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Roman Catholic Investigation final hearing Opening Commentsfor Switalskis



RC-A31, RC-A32, Sue Cox, RC-A33, C18, RC-A37


  • Chair, Panel. You have now reported on:


  1. Ampleforth & Downside;
  2. Diocese of Birmingham;
  3. Ealing Abbey.
  • You made findings. Those findings are no longer merely submissions. Those findings will, naturally, inform your final recommendations.


    1. Extent: The abuse you considered spanned nearly a century right up until the near present.
      1. In relation to Birmingham you said ‘Since the mid 1930s, there have been over 130 allegations of child sexual abuse made against no fewer than 78 individuals associated with the Archdiocese……16 criminal cases involved no fewer than 53 victims ’.
      2. In relation to Ampleforth and Downside you said ‘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’.
      3. In relation to Ealing you said, ‘Child sexual abuse at St Benedict’s School was extensive. Since 2003 two monks (Laurence Soper and David Pearce) and two lay teachers (John Maestri and Stephen Skelton) have been convicted of multiple offences involving the sexual abuse of over 20 children between at least the 1970s and 2008. In 2016 another teacher, the deputy head Peter Allot, was convicted of offences relating to the possession of indecent images of children.”
      4. In relation to all these institutions you said that the true scale of the abuse was likely to be considerably higher.
      5. This Inquiry is concerned with events in England & Wales. But we know from the Scottish Inquiry and the Australian Royal Commission alone that the pattern of abuse in Catholic institutions has been repeated internationally.
      6. The perpetrators have included some of the most senior figures in the Catholic Church: In England, an Abbot, Laurance Soper and a Headmaster, David Pearce. In Australia, a Cardinal, George Pell.


  1. Cover-up: You found that this abuse has been facilitated, encouraged and covered-up by the Catholic Church.



      1. You said about Ealing Abbey, “The abuse was facilitated for decades because of a culture of cover-up and denial”.
      2. You described how the atmosphere at Ealing was ‘like the mafia’, where staff chose not to risk their jobs by reporting abuse they knew or suspected was taking place.



      1. By their own admission, the Archdiocese accepted: “This Inquiry has heard more than sufficient evidence to be satisfied that during the second half of the last century, the Archdiocese was responsible for a number of institutional failings which on occasions permitted the sexual abuse of children to continue when it might otherwise have been stopped.”
      2. You said, “Rather than make progress by facilitating an investigation and assisting any potential victims, Monsignor Daniel Leonard, the Vicar General in charge of investigating such allegations attempted to make arrangements for [Samuel] Penney to leave the UK and evade arrest.”
      3. You said, that James Robinson was financially supported by the Catholic Church for years as a fugitive from justice in the United States.
      4. You said, “The sexual abuse by Penney and Robinson could have been stopped much earlier if the Archdiocese had not been driven by a determination to protect the reputation of the Church. In doing so, it sealed the fate of many victims whose trust was placed in these abusers. The plight of the victim was ignored or swept under the carpet, allowing the perpetrators to carry on abusing for many years.”
      5. You said, “Had this inquiry not focussed upon the Archdiocese of Birmingham, it is doubtful whether the Archdiocese would have itself recognised that these problems needed to be resolved.”

Ampleforth & Downside


      1. In relation to Ampleforth and Downside you said that “many perpetrators did not hide their sexual interests from boys…Both Ampleforth and Downside prioritised the monks and their own reputation over the protection of children.”
      2. Yet ‘Downside, in particular, tried to pave the way for the return of abusive monks such as Nicholas White’,
      3. We heard the extraordinary lengths to which some monks went to conceal potential abuse. The headmaster of Downside, Dom  Leo Davis – personally – took barrow loads of historic files to the edge of the estate and made a bonfire of them.
      4. The former Abbot, Dom Aidan Bellenger, described in a letter written a recently as 2016 (and which Downside tried to hide), ‘a heart of darkness in the community’ in relation to child abuse. He said child abuse was something which was tolerated by all his predecessors as Abbot.
      5. The Abbot President himself, Dom Yeo – post-Nolan, post-Cumberledge -  turned a blind eye to Father Anselm Hurt’s history of abuse and welcomed him back to the priesthood in a new Abbey in Ireland.

Papal Nuncio


      1. It is extraordinary that, in the face of those findings, the Papal Nuncio refuses to give an account to this Inquiry of what he and the Vatican knew about Laurence Soper’s own flight from justice to Kosovo. Here was an opportunity to show the Inquiry that in recent years the Catholic Church had extended itself to do the right thing to bring this evil man to justice. That the Papal Nuncio has refused that opportunity invites the heaviest, contrary, inference.
  1. In making those findings, you have confirmed what the bravest victims of catholic clerical abuse have been saying for years. Not only were they abused, but they were re-abused by a culture of denial and cover-up. No apology. No repentance. Compensation, if ever, heavily discounted after every technical legal objection had been exhausted.
  2. I have summarised the findings you have made to give some encouragement to the victims of clerical abuse I represent. They have been vindicated. Many doubted, and continue to doubt, that this Inquiry will achieve anything beyond what one has described as a ‘gravy train’ for lawyers and professionals. Will their courage in confronting past abuse prevent further abuse?



  1. We have one central recommendation: the creation of an independent national statutory body to protect children from child abuse, akin to the Health & Safety Executive. It is a recommendation we have made from the start of this Investigation. It is a recommendation we made at the conclusion of the Anglican Investigation. It is a recommendation supported by Howe & Co and the victims of abuse that they represent.  If such a recommendation was justified in the Anglican Investigation, it is even more justified in this Investigation.
  2. Our first submission is that the current patchwork of statutory oversight has failed, and is always likely to fail. Ealing was the clearest example. You identified:
    1. Failures by the Metropolitan Police into complaints against Pearce and Soper in 2002.
    2. Failures by Crown Prosecution Service for failing to prosecute either Pearce or Soper in 2004.
    3. Failures by the Charity Commission for simply accepting Ealing Abbey assurances that appropriate steps were being taken during a statutory inquiry at the very time Pearce was committing further acts of abuse.
    4. Failure of Independent Schools Inspectorate for wrongly concluding that child protection policy was compliant with statutory guidance and that an independent review into Pearce’s offending had been conducted and its advice fully implemented. The ISI was wrong on both counts. It took a member of the public to correct its report which had to be withdrawn and reissued.
  3. None of these institutions’ chief role is promoting child safety. The police and prosecution services are, by their nature, reactive. They respond to, investigate and prosecute crimes. They do not police child safety standards. The Charity Commission’s primary purpose is to police and protect charitable trusts. The Independent Schools Inspectorate is chiefly concerned with maintaining minimum standards of education in independent schools. Even the most egregious and open abuse at Ealing Abbey was not dealt with properly, let alone prevented by the rigorous enforcement of minimum child safety standards.
  4. Our second submission is that the Catholic Church itself will struggle by the nature of its structure to impose a ‘One Church’ policy on child abuse. It is an international organisation where Bishops and heads of the Religious enjoy a high degree of autonomy. We have seen how even post-Nolan and post-Cumberlege, the Abbot President Yeo simply ignored even the basic precepts of those reports to welcome a known abuser back into the Church. When you wrote ‘Much now will depend on the leadership of the Abbot President’ that is correct, but it requires an act of faith in one man that is simply not justified by past experience. Abbot Shipperlee resigned in the face of his failures. Abbot Soper, of course, was an abuser himself. Failures of leadership abound in the Catholic Church and in the Anglican Church. You rightly criticised Archbishop Carey’s leadership in the Anglican Investigation.
  5. It would be a mistake for the state to try to reform the byzantine structures of the Catholic Church with a long-list of piecemeal changes they could and should make. That is not the state’s role. The role of the state is to set and enforce minimum standards for any institution that wishes to care for and educate children. It is for the Catholic church to meet those standards  – if it can – without special pleading or some implied bargain that child abuse is a price worth paying for the benefits of the Catholic church’s care of children. If the Church cannot meet those standards, its involvement with children must end. If that poses an existential threat to the Catholic Church in England & Wales, so be it.
  6. It is with that chief recommendation in mind that we invite you to hear the final two weeks’ of evidence in this strand of the Investigation.



23 OCTOBER 2019


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