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IICSA Independent Inquiry into Child Sexual Abuse

Ampleforth and Downside (English Benedictine Congregation case study) Investigation Report

Annex 2: Glossary of terms


The superior of a religious community responsible for governing their institution’s life and work. (See religious superior)[1]

Abbot president

The leader of a Benedictine Congregation.[2] In the context of this report, the English Benedictine Congregation.

Abbot primate and the Congress of Abbots

The abbot primate is the representative of all the Benedictine congregations, including the EBC, in Rome. The abbot presidents of the Benedictine Confederation meet every four years at the Congress of Abbots to elect the abbot primate, who serves for four years as the Confederation’s representative leader.[3]

The abbot primate has a council to advise him, including the ‘vicar of the abbot primate’ who in the event of the abbot primate being unable to act or ceasing to act for any reason would take over on a temporary basis.[4]


Internal apostolate is the work carried out within the religious community, and external apostolate relates to work in parishes or schools where the community also carry out the work of the Church.[5]

Apostolic visitation

A visitation (see also visitation) ordered by the Holy See, which appoints one or more vsitors to investigate a situation and to report back to the Holy See on what they find.[6]

Benedictine Confederation

The Benedictine Confederation is a union of autonomous monastic congregations which all follow the teachings (the Rule) of St Benedict. Each of the Congregations, of which the English Benedictine Congregation (EBC) is one, has its own abbot president.

The Confederation has its headquarters at Sant’Anselmo in Rome, which is the seat of the abbot primate, who is currently Gregory Polan OSB (2016).[7]

Today there are many affiliated Benedictine congregations around the world, as well as Benedictine orders in England and Wales, but only 10 of these are English Benedictine monasteries.[8]


A Chapter is when the monks or nuns of a monastery meet together as an assembly or body which assists the abbot or abbess in governing the monastery.[9]

Charity Commission

The Charity Commission is a non-ministerial government department that regulates registered charities in England and Wales and maintains the Central Register of Charities.[10]

Code of Canon Law

The system of laws which govern the Catholic Church is known as the Code of Canon Law.[11] The most recent version is the 1983 Code. Canon law is not an alternative or replacement for English law but a complementary system to English law and it has no role in the primary response to allegations of child sexual abuse.[12]

Constitutions of the EBC

Every religious congregation has constitutions. Benedictine monastic congregations have constitutions as well as the Rule of St Benedict (‘the Rule’). Constitutions of the EBC govern all its monasteries, and individual monasteries do not have individual constitutions. Nuns of the EBC have a different set of constitutions to the monks.

The constitutions consist of two parts:

  1. The Declarations on the Rule – this is complementary to the Rule of St Benedict.
  2. The Statutes – these set out the structure and government of the congregation as a whole.[13]


Covenant of Care

Following the Nolan Report, the Catholic Church began a new policy asking individuals about whom a concern had been made to accept a Covenant of Care (now called a safeguarding plan). They are agreements drawn up between the Church and the individual in question to minimise risks to others by making clear what conditions and restrictions apply, as well as what support is available.[14]


A written document that sets out the customs of each monastery.[15]


A crime in canon law, an external violation of a law or precept gravely imputable by reason of malice or negligence.[16] This is not the same definition as a delict in civil law jurisdictions.

Gravius delictum

A more serious delict, for example the sexual abuse of minors by a cleric.[17]


A formal order. Canon Law 601 gives a religious superior power to compel a member of their community to act in a particular way. If the member does not do so then sanctions can result. This rule is the basis for Covenants of Care and Disciplinary Decrees.[18]

An example is an Act of Visitation made after a visitation (see Visitation) where the abbot president can issue a formal decree (made in writing) requiring steps to be taken by the abbot and institution subject to the visitation.[19]


On application from an abbot, the abbot president can grant a dispensation from temporary vows for a member of the community. However, to be granted dispensation from perpetual vows the abbot president’s council must agree with the application (although the abbot president can take the final decision) before it is forwarded to the Holy See for approval.[20]


Exclaustration is the formal authorisation that a monk should reside outside their monastery for a three-year period, usually with a view to discerning whether to depart definitively. Exclaustration is not the same as dispensation. The exclaustrated monk remains a monk, and remains bound both by his vows and to his Abbey.

Qualified exclaustration (exclaustration qualificata) is where a monk is authorised to live for a limited time as a layman, without exercising priestly duties and free from all clerical obligations apart from celibacy. This is granted in circumstances where there is reasonable hope that the monk will return to his vocation.[21]


Excommunication is the most severe form of penalty available under canon law. The concept of excommunication is depriving a person of community life and the disciplinary code contains spiritual advice on excommunication.

In practical terms someone who has been excommunicated may not receive any of the sacraments or hold any position of office or authority within the Church.[22]

Extraordinary visitations

A visitation (see visitations) held outside of the regular four-yearly intervals of the ordinary visitations and held when needed, usually for serious or grave reasons.[23]

First assistant

The senior member of the council of the abbot president, who takes on the role of the abbot president for the monastery of which the abbot president is a member.[24]

General Chapter of the EBC

All Roman Catholic congregations, including the EBC, have General Chapters. These exercise supreme authority and write the constitutions of the order (with the approval of the Holy See) and elect the general superior/abbot president. Due to the structure of the EBC, the monasteries are more autonomous than other congregations of the Roman Catholic Church and therefore the General Chapter of the EBC has less authority than in other orders where there is a centralised system and a more obvious hierarchy of accountability.

The General Chapter of the EBC is made up of the abbot president, an abbot or abbess from each monastery, a delegate elected by the monastery’s own chapter and four officials of the EBC. The abbot president, as the most senior figure, prepares and runs the General Chapter with the help of his Council. It is the supreme legislative authority of the congregation, saving the right of the Holy See to approve the constitutions. It elects the abbot president and his Council and discusses matters of common interest to the monasteries.

The General Chapter has ‘ordinary’ and ‘extraordinary’ meetings, or chapters. Ordinary chapters are held every four years and extraordinary chapters are held in times of need. The last extraordinary chapter was held in 2015.[25]

Holy See

The Holy See is the central administration of the Catholic Church which includes the Pope and the offices of the Vatican.[26] It is located in Vatican City, Italy.[27]


Laicisation is the loss of the clerical state, either through dismissal for offences or through a request from the individual themself, for example to enable a monk to marry.[28]

List 99

List 99 was a list of people whose employment with children was prohibited or restricted by the Secretary of State for Education and Skills. It was replaced in 2009 by the Children’s Barred List, which was formerly maintained by a non-departmental public body known as the Independent Safeguarding Authority. In 2012, the Independent Safeguarding Authority merged with the Criminal Records Bureau to form the Disclosure and Barring Service.[29]


A small town in France, where the Sanctuary of Our Lady of Lourdes is situated. It is a destination of Catholic Pilgrimage as it is said to have been the site of an apparition of the Virgin Mary, and is believed to be a place of miraculous healing.[30]

Monastic Congregation

A union of several autonomous monasteries, under a superior.[31]

Motu proprio

An edict issued personally by the Pope, signed by him, and addressed to either the whole Church or part of it.[32]


On completing the postulancy, an individual may apply to become a novice monk. If accepted, this position is still one of a prospective member of a monastery, although it is the first formal training period towards becoming a monk. It is a probationary period during which the individual receives training (within the EBC, this training includes studying the Rule of St Benedict and the constitutions).

They also receive guidance from a novice master, who is usually an experienced monk from the institution they wish to join.[33]

Our Lady of Victory, Brownshill

A therapeutic community (now closed) for the treatment of priests and religious who have problems, including those of alcohol or sexual addiction.[34]

Police caution

In England and Wales, a police caution is an alternative to prosecution and can be given by the police to anyone aged 10 or over for minor crimes. Before a caution can be given, the individual must admit their guilt and agree to be cautioned; if the individual does not agree, they can be arrested and formally charged. A caution is not a criminal conviction, but can be used as evidence of bad character and will show on standard and enhanced Disclosure and Barring Service (DBS) checks.[35]

Pontifical Right

A congregation which is under the jurisdiction of the Pope for matters regarding its internal affairs.[36]


An individual seeking to become a monk can begin as a postulant, usually after several visits to the monastery they wish to join.

The postulancy is for the length of time determined by the abbot of the community the postulant is seeking to join, during which they share life and work of novitiate by attending prayers and studying some aspects of monastic life. The purpose of this is to get to know the monks and consider their future, before undertaking the period of the novitiate.[37]

Preliminary enquiry protocol

Where there are allegations or concerns regards an accused individual’s conduct with children or vulnerable adults within the Church, a preliminary enquiry is used to assess any internal risk. This can include (but is not limited to) allegations investigated by the police, resulting in no charges or an acquittal. The safeguarding coordinator undertakes an initial assessment to determine if there is any basis for the allegations. If there appears to be a basis for the allegations, and with the approval of the Safeguarding Commission, the safeguarding coordinator must appoint an independent person (from an approved list) to carry out further enquiries and produce a report within six months.[38]

Priest (Priesthood)

A priest may be connected to a diocese or religious order and so a monk may also be ordained as a priest and take up ‘active ministry’, which means doing the work of a priest in a parish, including celebrating mass and hearing confession.[39]


An abbot is supported by his prior, who is involved in the day-to-day administration of the monastery. The prior deputises for the abbot when the abbot is absent from the monastery.[40]


A person bound by religious vows. A Benedictine monk or a nun is a religious, and so are men and women belonging to all the religious congregations in the Church.[41]

Religious life

A form of consecrated life within the Church wherein the members profess vows of chastity, poverty and obedience within a congregation approved by the Church.[42]

Religious order

A religious order is a group of men or women with a particular spiritual focus.[43]

Religious superior

The person who is the head of a religious congregation or a part of a religious congregation. The term encompasses a local superior, a provincial superior and a general superior. In a monastic congregation, the abbot of a monastery of monks, the abbess of a monastery of nuns and the abbot president of the congregation are all religious superiors.[44]

Roman Curia

The central government of the Church (including its administrative function) which exists to support and serve the Pope whilst exercising his authority.[45]

Rule of St Benedict

The Rule of St Benedict (‘The Rule’) was written by St Benedict of Nursia (c. AD 480–547) for monks living in monasteries under the authority of a rule and an Abbot. The Rule is a book containing a prologue and 73 chapters. It sets out the rules by which Benedictine monks living together in a community under the authority of an abbot should live and specifies punishments for monks who show fault through disobedience, pride and other grave faults.[46]

Seal of confession

The act of confession is a confession to God typically made to a priest (required to take confession under canon law) who is considered to be a conduit of the confession.

The seal of confession is the absolute duty of priests not to disclose anything that they might learn from a person during the course of a confession. It is inviolable, which means it is absolutely forbidden for a confessor to betray in any way a penitent in words or in any manner and for any reason. That means that the identity, the sin, any ancillary details, or whether absolution was granted or refused cannot be disclosed. Canon law states that any priest who does break the seal may be excommunicated.[47]

Seven sacraments

According to Catholic theology there are seven sacraments (or rites) of the Catholic Church. The seven sacraments are baptism, confirmation, Eucharist, reconciliation (confession), anointing of the sick, Holy Orders and matrimony.[48]

Sex Offenders Register

The Sex Offenders Register holds the details of people who have been convicted, cautioned or released from prison for sexual offence against children or adults. Introduced September 1997 after being established by the Sex Offenders Act 1997 (amended by the Sexual Offences Act 2003).[49] The register is monitored by the police.


Inspections of the EBC monasteries conducted by the abbot president (and his assistants) which take place approximately every four years, whose purpose is to pick up on failures to follow the Rule of St Benedict, the constitutions of the congregation or the law of the Church. These visitations are also an opportunity for the abbot president to give the monasteries a general inspection to see how they are being governed and are working, including to give support and encouragement.[50]


Temporary vows: after the period of the novitiate, if the individual wishes to commit to the monastic way of life, he must apply to the institution he wishes to join. If accepted, the individual makes a temporary commitment (usually three years). During those years the individual takes further study to expand his understanding of the monastic life and the Catholic faith.

Solemn vows: after the three years of temporary vows the individual in question can make his solemn vows to become a member of the community as a monk and then gains the right to discuss and vote on issues in the community.[51]


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