IICSA Ealing Abbey/ St Benedicts Inquiry 4th Feb 2019 Opening remarks

I appear on behalf of RC-A31, RC-A32, RC-A33, C17, C18 and C19 all of whom were variously harmed by Roman Catholic priests. C18 and C19 were specifically harmed by members of the English Benedictine Order.

2. You have already reported on Downside and Ampleforth. In your executive summary you concluded by quoting David Molesworth, safeguarding specialist, who said “I do not believe currently that the organisation as a whole understands or accepts their responsibilities for child protection issues….We appear to be dealing with denial or downright obstruction.” We anticipate that the evidence in relation to Ealing will only reinforce the strength of that view.

3. If there is a significant difference with Ealing it is this. At Ealing, the sexual abuse was perpetrated by those at the very top of the organisation. a. David Pearce: Prior, Head of the Junior School and Bursar. b. Laurence Soper: Bursar of St Benedicts, Prior, Headmaster, Abbot and Bursar of the General Benedict Conference.

4. Both, eventually, were sentenced to lengthy terms of imprisonment for abuse of children in their care. We have read how Soper, knowing himself to be a child-abuser, handled the first complaints against Pearce. We have read how when the authorities placed Soper on bail, he fled from Rome to the Balkans with half-a-million euros in his bank account.

5. You are asked by the Benedictine witnesses involved with Ealing to accept that, in this closed community, they had no grounds for suspecting their brethren until it was obvious even to those outside their closed community. We reject that as incredible. The Benedictines did no more in responding to child abuse in their midst than events forced them to do. This is not a case of rotten apples, but a rotten institution.

6. In our view as long as the EBC is engaged in the care and education of children the EBC poses an unacceptable risk to children. This raises a wider question of the extent to which faith-based education is conducive to the safety of children. The EBC themselves acknowledge this possibility by sponsoring a conference which explored how elements of Catholic culture (including theology) might enable abusive behaviour. We have emphasized the impediments to self-governance presented by: • Catholic Teaching, Canon Law and the Rule of St Benedict • The EBC’s hierarchical structure • Its Culture, and • It’s Unincorporated status

7. We have previously recommended, in summary: a.

● The creation of a law to embody mandatory reporting as advocated by the knowledgeable pressure group mandate now.

● The creation of a new statutory body with powers to police and enforce basic standards of child protection. We envisage a body similar to the Health and Safety Executive.

● Significantly we have previously recommended a review of the powers of the Charity Commission. We are concerned through reading the materials disclosed during this investigation that there have in our view been significant individual and systematic failings by the Charity Commission and the Department for Education.

8. It appears from the relevant legislation that the Charities Commission has the power to revoke the charitable status of an institution, including schools. Charitable status confers upon the institution significant prestige and tax advantages. It is a matter of public concern that institutions that have proved safe havens for paedophiles should receive, in effect, a public subsidy to teach children. The removal, or threat of removal, of charitable status would be a powerful incentive to comply with safeguarding.

9. In assessing public benefit the Commission’s own guidance is that ‘benefits must be balanced against any detriment or harm’2. We are interested to learn whether charitable status has ever been revoked by the Commission and the threshold tests for decision makers. If not in cases like this, then when?

10. We are still to learn the detail of what sanctions have been imposed on the trusts running the schools at Ampleforth, Downside and Ealing.

11. It is not clear to us that the tests applied to determine charitable status (“public benefit tests”) are satisfied by religious institutions whose record and approach to safeguarding has and remains lamentable. The assessment of these schools presently appears to have been avoided. Jonathan West probed the Charities Commission, the ISI and the Department for Education significantly from 2009 and has had unsatisfactory responses. We hope to explore these issues during this hearing.

12. The independent Schools Inspectorate failed to uncover significant offending by EBC members at St Benedict’s between its inspections in 2003 and 2009. These offences were withheld from their inspectors during their 2009 inspection. Despite this being reported to them by Jonathan West no sanctions were imposed. We have to ask why were no sanctions imposed ? Why did the ISI and the Department for Education consider the senior staff at St Benedict’s should remain in post. It has been suggested that the only sanction is to deregulated the school and force its complete closure.

I hope that this Inquiry will explore the various sanctions which the charities commission and the Department for Education can impose and how decisions are made. It appears to us that either new powers or more rigorous enforcement of existing ones is needed. ————————————————————————————————————————–

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