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TV review: Brotherhood: The inner life of monks, and Football’s Darkest Secret

01 April 2021

BBC/Intrepid Media/Nick Hamer

Fr Joseph in Brotherhood: The inner life of monks (BBC4, Palm Sunday)

Fr Joseph in Brotherhood: The inner life of monks (BBC4, Palm Sunday)

IT WAS not just about the beer. It’s easy to imagine the BBC4 scheduling meeting as an excited director pitched for a slot, ideal in his mind, on Palm Sunday. Surely not another programme about life in a monastery? But these monks open a brewery! Oh, in that case — excellent, we’ll take it.

This depiction of Mount St Bernard Cistercian Abbey, Brotherhood: The inner life of monks, was marvellous: frank and open about the joys and difficulties of cloistered life, with prayer and worship at its heart, and much simple and direct talk about the daily reality of God, and the long years it takes to allow him to mould you into what you can best be.

We saw this ageing and shrinking community considering what their future might be, encouraged by their splendid young abbot to be “always open to the grace of renewal”. The dairy farm no longer paid its way, and had to close; producing the first Trappist beer in Britain seemed to be God’s path of regeneration.

We saw a Profession and Clothing; new vocations are appearing. But there was also strong focus on deaths and burials, everything simple, robust, in-house: the graves being dug; vigil kept overnight in chapel by the open coffins; the corpses buried in full habit, without casket. And yet the final scene was of the Easter fire, the paschal candle borne into church, the congregation’s myriad candles overcoming the darkness. It is hard to think of a better TV gateway into Holy Week.

For an extended investigation into close-to-home human evil, exploitation, and abuse, we would do well to watch Football’s Darkest Secret (BBC1, Monday of last week, then iPlayer). Nothing could be more open to public scrutiny and media interest than professional football: enormous attention was paid to the success of the youth-training schemes that groomed talent for professional stardom, and yet no one noticed that, through them, hundreds of young boys were being groomed for molestation and rape.

The victims’ testimonies were — however many such accounts we’ve heard — utterly searing and shaming. It confirmed the almost impregnable security of the charismatic abuser (something that we in the Church know far too well); the desperation of his victims to feel that they are the special one, singled out for particular attention; how deep their shame and fear, making them refuse to admit to what is taking place, even when asked directly by the police; what extraordinary courage it requires to be the one to break silence; and how completely the rest of their lives are devastated.

Even the ultimate ambition of playing for England left a bitter taste, completely undermined by the secret burden of self-hatred and anger. The management of the clubs, the Football Association, even British justice itself and trial by jury — all disgracefully, abjectly, pathetically, failed these ruined lives. Appropriate seasonal penitence, perhaps?

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