hit the headlines in 1993 when Fr Sean Seddon, a 38-year-old Roman Catholic priest, was sent there to try to forget about his six- year romance with a teacher. On learning that his lover had lost their baby, he committed suicide by throwing himself under a railway station near the retreat.
Fr Conroy believes the majority of residents at Stroud are alcoholics on the Chemical Dependency Programme, based on the 12 Steps of Alcoholics Anonymous. "In the case of child abuse it would be assessment rather than treatment," he added, "because most people realise that paedophilia is not a condition they can treat successfully."
He said Stroud is not an alternative to the courts. Some of the priests undergoing treatment for child abuse have served prison sentences. At the end of the treatment, staff at Stroud assess the paedophiliac priest's risk of reoffending, according to Father Conroy. "If they choose to remain in the priesthood - and presumably they will, otherwise they wouldn't have spent six months or two years there - the church has to decide where the safest place for that person to work is. If he is high risk they must ensure that he is in a job that has little or zero risk of contact with children."
The priest's tale, page 14
Join our new commenting forum
Join thought-provoking conversations, follow other Independent readers and see their replies