This is meant to be my business blog, but sometimes things happen that transcend the spurious barrier between business and the rest of our lives and are simply too important not to comment on. I have an example today. Earlier this morning I was alerted to the fact that my old RE teacher from 30 years ago was jailed for eight years last Friday for sexual offences against young boys.
The reports of Fr. David Pearce OSB's jailing range from the Sun's typically Rotweillerish 'Devil in a Dog Collar' approach to the Independent's somewhat more considered and rounded report....although it too opts for the rather lurid headline.
Reading the reports immediately took me back to St. Benedict's where I spent seven pretty good years between 1975 and 1982. Pearce arrived on the teaching staff about a year after my arrival as a pupil. He'd previously been Maurice Pearce and had been an army dentist before studying for the priesthood. If my recollection's right, he'd been a pupil at St. Benedict's back in the 1950s.
While the press reports point to his charm and guile, and several commenters on the Sun article point to his wisdom and humility, that's not the man I remember. My recollection is of a 'Cheshire Cat' - a beaming wide, white-tooth-filled smile that was rarely reflected in his eyes; a vanity that expressed itself in naked favouritism towards those who indulged him, and a slightly cruel sarcasm reserved for those who, I think, saw through his insincerity.
He could turn on the charm for parents and teachers alike, and as one of the school's monastic community, was respected by all the adults around him - perhaps respecting the monastic robes more than the man within. But there was something strangely malevolent about Pearce's personality. This morning I realised that this was not just hindsight talking: as pupils, we'd quickly built up a folklore around this new teaching priest. Very early in his time at the school he'd earned the nickname 'Gay Dave', and it was pretty much an unwritten rule among us boys to be wary of him. He did invite boys for tea and toast in his teaching room, though my recollection was that this was small groups, not individuals. Clearly he was smarter than we thought at hiding the nastiest side of his character.
I was never subject to any physical abuse from Pearce, although have occasion to remember the only time I was ever called alone to his room (all senior teachers had a private study). By that time I was about 16 and had a streak of belligerence that would have put any teacher off trying anything on. I'd written a pretty childish essay attacking the hypocrisy of the Catholic church. He awarded me 0% and tore the piece up in front of me. I guess there's something deeply ironic in there somewhere....!
It would be easy to say that my memory of St. Benedict's is now tainted. To find out that there was a predatory paedophile at the school during my time as a pupil is quite shocking, though in hindsight, the pieces fit. If anyone on the staff at the time fitted the profile, it was Pearce. Yet somehow, in an era when corporal punishment was the norm; when total obedience to whatever a teacher ordered was simply the way the school operated and when, perhaps, we as boys were simply more tolerant of a harsher educational regime, it was clearly easier for the bad apples to exploit the system. As far as I know, no-one in my circle was abused by Pearce - but then again, I can't be sure.
Pearce's offences were not deemed to be on the most serious end of the paedophile scale, yet one wonders if this man who led a totally duplicitous life for 30 years or more has actually revealed the full extent of his crimes. I simply don't buy the theory that he committed only 10 offences over three decades, and I suspect there are many more former pupils still too ashamed to come forward.
I never liked him; I'm glad he has been judged for his crimes and I hope he dies in prison. It is just such an awful shame that he was allowed to get away with so much for so long. It is all the more shameful that the monastic community protected him and still seems reluctant to condemn him.
Yet my school years were not tainted. I received a superb education at St. Benedict's, benefiting from teachers who had all the right passions, opening the world of English literature and history to me particularly and infusing me with a love of education that has never died.
Pearce is a deeply flawed individual; there are undoubted flaws in the way the Catholic church operates; and there were many aspects of the education system in the late '70s that would never be tolerated today. Thankfully, the vast majority of us thrived. It's just so appalling that a few suffered at the hands of this evil individual who exploited all the advantages of being a teaching monk so vindictively.