Wednesday, 28 February 2018


Paper Cuts by Stephen Bernard review – a powerful memoir of sexual abuse

As a child, Bernard was repeatedly abused by a Catholic priest. Now an Oxford literary scholar, he has written a remarkable account of the damage done

Jenny Turner        The Guardian

Starting in 1987, when he was 11 years old, Stephen Bernard was sexually abused by Canon Thomas “Dermod” Fogarty, the priest who was, supposedly, helping him with his French and Latin. This was in Midhurst, Sussex, in the diocese of Arundel and Brighton, then headed by Cormac Murphy-O’Connor, the future leader in England of the Roman Catholic church. A few years ago, reading about Murphy-O’Connor’s reaction to other cases of abuse in the 80s, Bernard “wanted to die” – he’d already been in hospital more than once after previous suicide attempts – but decided, this time, to go to the police.


The deaths of Fogarty in 2012 and Murphy-O’Connor in 2017 presumably have a lot to do with the timing of this book.
Bernard, who is now in his early 40s, is a scholar of 18th-century English literature, a former research fellow at University College, Oxford, and the editor of authoritative works about the Tonsons, the foremost publishers of the late 17th and early 18th century, and the plays of Nicholas Rowe. He continues to live and work in Oxford, and his memoir unfolds over a single day in January 2016 at the Bodleian library, where he’s trying to finish an article for the Times Literary Supplement.

“I worry,” Bernard writes, “that I have made rape seem like an aesthetic experience. That is not my intention. But the tools of aestheticism – the Kantian sublime – are all I have.” There was, he remembers, an oil painting of St Peter’s basilica on the wall of the room where it often happened: “That has something to match the scale of what happened to me.” He also calls it “the exquisiteness of the horror and order of what happened”. “The penis incarnating a theology of abuse.”


Bernard’s account of himself, his days, his sufferings, is odd and idiosyncratic. Every day now for five years, he writes, he has read the newspapers from a parallel day in the early 18th century: “Today Thomas Betterton the actor is ill.” Bernard has been acutely bipolar since adolescence, and has a horrible, insidious paranoia that suddenly takes shape and steals out of mental corners: “That thought again, that thought of my destruction, being plotted in a room again, by someone unalone.”

In recent years, he has been managing these ravages with the help of medications so strong that he has to leave himself notes in his pocket to remind the self of tomorrow the things he doesn’t want to forget from today: “Each day I construct the self … Not knowing quite who I am, what I am doing … in the world.”

He responds particularly well to an experimental treatment for extreme depression, trialled by his local NHS trust: infusions of ketamine, the chemical cosh prized by recreational users for the tricks it plays with time and space. “Sometimes, I would feel the electric enervation of the Grand Unified Theory. Occasionally, I would scream out as Fogarty came into the room, but more often it was Margaret Thatcher … Once, I was even visited by God.”

Clerics who abuse don’t commit just physical and emotional violations. The invasion is also spiritual – you’re being forced down and brutalised by the representative of your God on this earth. “Fogarty was ‘in’ me in a physical sense, but he was also ‘in’ me in a psychological sense. There was something full and all-invasive to his violation of me which it is almost impossible not to admire.”

Clearly, Bernard’s way of recovering, as best he can, from what was done to him is unusual and, clearly, he’s a singular, self-invented man. A photo on his agent’s website shows him, bequiffed and tweedy, in a punt: but actually, he says, he spoke with “a broad Scouse accent” until he won a scholarship to Sherborne at 15. He’s a huge fan of PG Wodehouse: “His idiolect casts up the promise of an eternal sunshine.” He collects photographic prints of all the colleges of which he’s been a member, his favourites with himself in them, dressed up in his master’s gown, scurrying across the quad. Oxford, for him, has been a “giving place”, a place of care and succour. It’s where he’s met the friends and mentors, doctors and therapists who have helped him gather around himself a decent daily life.

The form in which Bernard presents his thoughts, his memories, his perceptions, is liturgical. Moments emerge, dissolve, shape themselves round each other, in rippling patterns of the appalling and the ordinary: “For some years, paper and stickiness and boniness were the only physical sensations I could feel.” The prose is clear and plain, vulnerable in its earnestness, confident in its craft. “I am glad that I wrote it, that it is written,” he writes at the end, and I’m glad too. It’s both a testament of great documentary usefulness and a really beautiful piece of art.

• Paper Cuts is published by Jonathan Cape . To order a copy for £12.74 (RRP £14.99) go to or call 0330 333 6846. Free UK p&p over £10, online orders only. Phone orders min p&p of £1.99.


I bought this book this week. It seems to me that Bernard has been very seriously affected by his abuse at the hands of Canon Fogarty.

Did this priest, a friend of cardinals, ever come to realise the horrors he inflicted on this young man?

Some people seem more affected than others by childhood abuse.

I was abused at the age of 6 and while I suffer a lot, for some reason it did not affect me as much as it affected Bernard.

Maybe it depends on the gravity of the abuse and the frequency of the abuse?

I came to terms with my abuse through healing  time and a lot of counselling.

But it seems some victims are destroyed forever :-(


  1. Very damning tv Nolan programme tonight regarding Fr Finnegan abuse and the Diocese of Dromore. McAreavy has been caught out on a lie when he actually reported the abuse to Police. He says 1996 but the Police have said tonight it was 2006. He must resign immediately.

  2. Bbc 1....absolutelydisgusting

  3. Nolan BBC1 progress now, Wed night about Finnegan & St Colmans.

  4. Jeremy Paxman gave CMOC a good grilling on Newsnight. CMOC didn't come across as a very convincing witness. And don't forget that this enabler of Fr Michael Hill was the campaign manager for Francis at the 2013 conclave.

  5. Pat, I hope you are watching Nolan Live tonight on BBC One now. I really want to know your views of what has been revealed tonight. Thank you.

  6. What a powerful article and I presume book. The notion of glorified suffering is an eye opener for me. Does a warped sense of consciousness make clerical abusers feel like gods?

  7. Had a look at Deacon Byrne's facebook page which a contributor posted yesterday. Pat, I disbelieved you and many contributors regarding this man. I eat my hat. Mea Culpa!

    1. There is hardly nothing on public view there now.

    2. ". hardly anything"..

  8. Thank God for Stephen Nolan. A powerful Nolan Live programme last night and more revelations to come this morning at 9 o'clock. It is obvious to any one with an ounce of cop on that McAreavey has to go, and go today.

  9. Slowly but surely the great edifice crumbles !

    1. McAMcAreavey needs to go.. But he is a grain of sand on the shore of the universal Church.
      Billions of people have never heard of him and never will.

  10. Sean you should be able to watch the Nolan programme on bbc iPlayer
    Also listen to Nolan on audioboom via for Stephen Nolan on twitter

  11. Nolan now on radio ulster

  12. I think the Rc church should stay out of schools.

  13. With regard to ex-deacon Byrne (or does the indelible sacramental sign of deacon remain with him for ever ? - more silly, self-serving clerical nonsense !): the pictures are revealing.

    Firstly, he is a narcissistic individual who thinks rather a lot of himself, and particularly his looks. If he had been allowed to go forward to priestly ordination, he would have been given a pedestal to show off even further, and would have used the priesthood as a vehicle to further his own ambitions and comfort. The Church and the people are well off without him.

    Secondly, the picture of him with some mid 20s guys, all carefully groomed and tanned, evidently on holiday somewhere warm, is a group picture of young gay men. Byrne is definitely sending a message that this is his milieu. He is quite entitled to move in those circles and to lead that life if he so wants, and is protected by law and increasing acceptance by society. However, he is not entitled to live that kind of life and be a priest in the Roman Catholic Church. He took at ordination as a deacon a promise of celibacy, not to mention the call to chastity which is the calling of each Christian. But, Byrne and others just think that they can ignore all that and do what they want to do. Have their cake and eat it, as the saying goes, and often quoted about the Brits and Brexit. The Church, and we the people, are better off without Byrne and his deceptions. I wish him well in whatever else he wants to do - was their some talk of joining the Garda Siochana ? Perhaps he will help them to up their diversity and equality statistics. We don't need him in the Church - we already have our quota of gay men who think they can have their cake and eat it, thank you !

    One thing I will say for + Pat is that he is at least outwardly honest about who and what he is and what he is offering. There is an integrity to that position. What you see is what you get. And I respect + Pat for that. With Byrne and Co there is no integrity, just subversion and dishonesty.

    1. Well said, 9:51 - you express the thoughts of many on “Gorgeous” Byrne.

      He certainly seems to have “got over” the whole priesthood thing very quickly, doesn’t he?


      Pat, well done on pursuing the Byrne scandal. You have spared the faithful of Dublin diocese from an extremely unsuitable and worthy man, who was seeking ordination, for his own selfish and narcissistic ends.

      I can’t help wondering though - has he been paid hush money?

      Does Diarmuid Martin lie awake at night worrying that some fine morning Byrne will throw his sex toys out of the bed and ring the Sunday World with his stories?

      What about his patron - the Canon?

      The entire episode is a sign of deep rottenness and corruption.

  14. Mc Areavy needs to take a hike along with Arleen and a lot of others in the north of Ireland.
    Pat, how are you today and how is your smile?

  15. Pat, I am very sorry for the abuse you endured at such a young age. You must be very strong to be able to have dealt with the horrific psychological, emotional and spiritual effects. Strong indeed. And no doubt your strong faith has helped you.

    I agree with you in saying that the effects of abuse appear to be commensurate with the degree of abuse suffered.

    I know someone who was very badly sexually abused as a young boy. The abuse was sadistically sexual with inanimate objects used for anal penetration as well as the penis.

    This victim also suffers from bi-polar depression and severe anxiety with paranoia.

    The abuser was not a cleric but with the well documented history of sexual abuse and cover-ups in the Church, the victim has sentiments of strong repulsion and aversion towards bishops and priests.

    The ancillary observed effects of the above named abuse on this poor victim are: profound levels of psychological immaturity, warped view of love and sex, belief that God is bad, finds it hard to restrain emotions and act appropriately in certain situations.

    I have followed this blog for a while Pat and have read many contributions which one could surmise quite accurately were made by clerics; and I really am shocked and saddened in that it appears that many seminarians and priests seem to be quite oblivious to the heinous and lifelong damage caused by the sexual abuse of minors. And it even appears that the Pope himself does not even fully comprehend the aforesaid.

    God bless Pat. And thanks for highlighting this issue which needs to be openly discussed and reflected on.

    1. Thank you.

      Thank God I was strong it suffered terribly until I was 40.

      Then through therapy I became a new man.

  16. I noticed on the Nolan Radio programme this morning that a caller made a reference to the wrongdoing of Cardinal Sean Brady. Nolan was obviously ‘got at’ by someone in Armagh because he referred to the comment later in the programme and stated twice and categorically that there was no evidence whatsoever that The Wounded Healer was guilty of anything. No doubt Nolan will talk further about all of this on his bbc 5 live radio programme tonight in Manchester.

  17. I do not believe it !!!!!
    I knew this Priest , and he was loved and respected by his fellow clergy , the
    youth , and all people - You fail to say the allegations were made as he was dying
    and so he could not defend himself - The allegations against this dear Priest can
    not be proved !

    1. The accounts I've seen in that book by Bernard don't add up. I knew canonf as a child + then for decades after, as did many of my school friends + families. The man was a gentle giant, caring, friendly, good speaker + listener, not at all abusive in many dealings with him - quite the opposite in fact. Book seems weird, bizarre by someone who is or has been delusional. Book doesn't sound like canonf at all

  18. Easy to say when you are not the person who has been abused. Just because you saw him in a different light does not mean he was not capable of doing it. Your views are exactly why victims don’t come forward and your ignorance of the impact of abuse on someone’s life is frankly naive. Ask yourself why would he make this up. He was not disillusioned when he was an 11 year old boy. I also have read accounts of what a bully the canon was and also knew him and attended his funeral. Lucky for you that you never saw an abusive side but abusers look for the vulnerable how fortunate it was not you. Although the allegations cannot be proved he didn’t ask for them to be he just wanted to share his life story. If there were signs of who the abusers in our world are they would be stopped regardless of their position in the clergy or other walks of life, that is why we are surprised when we learn what really happens or the extent of abuse for example jimmy saville.. Just because it didn’t happen to you or you find it hard to accept doesn’t mean it didn’t happen to Stephen Bernard.

  19. Thank you for saying this so well. No one could make up what Stephen describes. He will not have been the only sufferer. My heart goes out to Stephen.