Thursday, 12 January 2017

Another Abbot Extraordinary.



I understand that the original blog of this title was removed following litigation and was, by many accounts a very informative read! I'm just very sorry I never had the chance to avail myself, only becoming computer literate(allegedly!) during 2013. I hope that those behind the original and it's followers will make themselves known to me as I believe us to have a common purpose.

Should his lordship wish to send me one of his solicitors letters, all I can say is "Bring It On!!!"
 Call me a liar in court! If you win, it will be a pyrrhic victory! Because I haven't got a pot to piss in.

 So who am I?

Well...this particular Tom Wood is no brewer of beer, though have been unofficially involved in much (too much) quality control testing!!

 I am also no great shakes on the Rugby field,

 No, this Tom Wood was between the years of 1987 and 1989 known as Dom Thomas Wood OSB of St. Michael's Abbey, Farnborough, Hants, United Kingdom and I was a novice at the same time as Cuthbert Brogan the now Right Reverend Cuthbert Brogan OSB, Lord Abbot Of Farnborough  and indeed we were simply professed during the same ceremony. Here we are pictured after the event.

But let's go back a bit... how did it all begin for me....

Whilst praying before The Blessed Sacrament at the alter of repose on Holy Thursday in 1987, I suddenly felt a loosening of the fear that I had felt about seriously exploring a possible vocation to priesthood and / or religious life. I spoke of it with my parish priest who was supportive and I started writing some letters to various orders but the response I had from St. Michaels Abbey, Farnborough, Hants, with an invitation to visit really captured my thoughts and so it was that I was due to visit at Pentecost but a heavy cold forced me to put back my plans by a week and my visit duly took place to include Trinity Sunday. It's interesting to note, that had I visited at Pentecost as had been planned, I would have met his Lordship, then, David Brogan who would go on to have such a detrimental effect on my life and others. I am thankful, in hindsight, that I was able to enjoy and experience the life of the abbey to a small extent before his arrival and I can only wish but that I had the maturity back then to have avoided this narcissist and his grooming techniques, but perhaps in fairness it was supposedly more experienced monks holding offices within the community that should have picked up on it, anyway, I'm getting a little ahead of myself. My Trinity Sunday weekend was an experience of sheer bliss! My experience of Gregorian chant up till then was an old record of my fathers featuring Soleme and our occasional visits to my fathers hometown of Bishop's Stortford and the then redemptorist parish church of St. Joseph where he had been an alter server man and boy when they would have a Mass in latin. (De Angelis)
 Yes, I was truly bowled over by the beauty of the abbey in June, the beauty of the music and liturgy and a very pleasant conversation seated in front of the west door of the church on the Sunday afternoon with the mild mannered Dom David Higham the then Prior (superior). It was agreed that I would return in July and stay for a month. The Month I waited to return felt like an eternity. I do remember meeting an old school pal who made some comment about girlfriends or my lack of them or something, but all I remember is a feeling of great relief that such areas of complication would no longer be of concern....oh the naivety of youth!! But despite the lesson I still had to learn, namely that you cannot run away from yourself, a mistake in reverse that I believe I made when I left, the truth is that it should have been my internal battle one that I was at least partially girded to fight, namely my faith, piety, good manners and fair mindedness.
My month started in dismal summer grey weather and the beauty of the abbey in glorious sunshine was brought into stark comparison with it's absence. I met befriended a fellow would be postulant Stephen Guest and Dom Andrew, then sacristant took me to Winchester on a dies non and as well as marvelling at the cathedral we walked along the river to St. Cross alms house, which was very monastic in appearance including a lovely chapel. On the way back Dom Andrew remarked that postulants come and go, but they mainly go...I pondered on this and hoped I would persevere. The end of my month was marked by the Feast Of The Assumption and the glorious spectacle from my east facing cell window of the summer sun gradually climbing in the sky was to me like an icon of the virgin ascending to heaven itself. About this time The Prior had asked me how I felt about trying my vocation, to which I said that I wished to try and he replied in a way so kind and embracing, "We would like you to try too!" I returned home to spend another unending month sorting things out and disposing of my car.

 Thursday the 17th of September, Feast Of St. Hildegard. My parish priest collected me, suitcase in hand as I bid farewell to parents and brothers and the family home and our aged cat that had been our family pet for as long as I could remember. As far as I recall, Stephen started at the same time and being slightly older than I, took seniority. My cell was top floor of the red brick house, second window along from the "Solesmes" bit as viewed from the cloister garden, Stephen and later Matthew Newton, would occupy the first. As I understand, today, four rooms have become two, with "en suite!!!" 21st century style austerity!
My first "Wobble" if you like, was over an incident reported to the novice master, Mario Sanderson whereby Stephen was observed laying his head on Fr Wulstan's  shoulder. Mario gave us quite a lecture indicating that he didn't want a ridiculous regime of no closed doors, as he had experienced in his formation, but that tactile situations should be avoided. I remember feeling suddenly lonely and had a walk down the lime tree avenue considering my future in an environment starved of simple, innocent intimacy, though later I felt better and that as far as I knew regarding Stephen anyway, was that, although nearly 30 years later I have sadly learned from Stephen, that after all that Mario acted in a sexually inappropriate way and then ordered Stephen to leave! This revelation was initially incredulous to me, however I recalled how later, after the inappropriateness I was involved in surfaced, Mario asked me such probing and intimate details of every aspect that in hindsight I cannot dismiss the very real possibility that he was gratifying himself with this knowledge and I therefore feel I have absolutely no credible reason not to support my friend as he has so kindly supported me, thank you Steve.
I think David Brogan started in the October initially my junior. This changed because the family cat that I mentioned earlier was dying. I asked if I might briefly return home to see him one last time, but this was rather curtly and dismissingly denied by Mario. It's important I feel to mention that I in no way attempted to return home, I stayed, but this was used as an excuse to clothe David, now Cuthbert, ahead of me and so create him now my senior, which he enjoyed and let me know with various quips which back then and until quite recently, I put down to his sense of humour, but actually they were nasty little knives in my self esteem furthering my psychological dependence on him.  One afternoon, the three of us, Cuthbert, Stephen and myself were cleaning in the hall / choir room kitchen / bar area. Somehow the conversation had come around to romance / relationships and I happened to mention that I earlier had thought I might be gay, certainly it seemed as though the rest of my school class thought I was and I endured a particularly rough third year with taunts. It's my belief that this was a green light to Cuthbert because it appears in my recollection, that following that I was subject to a merciless attack on my piety, stories of someone he'd had a crush on, and the irreverent gay culture of a passionist brother he had befriended whilst himself a passionist. Now let me say that today I quite like a lot of the "Gay Culture" up to a point. Drag Queens etc, I am ok with pretty much everything provided everybody looks after each other and cares as far as possible for each others well being and attempts to make amends if necessary, crumbs, I don't mind an irreverent joke, again, up to a point, and in a time and place so long as it is not crushing a persons devotions, devoutness and piety unless it be expressed in such a way that is crushing or persecuting another. I love Fr Ted, though perhaps with the exception of Speed 2, which directly mocks the efficacy of The Mass, otherwise it's comic exaggeration of catholic traits is hilarious especially the episode The Mainland, where Mrs Doyle has a fist fight with her friend for not letting her pay for the tea!!! In our family, sit down dear I'll get it, no, no, no, you sit down and I'LL get!!!
Now I'm certainly willing to accept that monastic formation will involve the abrading of rough edges, but this was not the job of the senior novice, who would have had at least some check and balance had he remained junior and not had such a familiar relationship with the novice master Mario, even so, ridiculing my piety, filling my head with gay culture and not just that. He would be discourteous and judgemental about various other community members and I was gradually losing my shock and beginning to think he was the bees knees and that the sun shone through and out of him. He had me where he wanted me. By this time I wasn't minded to talk to Mario, even if he would have done something and dear Dom David was to weak to act, also Cuthberts mockery had rubbed off on me and I now feel rather bad, especially since learning of Dom David's passing, that I had repaid his initial kindness with disdain. It's true Dom David could be a bit pretentious and I was yearning for a little more variety in liturgy, tastes of which with breaths of fresh air were enjoyed when Fr Robert and Father Stephen were back in the house. I thought Cuthbert was similarly minded so have been quite shocked to see him among the most traditional!! No, the baby was well and truly thrown out with the bathwater. I supported the community's (His?) decision to ask the men and boys choir to leave in the mid nineties, mainly because I still hadn't woken up fully to what he'd done to me, but also because I was not nourished on just polyphony and plainsong, but I'm sure variation would have been possible without completely dismissing the choir. Anyway, about that time a lady connected with the choir phoned me and asked if Cuthbert were gay. I said, I was and that's why I left, but I couldn't speak for Cuthbert and as for the choir, it was a decision for the monastic community. In writing this you would be correct in imagining that some of my answers if this were happening today, might be somewhat different, indeed, If any former member of the choir should read this, I would like to profoundly apologise that due to the testament I present here, I was not able at the time to act in your favour. Perhaps if anything resembling justice results from this, it may be of some satisfaction to you too.
Almost like a bolt out of the blue some seven months exposed to Cuthbert's world view, I suddenly found myself experiencing a tremendous crush on him. Not just hero worship, this was visceral. I was very confused. One moment he seemed to be indicating that while it wasn't the ideal, we're only human and therefore tolerable, and then he suddenly made it abundantly clear it was not acceptable at all! This resulted in my heart dropping through the bottom of my stomach, my head spinning and my eyes welling up with inconsolable tears, somehow, somehow I made it through compline and then Dom Mario noticed something was very wrong and managed to usher me into the calefactory by which time I was hysterical. Just like on tv he attempted to stop my hysterical crying by striking me across the face. The shock of knowing what he was about to do (Because my father when experiencing the "Red Mist" would do the same although his would often make contact.) instantly stopped my crying and we were then able to talk about the situation. Exactly what was talked about is lost to me, but I recall feeling stronger and resolved to enjoy beauty in all it's shapes and forms and those who's form and beauty struck particularly deep in particular ways in a more rounded, less intense, less visceral and non sexual way. And for a little while, I thought I had a sustainable long-term strategy, that was until.....
My father was into restoring vintage commercial vehicles particularly The Scammell Mechanical Horse 3 wheeled articulated small lorry and it's later developments, Scammell Scarab and Scammell Townsman. In the early eighties he befriended the Madeley family from Horsham, Brian, the Dad and his two sons Sean and Tim were all equally enthused, but Tim had a priestly vocation and would go on to study at Wonersh at the same time as I was at Farnborough and so it happened that not long after the events I've just related Cuthbert and I went to visit Tim at Wonersh. Was it a coincidence that the biblical passage read before lunch, for which Cuthbert and I had changed into our habits, was the words of caution to "Beware those who dress in long robes and parade about making a great show for all to see"... yes... must have been a coincidence!!?? After a pleasant visit I sat back to enjoy the train ride from Guildford to Farnborough North when I became aware that Cuthbert had his hand on my leg. "Is that ok?" he said. I think I probably murmured yes, or didn't answer...I really can't remember, he certainly didn't force himself, at least, not in a direct way, but I now see that all the earlier events, the licencing and revoking of said, all at his whim and all at the expense of my sanity and self esteem, this breaking me, this grooming! Of course, given the way I had been feeling only a week or two earlier, my restored resolve dissolved and I endured / enjoyed my first sexual experience firstly a grope on the train and then later he came into my cell for a less encumbered encounter. For me, the genie was out of the bottle and over the course of the next year 88 - 89 an on / off affair perpetuated. At one point I felt I wanted to leave, but he told me that I would be preyed upon by dirty old men and not knowing otherwise stayed with the one who had already preyed upon me. I don't know why he didn't let me go at that time, did he think he could control me? He was soon to find out, that he couldn't because once again I was going to find the emotional baggage unbearable only instead of a fit of hysterical crying, by this time ascribing to the identity of a gay man I found myself in a situation with Matthew. I owe Matthew a huge and profound apology because as Cuthbert's quite literal "Right Hand Man" I had scorn for Matthews piety and both fancied him for myself and yet demonstrated toward him a superiority and disdain as was formed within me by Cuthbert's diatribe. something was going to snap! It did. Matthew and I were working together making up guest rooms. I was enjoying some different company and conversations which was a breath of fresh air and I felt increasingly drawn to him and I guess he was experiencing similar because we ended up together. During our encounter(s) he related that he had an involvement with another member of the community and... as my new found freedom weakened and the desire for Masters "Love" and sustainance increased, I beleived I had to confess to Cuthbert what I had done, but thought I could soften the blow and win back his affection by telling him what Matthew had been up to! Cuthbert appeared to be inconsolable, but he rallied and went to find Mario. What they cooked up is known between themselves and God. Whether the prior was informed sooner or later I don't know, all I do know is that as I related earlier, Mario demanded such explicit detail of my exploits that, all these years later, lead me to believe he may have gratified himself with it. I now had my eye firmly on getting out of there and finding "Lerv and a boyfriend aaaahhhhh" has to date... not happened and the factors are stacked against it. Whenever I try to hold on to something I over think it and it starts to look and feel different and it's like sand running through my hands... but let's just finish my historical (hysterical)(Both comic and tragic!) Farnborough experience. The Prior suggested I took three months to think about things but I think we both knew I wasn't going back. I visited Dom Stephen Darlington then chaplain at Prior Park College, Bath. He said "You could always go back." At the time I said no, and indeed it has necessitated 30 years to even entertain the thought that the voice in my head when I stepped outside the Abbey front door that said, "You can leave here, but don't think you'll find what you think you want!" I resisted believing that was the voice of God for so long because it doesn't sound like a benevolent God, but now, after working in mental health and with people who have difficulties engaging or socialising and musing on, like demonstrated in the parable of the talents, that you have to give, to dance when the pipes are played in order to receive, that healing occurs when the waters are stirred! It's not that God desires that for those who can't, that even the little they have will be taken away, it's an inescapable facet of the mechanics of our existence here, but there is an unexpected or immanent component, that of love, of charity of selfless giving, of grace. I try to be a channel of that in my mental health work and for those who remain untouched I pray their penance will win a crown in the next world. But what of that voice. I think it may have just been simply saying that whether consecrated or not, I'm not the marrying type, in any shape or form it's just a matter of dealing with the rising sap. There are suggestions of gnostic practices of diverting the energy upward very similar to Tantra, the "Upflowing Jordan" or "Upflowing Ganges." In my experience a much more brief hands on tried and tested practice quickly restores sanity and that "Battling" in this area may lead to worse infringement, if it's infringement at all, so as I say, though with trepidation, perhaps I was going along the right lines anyway 30 years ago. Who can say whether or not I would be sitting in the same place and dealing with the same issues today had I not encountered David Cuthbert Brogan and having had the experience of a better formation? But myself and others deserved the chance to find out! And where is Cuthbert today but Lord Abbott!! And this "Stable" "Monks" "Austere" lifestyle includes jet setting the world, dining at Harvey Nics and in the CN Tower! Those of you who follow his facebook page can see for yourself!! Why we might ask, does he spend so much time away from the Abbey? Is it because being there forces him to confront his past and to consider the fact that whilst he has restored the church, he has ruined the abbey, crumbs we thought it was struggling back in the day with 12 or so monks, but now it has about 5? And what has happened to the surviving members from my time? Not one in the house. Why?

Why am I doing this and why now? Well I recently got back in touch with both Matthew Newton and Stephen Guest, both former postulants / novices and both have been damaged by the experience. Myself, for years I believed that Cuthbert was a peer who had struggled with issues like me, but unlike me, he wished to stay and I felt duty bound to protect him and try to ensure he could live the simple Benedictine life and build the life of the Farnborough community. Someone once said about a person having a vocation to be an abbott, but not a monk!!! This would appear to true in the case of Dom Cuthbert. He has nether sought to offer an apology to me or the others. Join a monastery and see the world!! was not what I expected. His lifestyle is an affront to the people he has damaged, but it's not just that, it's the double standard. Stephen recounts he was ordered to leave for refusing Mario's advances, yet Cuthbert remains to rise within less than twenty years to the position of abbott and visitor and to otherwise officiate despite what he has done!! I felt that Cuthbert was seen as an intellectual "One of us" whilst myself and others were seen as carrott crunching yokels, we were all cannon fodder to forwarding his career and his familiarity with Mario the novice master in hindsight carved that particular rune! Personally I cannot see how Farnborough can survive, let alone thrive under his Abbacy. It would appear to me a good thing if the subiaco congregation could gather a few monks from various houses under a devout man and begin to restore things. As for Cuthbert, perhaps Cardinal Keith O'Brien has a spare room and he lives in a part of the country Cuthbert should be familiar with, coming from a neighbouring county.
"The Cardinal has been living in effective exile in England under arrangements agreed by the Vatican which bars him from setting foot in Scotland.
His former archdiocese has bought a house in a quiet cul-de-sac in Northumberland for him to live out his retirement."

Left to right: Myself, Dom Thomas, Novice Master Dom Mario and Dom Cuthbert.

It can be a little lonely coming out with all this hearing stories that there are many, legions a comment on Pat Buckley's "Thinking Catholicism" blog  puts it.

 I would love you to get in touch with your stories and experience of Farnborough Abbey and Dom Cuthbert be they for publication or not. Your comments here and / or I have created both a hidden "Secret" facebook group and public page I've titled "St. Michael's Abbey Exiles" and it would be great to have your "Like" or your company on one or other or both. To join the group I need either your email address that you use to log into facebook or for you to become my facebook "Friend" and then I can "add" you to the group. Thank you for reading. PAX.

Tom Wood:

St. Michael's Abbey Exiles:


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