Woman abused by Caldey Island monk tells of lasting impact
By Amanda Gearing And Steven Morris
December 5, 2017
|Father Thaddeus Kotik with Alice|
‘Alice’ says she fled UK to escape the painful memories but would return to give evidence in any inquiry into abbeyA victim of a monk who abused girls on Caldey Island has described how she took drugs to numb the emotional pain and eventually fled the UK to escape the memories.
Alice – not her real name – told the Guardian her earliest memories were of the monk, Thaddeus Kotik, and how he lured her with sweets and pets into dens he had set up around the remote island off the Welsh coast.
She had planned not to return to the UK but now says she will come back to give evidence if an inquiry is called into the abuse she and other girls suffered and how it was covered up.
Caldey Abbey is at the centre of a growing scandal after the Guardian revealed a string of allegations against Kotik dating back to the 1970s and 80s. Kotik was a member of the Cistercian order of Benedictine monks and lived on the island from 1947 until his death in 1992.
Six women sued the abbey over the allegations against Kotik, and another six women and a man have come forward reporting that they, too, were abused by him.
It has also emerged that police are investigating a second man over accusations of sexual abuse on Caldey and that a convicted sex offender, Paul Ashton, who is wanted by police, hid there for seven years until 2011.
Daniel van Santvoort, the abbot at the abbey on Caldey Island, has said he is “truly sorry” that allegations made against Kotik were not reported to the authorities, and expressed regret for any harm caused.
Van Santvoort said he knew nothing of the allegations when he arrived at the island in 1990, or when he later became abbot in 1999. When he became aware of the allegations in 2014, he forwarded the matter to the police.
Dyfed-Powys police have asked for any other victims to come forward. In the Welsh assembly, the Conservatives’ children’s spokesman, Darren Millar, has called on the Welsh government to launch an investigation.
Alice said she and her sister were lucky to have survived their teenage years of rebellion triggered by the harm of the abuse.
“I was conscious of these horrible feelings of low self-esteem, of being angry but not knowing why. I took drugs to try to numb myself. On my 21st birthday I accidentally overdosed,” she said.
After that incident, Alice spent a week in intensive care. The experience became a turning point and she found a job and studied at university, graduating with a first-class honours degree.
“My earliest memories are of Fr Thaddeus and the dens around the island,” she said. “Most of the time I can remember the abuse happening was when I was with my sister. We were both there. [Fr Kotik] distracted one of us with sweets while he had the other one on his lap and vice-versa.”
Alice believes the abuse began when she was four or five years old. “There were multiple dens around the island, which my parents knew nothing about. There was one behind our house. He made one out of a big water tank, on its side behind the house.
“I remember him really hurting me, and me telling him to stop,” she said. “At one stage when I grew up a bit, I wanted to get away from him, so he changed his tactics. That was about a year before I left the island.
“He worked out that I really liked cats. He bought two cats and kept them at one of the dens. He said I could have one but I could only go and visit it when he was there. I couldn’t take it away. That was his way of getting me back.”
Alice moved overseas and planned never to return to live in Britain. “Being away from Wales set me free. I left all that baggage behind. But I also left my family behind,” she said.
If an inquiry was called, she said, “I would go back to give evidence. When I read about the other girls and heard what happened to them, I was glad my sister and I were taken from the island before the abuse got even worse.”
Despite her career success, Alice sometimes finds it hard to enjoy her life because she worries she does not deserve the success she has achieved. “I feel a fraud – that someone is going to find me out and judge me unfairly,” she said.
Alice said it was not until she saw the stories in the Guardian that she realised the extent of the abuse by Kotik.
“I was quite shocked at first. It’s really, really shocking. It has impacted so many lives. I feel so angry. I want to just get some answers as to why the church thought they had the right to handle things as they did and not bring in the law of the land which Caldey is under.
“For me, it is an even bigger thing than Caldey. It’s about religion, how this is so widespread, what is the cause and effect of this?
“Religion is supposed to be about compassion and goodness. I just think the Catholic church should be held to account. Talking about it is bringing our family closer together and helped me find peace.”