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Calls for public inquiry into historical child abuse on Caldey Island as another victim comes forward

Kevin O’Connell from Ceredigion recently revisited the island for the first time since he was abused there as an 11-year-old Credit: ITV Cymru Wales

There are new calls for a public inquiry into historical child abuse on Caldey Island as another victim of paedophile monk, Thaddeus Kotik, comes forward.

Kevin O’Connell from Ceredigion recently revisited the island for the first time since he was abused there as an 11-year-old. He contacted S4C’s current affairs programme, Y Byd ar Bedwar at the beginning of the year, in a bid to get answers from Church authorities who turned a blind eye to Kotik’s crimes.

He invited them to follow his emotional journey back to where he was abused 47 years ago.

Kevin invited ITV journalists to follow his emotional journey back to where he was abused 47 years ago Credit: ITV Cymru Wales

Caldey Island off the coast of Tenby in Pembrokeshire is renowned as an idyllic tourist attraction, popular among day-trippers. But others view the place as hell on earth due to the dark secrets hidden there for decades.

It is famously home to a group of Cistercian monks, an order of the Catholic Church who avoid unnecessary speech and focus on prayer and hard labour.

In 2017 it came to light that the island has a long history of child sexual abuse after six women received compensation from the island’s abbey after being abused by Kotik. There are 21 victims who have now come forward and reported similar offences to Dyfed Powys Police with cases going back to the 1960s.

On a family holiday to the island when he was six years old, Kevin O’Connell said that he met the monk, Kotik. He said that they became friends and he began spending time alone with him.

“Caldey Island was a paradise. It was beautiful. I played with other children, the beach, volleyball and football, it was special. Father Thaddeus became very special to me, and he gave me the love I didn’t get at home from my Dad.”

Kotik, a former soldier who fought for the Free Polish army during the Second World War, moved to the island in 1947 and joined the strict Cistercian Order. The monk was ordained a priest in 1956 and lived on the island until his death in 1992. It appears he was never questioned by police, who were not informed of allegations against him until 2014.

After the holiday Kevin says that Kotik kept in touch with him and sent him photos of Caldey Island in the post.

After becoming an altar boy he went on several more holidays to Caldey Island, arranged and funded by his local Catholic Church. He never told his parents what Kotic did to him.

Caldey Island Credit: PA

In the programme, Kevin embarks on a quest to face his demons and find the ruins where he says he remembers the abuse taking place.

He led ‘Y Byd ar Bedwar’ presenter Dot Davies, to a derelict building in a secluded corner of the island.

“I’m looking for a square stone like a seat, maybe it’s still here, I don’t know.

“In here. This is where the abuse happened and other monks watched.

“This place is just full of nightmares. Every room here has a horrible memory, but I need to get it out of my head. I knew it was here.”

Six women received compensation from Caldey Abbey in an out-of-court settlement in 2016 but it was too late to bring criminal charges against Kotik as he had died in 1992.

It has come to light however that the abbey was told by a victim about the abuse in the 1980’s but did not report it to police until 2014. Instead the abbott at the time, Robert O’Brian, asked the victim for forgiveness.

ITV Wales asked the current abbot, Brother Daniel van Santvoort for his response to the latest evidence that Kevin O’Connell was also abused on the island. Despite contacting the Brother several times, he never responded.

ITV Wales also contacted the Diocese of Menevia in Swansea. Caldey Abbey is not under their responsibility but they have been advising the Abbey on their safeguarding policies and practices for the last 18 months.

The Bishop Tom Burns said that “however, the Abbey has insisted on retaining its oversight of any specific cases, past, present, or in the future.”

Kevin O’Connell is now determined to find the truth and is calling for a public inquiry into historical child sexual abuse on Caldey Island.

Assembly Member Darren Milliar called for a public inquiry in the Senedd in 2017.

“We need answers as to who knew what, when, and why the abbey didn't report things to the police when they ought to have done when things were brought to their attention. ”

He’s now repeated his call on the Welsh Government to launch a public inquiry.

“This stinks of an awful cover-up, we need answers, who knows what, when and why.”

A Welsh Government spokesperson said: “Our position is the same as set out in our response in 2017. We will of course reconsider the matter were new information to come to light.”

David Greenwood is a lawyer specialising in child sexual abuse cases and has worked on several high profile cases involving the Catholic Church.

“It’s a massive systemic problem with the Church. The internal rules and the way in which they defend their reputation has created this space in which paedophiles can get away with it.

“The church are covering things up and have been for a long time. There are still lots of cover-ups that I’m sure haven’t come to light. Their organisations, the way they are set up, their rules, are a danger to children.”

Coming back to the island was difficult for Kevin who says he has suffered with lifelong anxiety and depression.

“I’ve been wanting to come here for a long time to help my nightmares. In the ruins, I see now what I’ve been seeing in my nightmares. I won’t have closure until the truth comes out then maybe I can start living again.”

He’s urging other victims or anyone with information to come forward and tell the authorities.

  • Y Byd ar Bedwar will be broadcast on Tuesday 14th May at 9.30pm on S4C. English subtitles are available.