Life on a prayer for Jimmy Savile

Whether Savile actually revealed his crimes to his priest is of course unknown. Confession is, they say, good for the soul, but not necessarily for the victim

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Did Jimmy confess?
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Jonathan Bracey Gibbon
On 29 October 2012 10:33

As Britain waits with bated breath for the next installment of the Jimmy Savile saga, the Catholic Church in the UK has written to Rome seeking to annul Savile's Papal knighthood.

Every day that passes, like its British equivalent, Savile's Papal knighthood demeans the honour itself and the institution that bestowed it. And like his British knighthood, the award supposedly cannot be removed as it dies with its recipient. As such, Savile's catholicism is to that Church as welcome as a fart in a confessional.

As the grim roster of victims grows ever larger, inevitably questions are being asked not only about how he could have got away with it, but also about how the man could have lived with himself? Indeed this very question was asked of the ridiculous Esther Rantzen this week. Plausible answer came there none.

However, the issue of Savile's devotion to the Catholic doctrine has taken something of a back seat as the nation has been distracted by the role of the BBC in the scandal. But it might be reasonable to enquire to what extent the Savile affair has at its heart at least something to do with Catholicism, if not the Church itself.

It is not so long ago that Operation Ore ensnared a number of high profile individuals and was expanded to take in numerous cases involving numerous Catholic priests, schools and teachers. That operation itself followed on from Operation Avalanche in the US and the astonishing revelation that some 4,500 Catholic priests had been involved in child abuse cases going back over 50 years.

No-one is suggesting -- not yet anyway -- that the Catholic Church was involved in any sort of cover up of Savile, although those operations revealed the Church was adept at protecting its own and moving serial abusers to new parishes or jobs where they could continue to offend.

However, in answering the question, “How could he live with himself?” it is reasonable to assume Savile, a self-proclaimed “devoted catholic,” would have attended church as such. In doing so, one can also reasonably assume his confession was heard on a regular basis.

The institution of confession allows the faithful to be absolved of their sins. One has to ask for confession, declare how long ago it was since one last confessed and then list one’s grim deeds since then. Depending on the priest hearing confession, he may go into some detail in querying the nature of your transgression.

One apologises to God and the priest then awards penance in the form of prayer. Usually repeated like some sort of catechismic work out.

Whether Savile actually revealed his crimes to his priest is of course unknown. Even if he did, it is also unknown whether his priest insisted his subject give himself up to the police. But that is the nature of the problem.

Confession is, they say, good for the soul, but not necessarily for the victim. As someone educated by Jesuits at a Catholic boarding school, I have come to regard it is a hateful aspect of that religion as it awards a clean conscience to those believers who may have committed truly heinous crimes.

Investigators, and the Church really should be able to oblige priests to break the confidence of parishioners in extreme cases. One could argue that confession has enabled many otherwise decent priests to become complicit in serial abuse, all hearing each other's confession in a circle jerk of absolution.

Is it too much to further assume that somewhere a priest is confessing the sin of having known of Savile's sins all along and telling no-one?

Indeed, it is not beyond the realm of the possible that Savile could have died in a state of absolution and is now free to try and kiddy fiddle for all eternity behind the pearly gates. For the faithful, it doesn’t bear thinking about.

Jonathan Bracey-Gibbon is a freelance journalist who over the past 15 years has written for The Times, the Financial Times, The Sunday Times and Sunday Express

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