Clerical Abuse

Bernard Porter

When I went up to Cambridge in October 1960, I found myself, for the first time, in the company of public schoolboys. My college, Corpus Christi, boasted – if that’s the word – a higher proportion of them than most, about 90 per cent, I would say, all appearing to fit in naturally to the ethos of the place, which I, at first, found strange and rather wonderful. They were all very pleasant to me, despite my ‘Estuary’ accent and the fact that I had lived at home during my school years, and I made close friends with a number of them. But there was always this barrier – of adolescent experience – between us. They knew things that I didn’t (and vice versa? perhaps).

One thing was the proclivities of one of the fellows, the Rev. E. Garth Moore, notorious in public school circles as a sexual predator: they felt they needed to warn me, as a comparatively plebbish ingénu. ‘If Garth invites you to tea in his rooms,’ one of them told me on my first day, ‘don’t go. We know about him. You won’t understand.’ I think they were trying to protect me from embarrassment more than anything. It was kind of them. Anyhow, I did get the invitation, and politely turned it down.

I was filled in on what had gone on. The conversation had turned to art, in particular the art of the nude. Moore had a theory that the ideal of the male body had different proportions in Greek and medieval times. He got his guests to strip to the thighs and measured each of them ‘from nipple to nipple, and nipple to crutch’, to determine whether they conformed to the Greek or the Gothic ideal. My new friends were right; I would have been embarrassed. Moore also used to walk naked in our college gardens, among the students there.

Moore was a tutor in law before he was ordained in the Church of England. His main published academic work – possibly his only one – was a slim guide to Canon Law. Later, when I became a fellow of the college, I got to know him better, and instinctively took against him. He had extreme right-wing views; but it was his general air of pleasant corruption which alienated me. He was one of the reasons – though not the main one – that I resigned my fellowship two years later, to take up a lectureship at Hull, where I felt far more comfortable.

Moore died in 1990. This week the Guardian outed him on its front page as the perpetrator of a ‘sadistic sexual assault’ on a 16-year-old boy known as ‘Joe’ in 1976. (The Church Times named him in December.) That’s in connection with the church hierarchy’s covering up of complaints such as Joe’s. But I’d have thought responsibility rested with my college, too, acting – as universities did then – in loco parentis. Garth had young men in his care. I was only three years older than ‘Joe’ when I came across him.

Then again, it’s a big jump from an interest in young men’s bodies to rape. I doubt he assaulted any of my friends at Corpus. (Consensual sex, possibly.) So the college had no reason to protect us from him. Besides, the atmosphere was very different in the 1960s. From what I gathered from my public school friends, these things were accepted among their class then. It was only the lower orders, with their stiff morality, who objected. Or were embarrassed, like me. And the upper classes had pretty foolproof ways – group loyalty, no sneaking etc. – of hiding it from them.

Read more in the London Review of Books

Andrew O'Hagan: Our Paedophile Culture · 8 November 2012

Anne Enright: Antigone in Galway · 17 December 2015

Colm Tóibín: The Dangers of a Priestly Education · 1 December 2005


  • 17 March 2016 at 8:50pm
    streetsj says:
    When I went up to Cambridge in 1980 I was very disappointed by the lack of interaction with the fellows. Then at the end of my second term I was invited to "wine" with a don in my college. I arrived, fashionably 30 minutes late, to find seven other people (all fellows it turned out) seated round a table. We had eight bottles of delicious wine and a merry conversation. The don sitting to my left was charming and amusing. My gaydar - not that such a thing had been invented in those days - was obviously not working and perhaps I was too encouraging. The next day I received an invitation to wine in Trinity Hall from this chap. I was thrilled and thought I'd cracked it. When I turned up I instantly realised my mistake: I was the only one invited and it wasn't only wine on the agenda. A glass of excellent sherry and I left.
    I wasn't invited again.

  • 17 March 2016 at 9:25pm
    cufflink says:
    If you lived and grew up in working class inner London during the heyday of the 40s film going, the dangers of paederasty were commonly known by we street urchins. These men were known as plonkers and their predatory territory was at the afternoon cinema show.
    Under age kids could not get into the adult rated pictures unless accompanied by an adult. We were determined to see all the latest gangster films and we would sorty about in pairs asking various men in raincoats to take us in. If and when the invevitable was tried on us we just moved to another seat; and if we were lucky the plonker had bought our ticket.
    There are degrees of depravity and it would seem that this type and level of degenerate activity is linked to an arrested development in relating to the feminine mystique.
    During the between-wars period of what we can say was an outgoing public recognition of psychoneurosis, the profession of psychiatry was in some sense neutral to these proclivities in the same way as we are now of other more acceptable behavioural aberrations. It seems that we dare not now, because of the exposed iniquity of the more blatant and insidious and terrible locum parentis crimes, able to categorise the problem.

  • 18 March 2016 at 11:00am
    Phil Edwards says:
    I started writing a comment on this post telling the story of my own Cambridge don encounter, but it got too long for this comment box (and ended up taking most of the morning). You can read it here: Mostly harmless.

    • 18 March 2016 at 4:34pm
      streetsj says: @ Phil Edwards
      I might be mis-rerembering but I think my waist was 26" then!

  • 18 March 2016 at 11:39am
    SamGamgee says:
    In white society in South Africa, the class position was the opposite, as recently as the late 1990s. For a white working class teenage boy to have sex with another boy simply meant that no willing girl was available. It was quite a commonplace occurrence, and certainly didn't mean that he self-identified as gay. No more than his playing a game of pool meant he intended to become a professional pool player. If he had sex with a man, that simply meant that the man might have given him (or be expected to give him) a surfboard or a skateboard. Not prostitution, just an exchange of favours, no implication of gayness, and no fuss. White working class parents often winked at such liaisons, as long as their noses were not rubbed in it.

    But for a middle class white boy, such behaviour (when not purely experimental) would have meant he self-identified as gay. Perhaps easily, perhaps with some agonising, but that would be the implication.

  • 19 March 2016 at 10:51am
    Bernard Porter says:
    Thanks for these confirmatory comments. The thing that has always struck me, however - and which I think I didn't make clear enough in my original post (there's now a fuller version, incidentally, on - is less the actual incident recounted here ('nipple to nipple', etc), or the Cambridge homosexuality, which is well known, and of course quite acceptable so far as I'm concerned, than the fact that I, as a 'grammar school boy', was entirely ignorant of this kind of thing when I went up, by contrast with my public school-educated friends, among whom it was obviously common knowledge - indeed, part of their culture. It's this that made me aware for the first time of the two (or more) entirely different worlds we inhabited, and of the skills of the 'establishment' (or whatever you want to call them) in covering their world up. That proved useful, when I later came to write about the history of the British secret services.

    • 19 March 2016 at 4:24pm
      streetsj says: @ Bernard Porter
      Yes. I did have that advantage. At my (public) school it was generally quite low key: it helped that it was half day boys and in the middle of a city. I do remember one Saturday afternoon looking out a window when the school chaplain came up behind me and squeezed my waist, "you look as though you need feeling up". "I'm sorry, Willy?" I said. "You look as though you need feeding up, why don't you come round for supper". And I went, because he was harmless but very good company.

  • 20 March 2016 at 8:23am
    cufflink says:
    All this privileged university tittle tattle is very thin gruel to the serious problems of unacceptable sexual deviation. The risks for straight maturation in a working class night-town were infinately greater outside a protective neighbourhood. At what point does paederasty become normal stand-up pride and form part of a usual mores?
    The tutoring/pastoral vocations' ambience of respect must incorporate understood rules of conduct not in any repressive legal sense but with strong indication of hands-off integrity.

  • 23 March 2016 at 4:30pm
    Bernard Porter says:
    Since this post first appeared, I’ve had confirmation of GM’s awfulness from a number of my old college friends – one tells me he used to give Law tutorials lying naked in the bath – as well as the ones above. I imagine that young women students experienced much the same thing at Cambridge, but they were far fewer – the ratio in my time was about 1:10 – and in separate, female-only colleges, one of them (Girton) deliberately built far away from male harassers, at any rate.

  • 24 March 2016 at 5:16pm
    Timothy Rogers says:
    There are certainly comparable phenomena in the US (as became evident from the publicity surrounding the legal woes of the Catholic church and of some prominent “prep schools” – the American equivalent of the UK’s public schools). Regarding the latter I can’t speak from experience, but I can let the reader know how these things appeared to those of us (boys, not girls) who went through the Catholic school system in the 1950s and early 1960s. In grades 1 through 8 we were in parish schools taught by nuns (who started to vanish in the 1960s) and a few (very few) “lay teachers”. Contact with the parish priests was somewhat limited except for weekly attendance at Sunday mass and some parish functions. Altar boys, who assisted as mass, were in more frequent contact. In my own parish, which had a huge elementary school due to the post-WWII “flight to the suburbs”, sports activity was a major social activity, and some of the teams were coached by priests. We only had one of these who was suspected of being a “fruiter” who might make a sexual move on some kid who became a target of his affections. Like all predators he had an eye for vulnerable kids (ones with family problems, etc.). In general few kids in the suburbs knew anything specific about homosexuality and/or the possibility of sexual relations with adults. At the age of eight or nine, if another kid called you an “effing queer”, you knew it was bad without knowing exactly why. By the time you were twelve or thirteen you acquired some “street smarts” (usually from older teenagers) about such matters.

    In my own case I moved on to a large city Catholic high-school staffed by the brothers of a religious order (which shall go unnamed). There was a slightly larger presence of “lay teachers” in this situation during the 1950s (I suppose that male religious vocations were already on the decline). If a brother was suspected (or known) to be a “queer”, the word got around. Since in a high-school this size (1,100-1,200 boys in grades 9 through 12) you met kids from both middle-class and working-class families, you got different reactions to the facts, from disbelief or embarrassment to more hard-boiled attitudes (e.g., go ahead, let him do something and then blackmail him for a better grade or some material reward – that I actually heard from a friend known for his “street smarts”). Catholic parents, on the other hand, were usually squeamish or incredulous that such things could happen – the result of years of indoctrination about how wonderful religious vocations were (and, I suppose, some were). This world, I think, has vanished for the most part, probably due to more light having been shed upon it and changing attitudes that go along with steady social and economic changes (the structure of society interacting, as it were, with the structure of people’s thinking).

  • 26 March 2016 at 2:22pm
    Joe says:
    Thank you Bernard. You have given me insight into the man, and into what happened to me. I am sure I'm not the only Garth Moore survivor. He called me to his deathbed about 48 hrs before he died -- I didn't go. But when the Church brings all the recommendations of the Elliott Report into place, then I intend to plant a white spring bulb at his grave as a sign of release.

    I wish any other survivors recovery into the future and hope they have an easier time of it with the Church after the 18 month struggle I had to get the issues of my case acknowledged. All survivors borrow courage from each other...

  • 29 March 2016 at 1:08pm
    Bernard Porter says:
    You're very welcome, Joe. I did feel for you - knowing Garth Moore as I did - and am always grateful that I never became a victim of this kind of thing. (A couple of approaches when I was younger, which I only realised the nature of when I grew up; and which never pulled me in.) I hope you do get over this eventually, and that the Church finally owns up. All the very best.

  • 14 April 2016 at 10:19am
    David Ganz says:
    Cambridge was very good at concealing this sort of thing: Fellows of Newnham told students to remain silent and to endure groping by their make tutors. At Oxford the groping of Eduard Fraenkel, probably the finest classicist of his generation, has been recorded by Mary Warnock and Mary Beard. In the 1980's a scandal at Pembroke College Oxford made the UK tabloids, the record of the college is contemptible, and the Fellow, who forced one of his conquests to have an abortion, is now a distinguished scholar in Rome.
    Loyalty to one's college over the welfare of a student at that college will always prevail, it is rumoured that Oxbridge dons have to sign a loyalty oath before accepting as much as a research Fellowship, and it is evident that whistleblowing is equated with bringing the college into disrepute.

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