‘I was raped by a paedophile monk when I was ten’

Daily Mail [London, United Kingdom]

April 13, 2024

By Tom Bedford and John James

Man reveals child abuse horror on church trip to holiday island where kids were ‘dragged off into dark’ by pervert catholic priests

  • EXCLUSIVE:  As a child, Kevin O’Connell was ‘abused’ on Caldey Island
  • Decades later, Kevin is now fighting for justice for the island’s victims

Located three miles off the South Wales coast, the shimmering island of Caldey is in many ways every child’s dream holiday destination. 

With rolling green countryside, imposing cliffs and white sandy beaches, the island’s physical beauty leaves little to the imagination and routinely welcomes thousands of excitable children onto its shores every year. 

However, many are unaware that the island’s chocolate box aesthetics hide a chilling secret: a dark history of sexual abuse against infants ‘as young as three’ stretching back over 50 years and irrevocably tied to the secretive community of Catholic monks that inhabit the rock.

In the decades that have passed since the island’s hay day as a popular summer resort for families, alleged victims of the abuse have pooled together to set up the Caldey Island Survivors Campaign and have fought for a public enquiry for years. 

This week, the island announced that former Assistant Police & Crime Commissioner for South Wales, Jan Pickles OBE would lead a ‘thorough review’ into historic claims of child abuse. 

MailOnline has spoken to three victims of abuse on the island who have shared for the first time how their abuse at the hands of men on the island changed their lives forever. 

‘It was a safe haven for them to abuse and rape children’

Kevin O’Connell was just six when he first stayed on Caldey Island for a family holiday with his parents and siblings.

It was a free holiday arranged by the Catholic Church in rural Carmarthenshire where he grew up.

By the time he was nine he had been selected as an altar boy and returned to the island for a week as part of his training. This time alone.

He said: ‘When I first saw Caldey from the boat it looked like paradise, the long beach loads of children playing and having fun.

‘A monk came over and said to me he was a friend of my parents, and I recognised him as Father Thaddeus Kotik.

‘He started taking me away from my group of children and spending time sitting in the sand dunes, eating chocolate. He would stroke my hair and kiss the top of my head.’

Young Kevin returned to the island for a holiday the next year with this site Rebecca and this time he claims Father Thaddeus and other monks sexually abused him.

He claims he would be dragged to an altar stone in the ruins of a previous abbey where the abuse would take place.

Mr O’Connell said: ‘There was nowhere to run and hide, I felt trapped and often thought I would try to swim back to Tenby but I would have not survived the crossing.

‘My sister would run up to me on the beach and we would hug – she had also been raped by Father Thaddeus.

‘I knew then what this so-called holy island really was.

‘I witnessed the industrial abuse of children, dragged away into dark damp caves to be raped, not only by monks and priest but men coming onto the island.

‘It was a safe haven for them to abuse and rape children as young as three years old.

‘When we left Caldey I never wanted to go back there. I hated everything about it.’

At home in his parish church, young Kevin ‘confessed’ to his priest about what had happened to him and his sister on Caldey.

He says he was told if he ever spoke about the monks, God would turn his back on him and the devil would take him.

The priest told the terrified schoolboy that a severed hand would come through his letter box at night and strangled him in his bed.

To this day Mr O’Connell has never lived in a house with a front door letter box.

Against his wishes Kevin, now 11, was sent to the island for a third visit, this time with his younger brother who he watched over in fear that Father Thaddeus would start abusing him.

During that stay young Kevin was found in the grounds of the abbey with a fractured skull and was taken to hospital on the mainland.

He said: ‘I still have the scar but to this day I still don’t know how I suffered that head injury. All I was told was that a carer found me on the ground with Father Thaddeus leaning over me.

‘My parents were told that I was running away and I fell and hit my head – I believe it was something far more sinister.’

Mr O’Connell says he and his siblings were let down by social services who they were in the care of at the time of their trips to the island.

He became a loner and confessed everything that happened to him to his plastic Action Man which he later buried ‘in a secret place’.

Mr O’Connell met his wife Carol in 1983 but it wasn’t until years later that he told her about the abuse he’d suffered at the hands of Father Thaddeus and other monks.

Then in 2018, after years of torment, he set up the Caldey Island Survivors Campaign and collected 5,000 signatures on a petition calling for a Public Inquiry.

In 2022 Mr O’Connell returned to the island for the first time in 44 years. He set up a banner on the quayside saying: ‘To protect the children of the future we must first discover the truth of the dark past of Caldey Island. Victims need answers.’

He said: ‘Fifty people have come forward to say they were sexually abused on Caldey. They have never received the justice they deserve.

‘I will continue to fight for them, for me and for my sister.

‘Caldey Island was never a safe place for children, it wasn’t then and it isn’t now.’

‘He would call children his “little angels” – he molested me and I got just £9,500 compensation’

A woman who was paid compensation for being molested by a monk on Caldey Island says she was ‘one to thousands’ abused by evil Father Thaddeus.

The victim, now in her early forties, said Thaddeus called the children his ‘little angels’ and plied them with chocolates, sweets and toys.

She was just three when the perverted monk led her into the island’s dairy where he sexually assaulted children while their parents were nearby.

The woman, who doesn’t want to be named, received £9,500 in compensation from Caldey Abbey in an out-of-court settlement, a figure which she described as ‘pathetic’.

The victim lived on Caldey in the 1970s when her father worked on the island’s farm.

She said: ‘I don’t know when it started because I was too young to remember but I can recall things that happened when I was about three.

‘He would take me into a garage next to the dairy where there was a chest full of sweets. He even got some kittens that he used to lure children into the garage.

‘He was manipulative, he knew what children liked. We would play and make dens. He would call us his little angels.

‘It was mostly little girls he wanted – I think he had a thing about abusing two sisters at the same time.’

The woman claims it was an ‘open secret’ on the holy island which she describes as a ‘haven for paedophiles’.

She said: ‘It was only Father Thaddeus who abused me but there were other monks and trainee priests there. We were looked after by a lot of strangers.

‘The Abbott must have known what was happening but I believe he turned a blind eye to it. If the police had been brought in that would have threatened their whole way of life on the island.

‘Father Thaddeus was a prolific paedophile and when I was older and in school on the mainland I told my headmaster what had happened to me on Caldey.

‘He wrote a letter to the Abbott at the time but nothing happened, I remember they said father Thaddeus was ill and to ‘leave it alone’.

‘I’ve been angry all my life that he never got reported to the police and never stood trial. He got away with it.

‘He was responsible for sexually abusing thousands of children, not just us who were living on the island.

‘Children would come over on day trips, he would be the guide and would use that position to touch children during the short time they were there.

‘He was blatant about it because he knew he could get away with it.’

The woman, who still lives in Wales, said her parents and others living on the island refused to believe that a monk could be grooming children for his sexual pleasure.

The victim said: ‘My mother was very religious, we were all Roman Catholics. She believed that priests and monks could do no wrong.

‘She thought Father Thaddeus was a holy man and that he children were safe with him.’

Father Thaddeus even wrote to the woman’s mother saying: ‘How much I owe you for your children’s love for me?’ The letter is signed Thad.

After leaving the island the girl had a troubled life, drank heavily and was diagnosed with PTSD from her early years on Caldey.

She was one of six women who were compensated and received just £9,500 from the Cistercian abbey a mile away from the seaside resort of Tenby.

She said: ‘It was a pathetic amount for a life full of misery and after effects. I took the money because I felt I wanted closure. But the monks never apologised, they have always been arrogant about what happened to children on the island.’

The woman is married but has no children of her own and has never worked because of her deep distrust of people, especially men.

She is suspicious of the inquiry announced this week by the island’s new Abbott.

She told Mai Online: ‘It’s a step in the right direction but it’s being paid for and managed by the Abbey so it’s not really independent.

‘They have brought in a new Abbott but that looks like a ply to me to once more sweep it under the carpet.

‘They will have wiped away all the records of the m ones who have lived on the island over the years, they just want to wipe the slate clean.’

Despite dying before he could answer for his crimes, some of Kotik’s victims did receive some form of compensation for the abuses he had wrought on them.   

‘He was always trying to cuddle us, and we would squirm because he stank of body odour’

In  2016, six girl victims were paid compensation after a civil court case found Father Thaddeus Kotik had sexually abused them between 1972 and 1987. 

Speaking to MailOnline under the condition of anonymity, one of these victims, who was sexually assaulted from the age of six, revealed that his shocking abuse had coloured her entire life. 

The woman, who is now middle aged, said she and her family would frequently holiday on the island throughout the 1970s as her parents had a second home there.

She said: ‘My grandparents did voluntary work for the monks and my mother had my two younger brothers to look after, so she was grateful my sister and I were out of the house.’ 

It was whilst they wandered the island that they encountered Kotik. That’s where the nightmare began. 

She continued: ‘We put up with this awful side of things.  He had these rough, rusty hands.

‘He was always trying to cuddle us, and we would squirm because he stank of body odour.

‘He also abused the farmer’s daughters, and they were babies. It was just gross.

‘My mother would be washing up at the kitchen sink, and one of us would be on his lap. And he would be putting his hands up our skirts while my mother was at the kitchen sink.’ 

The woman claims Kotik’s shocking abuse lasted from 1972-1976 and only ended as she and her sister started puberty. 

‘He obviously only likes children’, she explained. 

In the years that have followed the abuse, the woman says she has become close with Kevin, who like her has been left ‘damaged’ by the sorry affair. 

She explained: ‘Me and Kevin were quite vulnerable so we were badly abused.

‘I had children and then again I think that the trouble with this legacy is that you tend to pick people that aren’t that sort of wholesome.

‘My ex was quite a bit of a bully really, and after a while i just wanted to be away from there.

‘I haven’t had a relationship since then.

‘It’s too loaded – it’s too heavy loaded – it’s too tense when the person wants to get all sexual.

‘It comes flooding back and I don’t want to deal with all these feelings, so it’s just easier to be busy and lonely.’

What is happening on the island now?  

In recent weeks, the island has appointed safeguarding officer Maria Battle, former chair of the Howell Dda University Health Board in Wales.

She is a director of the Caldey island Estate Company Ltd and since her appointment a page has appeared on the island’s website saying Caldey operates under the Catholic Safeguarding Standard Agency. 

This week, she announced that the Abbey has appointed Independent Safeguarding Consultant and former Assistant Police & Crime Commissioner for South Wales, Jan Pickles OBE to lead a ‘thorough review’ into historical claims of child abuse

According to Battle, Mrs Pickles’ review will be entirely independent to the CICS – but will consider the allegations of Kevin O’Connell. 

The abbey is now under new leadership in the form of Fr Jan Rossey, who says he is committed to fostering openness and transparency within the monastery. 

Father Jan said: ‘In common with many other organisations, Caldey Abbey has, in the past, received disclosures and allegations involving members of the monastic community about their behaviour towards children.

 ‘We take these allegations very seriously and, in order to uphold our commitment to safeguarding, we have commissioned a leading Independent Safeguarding Consultant, Jan Pickles OBE, to conduct a thorough review.’

‘This review is about taking responsibility, learning from the past, and building a safe environment for everyone.’

A Dyfed-Powys police spokeswoman said: ‘All investigations have been concluded. There are currently no police investigations ongoing.

‘While we cannot prosecute persons who are deceased, all victims were asked to provide an account to police in order that any other persons linked to the offence could be investigated fully.

‘Each victim was offered a referral to appropriate support agencies and alongside the criminal investigation a safeguarding review was also undertaken.

‘Given the overall circumstances, Dyfed-Powys Police is satisfied that appropriate inquiries have been conducted.

‘All reports of sexual abuse are taken extremely seriously, and specially trained officers are appointed to investigate and support victims of non-recent abuse.’