Friday, 10 August 2018

Child Abuse: More Catholic Monkey Business

Ampleforth Abbey.
"'Appalling' sexual abuse over 40 years."
Child abuse inquiry: School 'reputations put before abuse victims' - BBC News

Shocking, horrific, disgusting, abhorrent, are all adjectives one hears all too often in relation to revelations of another religious institution where child abuse was a routine and accepted part of the culture. None of these adjectives would be too strong to describe the contents of the report published todayPDF [Warning! Explicit and distressing contents] of the enquiry into the abuses of boys at two Catholic schools, Ampleforth and Downside School, both run by the semi-autonomous charity, English Benedictine Congregation (EBC).

The executive summary to the report states:

It is difficult to describe the appalling sexual abuse inflicted over decades on children aged as young as seven at Ampleforth School, and 11 at Downside School. Ten individuals, mostly monks, connected to these two institutions have been convicted or cautioned in relation to offences involving sexual activity with a large number of children, or offences concerning pornography. The true scale of the abuse however is likely to be considerably higher. Some examples of the abuse are set out below.

Piers Grant-Ferris was convicted of 20 counts of indecent assault against 15 boys who attended the junior school at Ampleforth. A victim of Piers Grant-Ferris described how he had made him remove his clothes in the confessional of the chapel, then beat his bare bottom. Another incident took place in a bathroom when he was forced to strip naked and to place his hands and feet on each side of a bathtub, so he was straddling the bath, with his genitals hanging down. He was then beaten on his bare bottom, an event he found ‘absolutely terrifying’. During these repeated beatings, Grant-Ferris would masturbate.

One man, whose alleged victims appear to have been aged between eight and 12 years, would give and receive oral sex, both privately and in front of other pupils in the Ampleforth school workshop. He was said to have abused at least 11 children over a sustained period of time but died before the police investigated. Statements given to the police indicate that the alleged abuse consisted of mutual masturbation, digital penetration of the anus, oral sex and forcing children to perform sex acts on each other.

One monk, Nicholas White, sexually abused a number of boys over several years, while he was a geography teacher in Downside’s junior school.

In addition, there have been allegations of a wide spectrum of physical abuse, much of which had sadistic and sexual overtones. One victim, from the 1960s, described his abuser at Ampleforth as ‘an out-and-out sadist’ who would regularly beat boys infront of each other and would ‘beat me for no reason at all’.

Many perpetrators did not hide their sexual interests from the children. At Ampleforth, this included communal activities both outdoors and indoors where there was fondling of children, mutual masturbation and group masturbation. Participation was encouraged and sometimes demanded. The blatant openness of these activities demonstrates there was a culture of acceptance of abusive behaviour.

The report details the way the 2001 Nolan Report, although officially accepted by the Catholic Church as the basis for reform of the way the Church safeguards children in it's care, the culture at these two schools was one of non-acceptance and a rejection of outside interference. The report recommended that all instances of actual or alleged abuse be reported to the statutory authorities who must be given full cooperation. Yet:

At Ampleforth and Downside, a number of allegations were never referred to the police but were handled internally. On occasion, abbots saw fit to set up their own procedures, contrary to the Nolan Report, despite the fact that they lacked expertise in child protection and risk assessment.

By 2002/3 the Catholic Church had appointed diocesan safeguarding officers who were expected to be involved in handling any allegations or disclosures. There was hostility to the Nolan Report in both institutions for some time after its formal adoption. They seemed to take a view that its implementation was neither obligatory nor desirable. This failure to comply appeared to go unchallenged by the Catholic Church.

In Ampleforth and Downside, any move to change or develop safeguarding practices was unduly dependent on the attitude and leadership of the abbot. For example, in Ampleforth, Abbot Timothy Wright held strong views about child sexual abuse allegations which amounted to a repudiation of the Nolan recommendations.

Although he initially appeared to engage with the recommendations, in essence, he wanted nothing to do with their implementation. He clung to outdated beliefs about ‘paedophilia’ and had an immovable attitude of always knowing best. For much of the time under consideration by the Inquiry, the overriding concern in both Ampleforth and Downside was to avoid contact with the local authority or the police at all costs, regardless of the seriousness of the alleged abuse or actual knowledge of its occurrence.

Rather than refer a suspected perpetrator to the police, in several instances the abbots in both places would confine the individual to the abbey or transfer him and the known risk to a parish or other location. On occasions, the recipient of the erring monk would not be adequately informed of the risk, with the result that constraints on access to children were not fully enforced. Some children were abused as a consequence.


The abuse of a second victim could have been prevented if the abbot, John Roberts, and the headmaster had referred the first abuse to the police and social services. Regarding Nicholas White’s return to Downside Abbey in 1999, the abbot wrote to the abbot at Fort Augustus: ‘I am hopeful that the climate among our national witch-hunters will be sufficiently muted for him to take up a strictly monastic residence again.’ [My emphasis]

p. iv-v

© Crown copyright 2018

That last sentence is worth reading again - 'national witch-hunters' is how the abbot at Downside regarded people working to protect children from predatory paedophile monks! His monks were the victims of a witch-hunt and needed to be protected. No thought for the welfare of their child victims!

Downside School.
"Complete disregard for the safety of the children in their care."
The Catholic Church, although professing to have accepted and implemented the Nola Report recommendations, seems to have turned a blind eye to the EBC's failure to implement it. The problem may be a consequence of the relationship between the EBC and the Benedictine order and the Catholic Church. The Benedictines are not hierarchical and each abbey is autonomous, run by an abbot who is accountable only to his community. There is no line-management structure. For example, they do not fall within the diocesan structure and are not accountable to the bishop or archbishop in whose see they are located; their relationship is collaborative rather than accountable.

The enquiry learned that a former abot at Downside, Aidan Bellenger, had written two letters in 2016 and 2017 respectively, to Dom Leo. Bellenger. In the first had warned that ‘At the heart of darkness in the community is the issue of child abuse which was tolerated by all my predecessors as Abbot.’ In his second letter he complained that the two imprisoned monks were not penitent and that ‘both were protected (and implicitly) encouraged by their Abbots’. He went on to say that the activities of two other monks were 'perverse and criminal' and that a further two monks were open to accusations of paedophilia. He pointed out that all four remained at Downside and predicted that more historic cases would emerge.

Dom Leo. Bellegner decided not to report these allegation to the local authority safeguarding lead because he regarded the letter as 'highly personal' and not specific. As the enquiry report says:

There is no question that these letters should have been notified to the local authority safeguarding lead... the whole incident, having occurred so recently, gives no cause for confidence that the attitudes at Downside had changed enough to put children first over threat to reputation and embarrassment to senior members of the monastic order [My emphasis].

p. vi.

© Crown copyright 2018

The reports expresses concern that:

Recently, possibly in 2012 when he was headmaster, Dom Leo Maidlow Davies spent some time removing files from the basement of a Downside building. He made several trips with a wheelbarrow loaded with files to the edge of the estate and made a bonfire of them. The fact that we do not precisely know what was burned and what the motivation was is in itself of concern. The files could have contained important information about the behaviour of individual monks and the lives of the children at the school.

p 181

© Crown copyright 2018

Perhaps most worryingly, illustrating as it does a laissez-faire attitude to the issue of child-abuse and to safeguarding children, and a disregard for the welfare of the victims of these abuses, at the time of it's writing the report states:

While some steps have been taken, neither Ampleforth nor Downside has formally established a comprehensive redress scheme, financial or otherwise, and other than in the context of this Inquiry, no public apology has been made.

p 182

© Crown copyright 2018

According the the BBC report, both Downside and Ampleforth have now issued formal apologies, as has Father Christopher Jamison, Abbot President of the English Benedictine Congregation. The Pope's response is awaited...

The enquiry panel have announced that a public enquiry into a third ECB abbey and school (Ealing and St Benedict’s) will be held in early 2019.

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