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Ealing Abbey to hand over control of school

By on Wednesday, 9 November 2011

The cloister at St Benedict's School, Ealing

The cloister at St Benedict's School, Ealing

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

  • Hyr635

    Oh dear–Here we go again. Whenever will these disclosures end. It’s worse than pulling teeth—a great deal worse,especially the victims.

  • B MW

    I wonder if the sexual issues in the church have anything to do with the emasculating, feminized atmosphere. Priests tend to be inspired to the priesthood by their mothers, not their fathers. I often go to the Orthodox church because I am sick of the feminine atmosphere of Catholic churches, including altar girls. Once again, feminism and social engineering reap evil – this time within the church itself.

  • Jonathan West

    What matters is not who runs the school, but rather how it is run. While Lord Carlile’s governance proposals are no doubt sensible, they don’t get to the heart of the issue, which is how the school managed for so long to turn a blind eye to the abusers in its midst.

    Lord Carlile has understood the importance of automatic referral of all allegations to outside authority, but he’s not enough of an expert on child protection to realise that the school’s latest child protection procedure still doesn’t implement automatic referral properly – there are huge and dangerous exceptions.

    Unless and until those are fixed, there is always the danger that once the publicity has died down the school will slip back into bad old habits, even if it has a new governance structure.

  • Anonymous

    “While Lord Carlile’s governance proposals are no doubt sensible, they
    don’t get to the heart of the issue, which is how the school managed for
    so long to turn a blind eye to the abusers in its midst.”

    Maybe they had no idea that such abuse was taking place?
    Is it likely that someone who knowingly commits a criminal offence will boast about it to any colleagues, but decide to keep silent about it for fear of being denounced and exposed?

  • Anonymous

    The Vatican and the English RC Church covered up child sex abuse for decades. All schools should be taken off the RC Church. Children should not be brainwashed by religions. They should not have monks that are “revered” in the school. Many of these monks turned out to be vicious child abusers.

  • Monastic

    I can personally vouch for the fact that there are Benedictine monks in this country who have not had personal contact with a child of either sex for years, and think that the monastic vocation is incompatible with running a modern school or parish.
    There have been those in the Order of St Benedict who claimed that they did not take vows of poverty or chastity when they made profession. Strictly true in casuistry, but utterly vicious.

  • Jonathan West

    Sorry, but the report makes it clear that the abuse was known about and not reported, for very many years. For instance, Father David Pearce was known by the Abbey as an abuser at least since 1992. As a result he “retired” as Junior School headmaster and was made Bursar instead. But no report was made to the authorities, and Pearce continued to abuse, his last known victim was in 2007.

  • Anonymous

    The Church has a right and a duty to educate children in the faith. It also owns the properties, even of “state” church schools which have partial state funding. “Taking the schools off the Church” would not only be a breach of religious freedom, it would be plain theft.

  • geoffreysmith1

    “Children should not be brainwashed by religions.”

    Neither should atheists have any say in how children are raised and educated.  If atheists want their children to develop into atheists, they should keep it in the home and not allow them to speak about it outside.  All outside influences, such as the NSS and the BHA, should be made illegal. 

  • Acleron

    You are basically saying atheists should be banned from publicly advocating that people should think for themselves. Yes I just bet you’d love that. 

  • Anonymous

    Do you inhabit an irony-free space?

  • Acleron

    Wish I did, but I get thru so many super strength irony meters reading some of these comments…

  • Cha-Mai

    If they didn’t take vows then they ain’t monks! Simple as dat. 

  • Kevington Beare

    Well taking schools off the church would simply be continuing the fine traditions established by Henry VIII.

  • Parasum

    Why not suppress the abbey ? That would mean there could be no paedophiles from that quarter in the future. Let Toby Young or Michael Gove take over the school.

  • Nat_ons

    Perhaps a policy in the making, here; which is at least something more than the policy not to have a policy. Yet what is this policy, other than a slap on the hand and a shrill command: ‘Don’t do it again’ .. more for appeasement of the on-lookers than the good of an errant soul. If one desires an effective punishment, not merely a sop to the weary and wary audience, may I suggest the Irish scorched earth policy: hand the school(s) back to the State, make the order(s) sell the Abbey (convent, whatever) with land and effects, and deposit all and any funds left after removing the order (to a mother house or into oblivion) to be held for the victims of any crime committed .. or, rather accurately, to cover the legal costs in dealing with them.

    No? Well, it was only a suggestion – a far from humorous one, I admit! Yet I suspect it is closer to the spirit of our age; it also has the benefit of ripping the rug from under the feet of any journalistic campaign .. even if it does also risk the destruction of the family heritage (one might just hear the merry crash of Dresden china, Irish crystal and Louis XV furniture spinning about one’s ears, if one possesses a fanciful imagination).

    Yet look at the recent vicarious liability ruling of the High Court against an English diocese. Am I really the only one to note something terrifying in its possible application; and if so, then why? When a relationship is deemed close enough, now extends to regalia, investment and approval .. so turn our attention to the House of Lords (and the scoundrels amid the wise men there), the Honours System (with its royal patronage toward the wheat and weed) et al.

    Perhaps a policy in the making, here; which is at least something more than the policy not to have a policy. One wonders if Her Majesty has started rifling through the jewel boxes, just in case she is deemed to be vicariously liable for the infamy of some or any of her less than honest lordships (if such could exist in her service as Lords Temporal – or Spiritual). Not so high, may be the call to due caution; might the Prime Minister or his Senior Civil Servants jingle their pockets for change, then, in case their select nominees for royal regalia, investment and approval (or just a lucrative job) in the public service may prove a liability .. for their mere paid employees, of course, they take full responsibility – hands-up, fair cop, no arguments there, payment up front, mate – but the fuzzy non-employee, not-paid, never-my-honour ‘official’ (let alone an ‘unofficial’ official), that remains a matter for politically-motivated resignation, if pushed (very hard), not of personal financial liability (vicarious or otherwise).

    Just a thought, mind you, just a thought ..

  • Monastic Cell

    From an old boy of a Monastic School, leaving after A levels in the 1990′s -

    It is difficult to learn of the problems that are again coming to the press’s attention.  Faith is put in the Monastic educational system by parents with the belief that they are doing the best for their children.The adorning of a dog collar or a habit does not indicate the moral rectitude of a person (nor for that matter their teaching ability).  It is the role of the Abbot to ensure that those within the controls of the monastery are there for the right reasons and this assessment must continue indefinitely.  This, however, relies on the Abbot being highly vigilant and having a thorough understanding of human nature.   Sadly was not the case with the Abbots I knew who more readily possessed a strong faith and effective communication skills.Catholicism is not necessarily bad, nor Christianity, nor religion as a whole.  To a monastically educated old boy it appears to me that it’s the isolated, celibate, self governance that is at fault.  This can be disastrous when set within a school, particularly a boarding school where a replacement of the absent parental support is being sought by the children.Thankfully a very small number of men (and sometimes, though rarely, women) will prey on children.  This is regardless of whether they have taken religious vows.   However the environment of an enclosed, celibate, educational establishment being presided over by parentally trusted but ultimately inadequate governance allows its continuance.  Not through a sense of loyalty but that of personal witness I feel I must point out that these events are rare and that most monks are good men who are sadly caught within a flawed system.   As long as the authority of their God is seen as being higher than that of the rule of law problems with be discovered only after years of being hidden.

  • Old Priorian

    Abbot Shipperley’s statement says ‘There have been no cases of abuse in the school since I became Abbot and since the present Headmaster came to the school’. But the Carlile Report states quite clearly that the last report of abuse at St Benedicts was in June 2010, that there was ‘a disciplinary resolution’ within the school, and that the teacher remains in place. There would seem on the surface at least to be a contradiction here.

  • Anonymous

    Children don’t “develop into atheists” Geoffy, they are born that way, and remain so until exposed to the perversities and contradictions of religion.  Or do you think that children are born worshipping the BVM.

  • raleg

    I agree with you. I was at St Bennedicts school during the seventies and Father David was known as “gay Dave the Rave” which was unfortunate but he was called so due to his slightly effeminite manner . Can we assume he harmed any child? Only he knows and the victims should it really have happened.

  • Jonathan West

    Pearce was charged in 2009 with a string of offences (over 20) at the school spanning 36 years from 1972 to 2007. On the eve of trial he pleaded guilty to 11 of them. He was sentenced to 8 years, later reduced on appeal to 5.

    I have spoken to some of his victims. Yes, he harmed children. Very seriously harmed them.

  • Jonathan West

    I’ve spoken to a great many former pupils. “Gay Dave” was Pearce’s universal nickname. I’ve not heard “the rave” added before today.

  • Jonathan West

    In 2009, Pearce pleaded guilty to an indecent assault on the boy C who won the civil case in 2006.

  • Rich

    I’m not aware that anyone worships the BVM, to be honest. It’s true though that humans develop a basic human desire to seek out the truth.

  • Jonathan West

    If I was not guilty I would plead not guilty.

    I’ve heard all sorts of entirely untrue stories being spread around the parishioners of Ealing about this case.

    Apparently one story which circulated soon after the civil case was lost was that they didn’t lose it at all, but settled out of court not because the abuse happened but out of concern for the mental state of the plaintiff. It was of course entirely untrue. It seems that you have fallen for a similar story, that Pearce nobly pleaded guilty to crimes he didn’t commit.

  • Jack Hughes

    Mr West

    Can you please stop stalking Catholic websites talking about abuse, you have
    made it abundantly clear on many occasions that you believe in The People’s Democratic
    National Security State where absolutely no one is trusted, everyone is guilty
    until proven innocent and everyone who wants to volunteer at the afterschool
    club must be subject to the same vetting procedures as those who are inducted
    into MI5.

    I for one am saddened by the fact that control of St Benedict’s
    will be divorced from Ealing Abbey, over
    the centuries many fine religious belonging to the Order of St Benedict have
    enlightened the minds of youngsters to the truths of the Catholic faith and have
    made such education possible to those without the financial means.

    Sadly with more and more lay people teaching at Catholic
    Schools (previously run by religious) the schools are forced to charge ever
    higher fees and exclude those who could benefit most from a Catholic education.


  • Gfdsmith

    “It’s true though that humans develop a basic human desire to seek out the truth.”

    Which explains their inevitable choice of a religious faith rather than a life devoted to nothing but personal greed and advantage, gained at the expense of others.

  • Jonathan West

    Are you really suggesting I should not comment here on abuses committed at my son’s school?????

  • Alcuin the Outraged

    I too favor suppressing Ealing and all abbeys, and ending the celibate status of all English clergy, Catholic and non-Catholic.  I also favor sending the pope’s legate packing and the seizure of Church property to compensate victims and their families.  Unfortunately, that doesn’t end paedophilia.  It just ends the power of the Church in Britain.  Which sounds like a jolly good idea too.

  • AgingPapist

    Usually, it  isn’t the” Father Gay Rave” types who are the pederasts. They’re more likely to be seemingly, perfectly masculine in every way.