Friday, July 16, 2010

'This should not have happened to a child’

'This should not have happened to a child’
11:48am Thursday 15th July 2010

Two decades after he was abused by a Catholic priest, Mark Dixon is still waiting for the Catholic church to acknowledge his pain. In the second of two articles, he tells Chris Lloyd how he confronted his past.

"IWOULD kill him,” says Mark Dixon coldly, referring to the priest who sexually abused him years before he was in his teens.

While telling in shocking detail what he suffered at the hands of Father David Taylor, the youth chaplain of the Diocese of Hexham and Newcastle in the early Eighties, Mark, now 38, has appeared calm, recalling without hyperbole events from 25 years earlier that to this day remain vividly with him.

How, as an altar boy at St Joseph’s Roman Catholic Church in Coundon, County Durham, he was groomed and then abused by the predatory priest.

Last April, Taylor was sentenced to two-and-a-half years in prison for his crimes against Mark and two other boys who attended his youth clubs in Seaham 25 years ago. He is due to be released later this year, but for Mark, there is no easy way out of the pain that remains after all the years.

Having thought long and hard about what he would do if he ever again came face-to-face with the priest who abused him when he was ten, he replies: “Yes, I would. I would kill him.

I hold him responsible for everything that’s gone wrong in my life.

“This is something that should not have happened to a child. When something goes wrong, I always think would this have happened to me if I had had a normal childhood?

“And then there are days…”

He stops again, this time his voice trailing away. He is not ashamed to describe in detail the horrific acts the priest performed on him – he has come to accept they were not his fault.

But he is ashamed that more than two decades later they reduced him to an attempt to kill himself with “a concoction of headache pills”.

“I wasn’t strong enough to follow it through,” he says. “It was on my mind. It has been several times, and if I didn’t have such a strong wife, I might well have done it.”

It was meeting Lisa in May 2007 that helped uncork all he had been bottling up since he had escaped Taylor’s clutches in 1985.

He had thrown himself into athletics. “That was my life, my love: I ate and slept training,”

he says. With Shildon Running Club, he came third behind European gold medalist Jared Deacon three years running in the 400 metres; during his three years with Durham Constabulary, he won the Police British and European 400 metres Championship and was preparing for a tilt at the police world title when he was bitten by a police dog and his career was ended.

After that, Mark immersed himself in bodybuilding.

His almost obsessive dedication was his way of coping. It worked – for a while.

“I bumped into Taylor at a gala in Durham in about 1997 and I was in my police uniform.

You should have seen the look on his face. But I didn’t give it a thought. I had put it behind me.

It was in the distant past.”

But the end of his police career triggered him to write to the Vatican saying he’d been abused.

He ran through a succession of sales jobs – “my mind wasn’t right, I just couldn’t stick at anything” – but through one of them he met Lisa.

“As you get to know somebody, all your details come out,” he says. “When we decided to get married I started to say that I didn’t want to take this secret to my grave, that I needed to bring it out into the open.

“Then, in July 2008, I bumped into someone in Bishop Auckland Market Place and they made an off-the-cuff comment that they had seen Fr Taylor and that he was a really nice guy, he’d done loads with the kids, and that he’d been really kind to me.

“I knew then I had to tell what had gone on, warts and all. It was tearing me apart.”

He contacted a former police colleague for whom the name David Taylor rang bells. Allegations had first been made against Taylor in 2001, but had come to nothing. A second victim came forward in early 2008, causing the priest to be suspended from his Gateshead parish in May. Mark was the third.

Unburdening himself at first proved a relief, but he soon realised the terrible effect it would have on his adoptive parents, Alan and Margaret, of Bishop Auckland.

“I know how much their faith means to them,” he says. “It took them months to come to terms with it. In fact, I don’t think they have.

My mam didn’t want to go to church. She blamed herself, but it wasn’t her fault – she didn’t ask him to do it.”

THE legal procedure began. Every intimate detail from Mark’s secret childhood was suddenly exposed. It overwhelmed him. “The court appearance really hit me hard,” he says. “I saw him in court and it was a blur. Lisa said all the colour drained from me and that the bench was shaking because I was gripping it with such anger.”

Taylor, then 59, admitted five offences of indecent assault on three boys aged 12 to 15 between 1982 and 1986. Judge Guy Whitburn accepted that the abuse had stopped when he’d ceased to be youth chaplain and moved to a parish in Billingham.

Taylor’s barrister, Peter Walsh, painted a picture of a “young and naïve” priest who had been “inexperienced after the closed world of the seminary”. When he was appointed youth chaplain, he had no management support and had not had any training about the “vulnerabilities of the people they (priests) deal with and also of themselves” – something the church had since addressed.

Mark recalls: “In court Father Taylor muttered ‘I’m sorry’ and that was it.

“As a victim, you want him to get as long a sentence as possible, and when the judge said two years six months, I thought that was per victim so it would come to seven-and-a-half years which was OK.

“Then he said it was to run concurrently, and I thought he’s going to be out in under two years. It was very demoralising.”

Since last May, Mark has been trying to rebuild his life. He returned to his devotions in the gym. In December, Lisa gave birth to their son, and only last week, after a year of searching, he secured a “dream job” as a fitness instructor.

But throughout, something niggled, and as Taylor’s release date has neared, it has niggled more and more. It goes deeper than the £13,500 compensation he received from the church for his “personal injury”. It doesn’t cover his loss of income during the year he was unable to work, but the church did settle promptly and, according to the sliding scale of damages, fairly.

Mark searches for the words to describe the inescapable niggling.

“I’ve written three times to the Vatican but not even received a reply,” he says. “It just feels as if their attitude has been ‘oh well, it’s just another case’. There’s not even been a letter of regret or apology. There’s been no sense of acknowledgement.”

He says the last word nearly triumphantly because at last he’s found the source of the niggle.

As we reported yesterday, the diocese believes it has done all it can to assist the victims of Taylor, yet from where Mark stands, it has not done enough.

Perhaps it never will be able to make up for a childhood erased by a priest.

“The public perception is that the priest is dealt with by the church, but they forget about the victims,” he says. “I’ve felt that since the court case their loyalty was with him because he’d given 30 years of service. But I’d given 14 years of service as an altar boy. And he’d taken away these important years of my life as a child.

“I feel as if they could have done so much more to make good. Yes, just an acknowledgement that something had gone wrong and I had suffered – that would be a start.”

© Copyright 2001-2010 Newsquest Media Group

No comments: