Catholic Church Inquiry week 2

This is week 2 of the Inquiry into the Catholic English Benedictine Congregation. It has also dealt with some aspects of Catholic theology and how they affect the Catholic response to child sex abuse allegations.

The second week of the Inquiry has unearthed more shocking revelations and began with evidence from the former headmaster and Abbott of Ampleforth, Leo Chamberlain. His complacent evidence was breath-taking when set against the fact that numerous allegations of child abuse on boys had been made yet not passed on to the police or social services. He eventually agreed that that monks running Ampleforth school have had no awareness or accountability on child abuse.

Former detective Barry Honeysett from NY Police underlined his shock at the Abbott’s responses to safeguarding issues when he strongly criticised the monks’ and the headmaster’s behaviour after 2003 when evidence of the activities of a number of monks had been reported to the police by the psychologist, Elizabeth Mann. He referred to a letter he had received from Abbott Timothy Wright in which he clearly set out why he would always put the defence of his monks first above the interests of abused pupils. Mr Honeysett criticised Abbott Wright’s failure to disclose abuse to social services and the police, his insistence on drip-feeding the police with what he knew about abusing monks. At this point I was left wondering why the police didn’t seek and execute a search warrant for documents as the Abbott and his lawyer seemed to have led the police on a merry dance for over 12 months before they worked out who the offenders were.

We heard moving evidence from another boy from Ampleforth and abuse from F Piers Grant-Ferris.

We heard that an offender, Gregory Carroll, had been moved out of Ampleforth and into a parish without his offending being brought to the attention of the police or social services. This was more crass disregard for the safety of children in the receiving parish.

Another (current) headmaster of Ampleforth, Cuthbert Madden, gave evidence in a ghostly and slightly aloof manner and was cataloguing the errors of he and his predecessors. F Bernard Green’s indecent assault on a boy resulted in prevarication before there was eventually a report to the police. Importantly there was tampering with the boy’s evidence as the school talked to him and his family before the police. This has emerged as a common theme at Ampleforth and Downside. Even Headmaster Madden was critical of the decision to allow the repeat offender, Grant-Ferris, to work in the Abbey bookshop at which boys regularly attended. He ran through more errors resulting from the monks’ failure to alert the police and keeping cases in house.

Importantly Headmaster Madden agreed that he had to obey orders from Rome and that he could expect to be removed from his post if he didn’t obey. This is important as Rome requires allegations against Catholic clergy to be kept entirely secret – this is in direct contradiction to the CSAS own guidance and the “working together” protocols to which all are expected to adhere.

A startling revelation came when Headmaster Madden revealed that he himself had been under police investigation arising from allegations from 4 boys but that the police had confirmed they would take no action. He still faces an internal inquiry.

The Inquiry then turned it’s attention to Downside Abbey school and began with very moving testimony of a very vulnerable girl who at the age of 17 was groomed and repeatedly sexually assaulted by a Downside Abbey monk. She described indecent assaults and a catalogue of reports which were met with either no response or totally inadequate and sometimes aggressive and defensive responses. At one point when she was at a low ebb she was invited to have a retreat at Ampleforth. During this time she suffered an attempted rape by one of the monk. These were truly shocking experiences.

Jane Dziadulewicz, the former safeguarding co-ordinator at the RC Diocese of Clifton gave her evidence. In summary she described finding resistance and cynicism from the monks towards safeguarding. She describes not having been told about all the disclosures. She explained that Abbott Aidan Bellenger didn’t give her detail on cases without her having to ask.

She recounted a few incidents of abuse by monks at Downside. Dunstan O’Keefe had been caught masturbating outside a primary school and had been cautioned. Another monk fathered a child whilst undertaking missionary work in Peru. He also assaulted a novice nun in Washington. He was moved to East Anglia where a further complaint was made about him.

Jane Dziadulewicz (‘JD”) described a bullying culture at the Abbey community among the monks, the junior of whom felt unable to have a voice. She found in files that having received complaints there was a tendency to be defensive, to blame the children and fail to inform the police.

Overall JD felt frustrated by the lack of reports to her, the police and social services when the Abbey and school found out about complaints. She described :-

  • a lack of enforcement by the Bishop and Abbott
  • names were omitted from documents, documents were lost
  • Many cases had been covered up
  • there was a failure to challenge monks
  • monks were allowed in children rooms
  • the proximity of the Abbey to the school posed a safeguarding problem

Structural issues she raised were :-

  • She had no powers to require anyone to do anything
  • Support from Bishops was patchy
  • Bishops can choose whether to comply with no accountability
  • There is too much emphasis on forgiveness and an unwillingness to laicise offenders (allowing monks to offend repeatedly)
  • Canon lawyers generally refuse to recognise the COPCA or CSAS procedures (church guidance on responding to complaints)

JD felt we needed Mandatory Reporting to be introduced and a body that can hold the church accountable. She also advocated that safeguarding training is compulsory for all clergy.

The Inquiry also heard from a young man who had been sexually abused by F Nicholas White and the fact that his abuse was repeatedly brought to the attention of the Abbott and was swept under the carpet. There was no report to the police until he himself spoke to the police in 2011. In a dreadfully sad reflection he noted that his own Father wanted to protect the name of the Catholic Church so didn’t report it to the police and sent him back to the senior school where the abuse continued. This complainant felt religion is a space in which paedophiles can go “under the radar” as the organisation believes in redemption through the confessional.

We also heard from Dr James Whitehead, the current headmaster of Downside. He is the first lay head of Downside. His criticisms of the Abbey and school were :-

  • Management structures – the Abbott is the influential chair of the governors
  • the monastic trustees are in control of the school finances
  • there is consequently a conflict of interest if a complaint is received
  • Abbeys are not controlled from outside with no oversight

He felt there should be Mandatory Reporting introduced and a body set up to oversee safeguarding in this area.

Liam Ring is the new Clifton Diocese safeguarding co-ordinator and like his predecessor, JD, complains that he had no power over the school. He also complained that he tried to direct the school to carry out safeguarding response but was ignored by the head and Abbott.

DC Mark White of Avon and Somerset police described a lack of co-operation from monks and the Abbott and delays in provision of documentation. He states the Abbott was close to being arrested for obstruction of justice.

James Michael Hubert Fitzgerald Lombard (Abbott Charles), the Abbott between 1992 and 1998 was questioned and said “It is regrettable that we’re in a position where Abbott can’t say a monk has an unalterable right to return to his monastery. Its very sad but its the world we live in.” He is effectively saying this Order will only obey the law when they are required to. When asked who controls him he said “I don’t answer to anyone but the almighty.” This makes disturbing reading as Abbott’s primary duty is to their monks before anything else (including children safety).

On confessionals he confirmed that a priest can give mass even when his sins of child abuse have not yet been absolved in the confessional.

It emerged that Abbott Charles helped a convicted child abuser, Anselm Hurt, to find a position at Glenstal Abbey in Ireland and acknowledged that there was an order from Rome that he should destroy correspondence about this.

On the issue of F Nicholas White (also known as Richard White), this Abbott was letting Nicholas White know that he could come back after child abuse once contemporaries of an abused boy had left “to avoid scurrilous gossip” (a 1991 letter). This came after Abbott Charles in his statement had denied having anything to do with Nicholas White. It seems he was caught out. In another 1991 letter he minimised White’s behaviour. In 1993 he goes on to try to persuade Abbott Mark Dilworth at Fort Augustus Abbey to house Nicholas White for a short time. This all underscores the disregard for child welfare by this order and the church.

In summary it appears that the English Benedictine Congregation and Catholic Church should not be responsible for supervising children for four reasons :-

  1. Their Theology, teaching and practice demonstrate their faith always trumps safeguarding.
  2. Their legal status means they are difficult for statutory authorities to control.
  3. Their hierarchical structure with power concentrated in Bishops and heads of Orders means adherence to safeguarding pends on the attitudes of individuals.
  4. Church culture and traditions with bonds of priesthood mean secrecy and defence of institutional reputations comes before child safety.

For all these reasons I will be asking the Inquiry to recommend mandatory reporting of suspicions of child abuse is enacted immediately and that an independent body is established to be the first port of call for any complaints and which will remove responsibility for responding to complaints of child sex abuse from institutions.

The position of the Catholic Church at this point appears, on the evidence heard so far, to be stark. It is doubtful that there should be religious control of schools or indeed contact between priests or religious with children in any circumstances.

David Greenwood

8th December 2017

 

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