Former altar boy sues church over rapes by priest

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Media captionFormer altar boy Jim Lawn speaks out about priest abuse

A former altar boy who claims he was raped dozens of times by a priest is suing the Catholic church.

Jim Lawn told the BBC he was repeatedly raped and beaten over a two-year period in the 1970s by Father John Gowans at St Patrick's RC Church in Dumbarton.

Mr Lawn, 54, said that when he initially approached the church about the abuse almost a decade ago it ignored him.

The Catholic Church said its response to him had been "simply unacceptable".

Image caption Jim was just eight when the abuse began

The church said it was sorry for abuse that had happened and now had better safeguarding procedures in place.

Mr Lawn said he was eight years old when the abuse began.

He attended mass as an altar boy - once on a Sunday and again midweek.

Mr Lawn said that on weekday mornings he was the only boy around and after the service Father Gowans, who died in 1999, would lead him to the sacristy - a private room for preparing mass.

He would then be abused and beaten - before having to walk to his nearby primary school.

Image caption Jim says he was abused for two years

Mr Lawn said: "He [Fr Gowans] took me into a toilet just off the corridor leading from the sacristy to the church.

"In a very short space of time it went from initial touching to a full attack. I was terrified and completely powerless to stop any of it.

"They nearly all happened like this and it happened nearly every week for two or three years."

Fr Gowans, believed to be in his 40s at the time of the abuse, is said to have taken steps to cover his tracks, such as locking doors.

Mr Lawn added: "He was very cold and organised about what he did. I knew what he was doing was wrong but I was simply too scared to tell anyone."

When Mr Lawn was 10 his father's work took him to Saudi Arabia for one year which brought an element of peace for him.

But he suffered panic attacks, sleepless nights and the fear of noises or being left alone.

The family returned to Dumbarton just before he started at St Aloysius' College in Glasgow.

Shortly after arriving the family learned that Fr Gowans was moved to a diocese in Aberdeen.

Image caption Father John Gowans was the priest at St Patrick's Church in Dumbarton

Mr Lawn said that Fr Gowans told him he would "burn in hell" and that his relatives would die if he spoke of what was happening.

He told the BBC: "That was almost the worse thing because the shock of what was happening was one thing - the physical and mental shock of the assault - but the thought that people were going to die, that I would be responsible for that by telling anyone, was horrific."

Mr Lawn said: "The hell thing, the burning thing, the imagery of that is still something that lives very strongly around in my head 45 years later."

He said he wanted to speak out to give others the confidence to do so too and because he wanted some sense of justice for himself and the child he was then.

In 2009, Mr Lawns decided to report his complaints to the Scottish Catholic Safeguarding Service.

He also emailed the Bishops' Conference. However, his initial inquiries received no response.

In 2011 he eventually secured a meeting by phoning the Glasgow headquarters but claims the safeguarding service was more interested in who he had told than how he was coping.

He has now decided to take matters further by suing the church.

For many victims it can take decades or even longer to speak up about what has happened to them.

In the past there was a strict three-year time limit on taking civil cases but last year the Scottish government removed that barrier for the victims of childhood abuse.

Kim Leslie, from law firm Digby Brown, said: "It helps people because it gives them a voice.

Image caption Kim Leslie, from law firm Digby Brown, said people felt they weren't going to be believed

"So often people felt they weren't going to be believed or that they just could not speak out.

"It was the silencing effect.

"In recognition of this the Scottish government has made this change in the law and so this is the time for people to come forward to seek help if they are ready."

The Catholic Church told the BBC the crimes described in the allegations were "appalling".

A statement said it was "truly sorry" for what had happened to those who had suffered abuse.

It said the "lack of response" given to Mr Lawn by the Church when he raised his concerns nine years ago and again seven years ago was "simply unacceptable".

The church said in recent years it had invested in safeguarding, and today, anyone reporting abuse would be assisted to inform the police and would be offered independent counselling.

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