A report commissioned by St Benedict’s Catholic Independent School in Ealing, west London, has concluded that monks from the neighbouring Ealing Abbey should no longer be involved in the running of the school, following allegations of clerical sex abuse said to have occurred over the past 20 years.
At a press conference on Wednesday the report’s author, Lord Carlile of Berriew, said that in essence his recommendations “remove all power over the school from the abbey, while still retaining the Benedictine connection which is important to many parents”.
His report said the existing trust structure “lacks elements of independence, transparency, accountability, diversity and is drawn from too narrow a group of people”.
Chris Cleugh, headmaster of St Benedict’s School, said that Lord Carlile’s recommendations would be implemented by September next year and a new system of governance would be established to separate the abbey from the running of the school.
He said: “Past abuses at the school have left a terrible legacy for those affected and have tarnished the reputation of St Benedict’s. On behalf of all at the school, I offer my heartfelt apology for past failures. The school could have, and should have, done more.”
The report follows the jailing in October 2009 of Fr David Pearce, who admitted indecently assaulting pupils between 1972 and 2007. Fr Pearce was headmaster at the school until 1993 and afterwards resided at Ealing Abbey.
Scrutiny of the school and abbey has intensified since the disappearance of Fr Laurence Soper in March following allegations of abuse. Fr Soper was bailed from Rome to a west London police station but failed to turn up and has been missing ever since, causing further embarrassment for the abbey.
Speaking at the press conference, Lord Carlile said Fr Soper’s disappearance had caused difficulties for the investigations into St Benedict’s School.
He said: “I would encourage Laurence Soper to surrender himself to the police… He may feel he has a personal and ethical duty to do so.”
The Vatican ordered an Apostolic Visitation of Ealing Abbey in a historic intervention as the scandal intensified. Auxiliary Bishop John Arnold of Westminster and Fr Richard Yeo, abbot president of the English Benedictine Congregation, have reported separately to the Vatican.
Bishop Arnold said that he welcomed Lord Carlile’s report and that he had appealed to the Holy See to make public the content of the visitation’s findings. The Holy See has agreed to look sympathetically at his request.
Lord Carlile expressed concerns about possible conflicts of interest stemming from Fr Yeo’s involvement with the Apostolic Visitation and he said that individuals with no connection to St Benedict’s school should conduct future visitations.
Mr Cleugh made clear that some connection between the abbey and the school would be retained on a day-to-day basis. He said that three abbey monks were working at the school, who were much “revered” by parents, pupils and teachers. But Mr Cleugh asserted that the monks are answerable to him and are subject to the same safety checks as all other members of staff.
Lord Carlile said he hoped the change would provide a “template” for the governance of other Benedictine schools in Britain.
Full statement from Ealing Abbey
Abbot Martin Shipperlee said “The revelations of abuse which took place in the past have led to a time of shame to the monastic community and to myself.
I can only repeat what I have said many times before; we absolutely and unconditionally apologise for the hurt and harm caused by members of the monastic community.
It was awareness of this harm that led us in July 2010 to ask Lord Carlile to enquire into the conduct of St Benedict’s School so that we could understand what had gone wrong in the past, what was happening in the present and what needed to be done to ensure that our school, our parish and the monastery are as safe for children as they can possibly be.
We have the report and we accept Lord Carlile’s findings and recommendations in full and we have already begun work on putting them into effect.
Having to face up to what happened in the past has, quite rightly, been a very humbling experience, but it has been necessary for us to move forward.
As I have said previously, I acknowledge a serious error in allowing David Pearce to remain resident in the monastery after he was placed on restricted ministry in 2006. I make no excuse for this, it was a serious error of judgement.
His offending in 2008 took place away from the school and monastery. I want to make the point that the victim, a 6th former, disclosed what had taken place to the Headmaster and the matter was immediately reported to the statutory authorities in accordance with all laid down procedures. The young man concerned remains in contact with the Headmaster and the parish. I say this, not to minimise what happened, but to show that he had trust and confidence in the school to deal with such a serious situation.
There have been no cases of abuse in the school since I became Abbot and since the present Headmaster came to the school.
In recent years, the various inspections have continued to confirm that children are safe and happy at St Benedict’s and this has been endorsed by Lord Carlile.
We have taken a great deal of professional advice to ensure that Safeguarding procedures in the school, parish and monastic community are compliant with standards set down by the local authority, the Independent Schools Inspectorate, the Department for Education and of course the Church. We have in place measures to monitor compliance with all procedures.
Over and above the recommendations made by Lord Carlile and the other advice we have received, I have arranged for an external safeguarding expert to make periodic, unannounced inspections of safeguarding procedures of the Abbey, the parish and the school.
Abbot Martin Shipperlee OSB
9 November 2011