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IICSA Independent Inquiry into Child Sexual Abuse

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

Part D: Conclusions

1. The true scale of sexual abuse of children in the schools that occurred over 40 years is likely to be considerably greater than numbers cited in the convictions. There were 10 men at Ampleforth and Downside, mostly monks, who were convicted of, or cautioned for, offences involving sexual activity towards children or pornography.

2. Many perpetrators did not hide their sexual interests from the boys. At Ampleforth, this included communal activities, outdoors and indoors, involving fondling of children, mutual masturbation and group masturbation. The blatant openness of this behaviour demonstrates there was a culture of acceptance of abusive behaviour.

3. In the matter of child protection, monks in both institutions were very often secretive, evasive and suspicious of anyone outside the English Benedictine Congregation. For decades, they tried to avoid giving information, other than what was specifically requested, to the statutory authorities, that might have assisted the investigation of the abuse of children in their care.

4. Even after the Nolan Report, when monks were obliged to work with the statutory authorities and gave the appearance of cooperation and trust, their approach could be summarised as a ‘tell them nothing’ attitude.

5. On the few occasions where parents raised complaints about sexual abuse, or were informed about it by either institution, some preferred not to have the matters treated as a crime requiring police investigation, but to keep it quiet at all costs. Their interest was to protect the school, the Benedictine Congregation and the Catholic Church. In some instances, parents also wished to protect their children from the process of police investigation.

6. Both Ampleforth and Downside prioritised the monks and their own reputations over the protection of children, manoeuvring monks away from the schools in order to avoid scandal. The known risk of child sexual abuse was thus transferred to other locations. Those who received them would sometimes not be adequately informed of the risk, with the result that constraints on access to children were not fully enforced.

7. Downside, in particular, tried to pave the way for the return of abusive monks, such as Nicholas White, when the boys who might have known the monk in question had left.

8. Nicholas White, who was sentenced in 2012, should not have been permitted to stay at Downside School after the disclosure of abuse of one of the pupils. Nor should he have been allowed to become the victim’s housemaster. In permitting this, the abbot and headmaster John Roberts showed complete disregard for the safety of the children in their care, and of the well-being of the victims. This led not only to the continued abuse of the victim but also of another boy. If they had behaved differently, the abbot and the headmaster could have prevented this abuse.

9. Monks against whom an allegation had been made were on a number of occasions removed from the school but allowed to remain at the abbey, sometimes with no restrictions, sometimes under a Covenant of Care. The restriction of monks to the abbey, as a precautionary measure, had some merit but was no substitute for notifying the police of allegations or suspected abuse.

10. The oversight of monks who were known or suspected abusers was rarely as vigilant as it should have been. There was a lack of effective communication within the institutions. There was also a tendency to focus on semantic arguments. Although there may have been an intention to reduce the risk to children, the safeguarding responses were almost always managed in favour of the alleged abuser.

11. Porous boundaries between the abbey and school at Downside, and within the extensive grounds, made it easy for monks who were known or suspected abusers to breach the conditions of their restriction to the abbey. There was a laxity in the attitudes of abbots to the rigorous enforcement of such ‘confinements’.

12. The Nolan Report, in 2001, was a turning point in Catholic Church safeguarding policy and practice, but we heard no evidence that demonstrated Downside and Ampleforth did any more than pay lip service to it. There was hostility to the Nolan Report in both institutions for some years after its adoption. They seemed to take a view that its impłementation was neither obligatory nor desirable. This view appeared to go unchallenged by the wider Catholic Church.

13. Recently, possibly in 2012 when he was headmaster, Dom Leo Maidlow Davies spent some time removing files from the basement of a Downside building. He made several trips with a wheelbarrow loaded with files to the edge of the estate and made a bonfire of them. The fact that we do not precisely know what was burned and what the motivation was is in itself of concern. The files could have contained important information about the behaviour of individual monks and the lives of the children at the school.

14. It is notable that in both Ampleforth and Downside the focus of safeguarding arrangements was to protect children from the very people – the monks and staff – charged with their care in the institution concerned.

15. A strict separation between the governance of these two abbeys and schools will be required if safeguarding arrangements are to be free from the often-conflicting priorities of the abbeys. This took too long to achieve at Ampleforth. More than eight years following the Downside governing body considering the issue, Downside is still working towards the school becoming both legally and financially separate and independent of the monastery.

16. On occasions abbots used semantic justifications for inadequate action. Timothy Wright at Ampleforth referred to admissions of abuse rather than disclosures of abuse, as if the distinction allowed them to avoid taking the action which Nolan prescribed on ‘disclosures’. Downside suggested that a monk who regularly accessed pornography at night on a school computer using somebody else’s debit card had only looked at sites involving young adult males, ignoring the safeguarding risks in such activity.

17. In both institutions, abbots designated people from within the order to carry out a form of ‘risk-assessment’ of known or alleged abusers, despite them having no expertise or relevant experience to do so. The results of these ‘assessments’ were often biased, tending to tolerate abusers and indulge behaviours as ‘one-off’ slips with no foundations for reaching such conclusions.

18. The actions of the statutory authorities have limited scrutiny in this investigation. In many instances they were not informed of safeguarding issues when they should have been.

19. Nevertheless, the North Yorkshire Police conducted a number of criminal investigations. On occasions their approach was patchy. In the face of opposition, they properly pursued investigations against Fr Bernard Green, but they failed to investigate David Lowe. The task of criminal investigation is made more difficult if the circumstances of offending are notified by the relevant institution some years after the event.

20. The role of inspectors and regulators in scrutinising child protection and safeguarding in these two schools, as well as in Ealing Abbey and School, will be included in the second part of the English Benedictine Congregation case study which will be published after completion of that hearing next year.

21. While some steps have been taken, neither Ampleforth nor Downside has formally established a comprehensive redress scheme, financial or otherwise, and other than in the context of this Inquiry, no public apology has been made.

22. This case study has given rise to a number of issues which have wider implications than for the English Benedictine Congregation. These include issues of self-governance relating to safeguarding, ‘failure to report’ and ‘position of trust’ offences, and the extension of statutory procedures governing state schools to independent schools. We shall address these in future Inquiry reports.

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