Skip to main content

0800 917 1000   Open weekdays 9am-5pm

IICSA Independent Inquiry into Child Sexual Abuse

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

The background to the investigation

1. For decades there have been concerns about the sexual abuse of children within the Roman Catholic Church and associated institutions, both nationally and internationally. There have been a number of criminal investigations and prosecutions in England and Wales of Roman Catholic priests, monks and others associated with Roman Catholic institutions who have been entrusted with the care of children but have taken advantage of their positions to sexually abuse these children. In England in December 2017, Andrew Soper (formerly known as Father Laurence Soper) was found guilty of 19 charges of rape and other sexual offences committed during the 1970s and 1980s, when he was master at St Benedict’s School, Ealing Abbey. In May of this year, in an apology for abuses in Chile, Pope Francis wrote of ‘the culture of abuse and cover-up’ within the Catholic Church, saying that ‘one of our principal faults and omissions [ … is] to not know how to listen to victims’. He said that the Church must say ‘never again’ to a culture that has not only allowed sexual abuses to occur, but also ‘considered a critical and questioning attitude as betrayal … . The culture of abuse and cover-up is incompatible with the logic of the Gospel …’ .[1]

2. During the past 30 years there have been many legislative developments and guidance documents issued by statutory bodies, as well as a number of reviews, responses and recommendations. Despite these, allegations of child sexual abuse have continued, and there are continuing concerns in respect of the protection and safeguarding of children in institutions governed by the Roman Catholic Church.

3. The Catholic Church has commissioned significant reviews to consider the way in which allegations of sexual abuse have been handled and how improvements can be made. For example:

  1. 1994 – The Budd Report[2] ‘Child abuse: pastoral and procedural guidelines: a report from a working party to the Catholic Bishops’ Conference of England and Wales on cases of sexual abuse of children involving priests, religious and other church workers’, produced by Bishop Christopher Budd of Plymouth. In his introduction Bishop Budd said:
    I wish to apologise sincerely to the survivors of abuse and their families and communities, particularly when there has been abuse by people exercising responsibility in the Church. They have been hurt, not just by the abusers but also by mistaken attitudes within the Church community at all levels. I acknowledge that far too often there has been insensitivity and inadequate response to their hurt.
    In commending this document to the dioceses, I wish to repeat once again the Church’s commitment to dealing with this evil wherever it occurs.[3]
  2. 2001 – The Nolan Report ‘A Programme for Action – Final Report of the Independent Review on Child Protection in the Catholic Church in England and Wales’, commissioned by Cardinal Cormac Murphy-O’Connor, then Archbishop of Westminster, and produced by the Rt Hon the Lord Nolan and his committee. In the concluding comments Lord Nolan said:
    [T]he Church has a tremendous opportunity to move forward and this report is designed to help it do that by setting out the principles and actions that we believe reflect current best practice, and by implementing which the Church will achieve that end. We believe that the Church can become an example of best practice in the prevention of child abuse, and that it has the will to do so … our hope is that this report will help to bring about a culture of vigilance where every single adult member of the Church consciously and actively takes responsibility for creating a safe environment for children. Our recommendations are not a substitute for this but we hope they will be an impetus towards such an achievement.[4]
  3. 2007 – The Cumberlege Commission Review ‘Safeguarding with Confidence’ was commissioned by Cardinal Cormac Murphy-O’Connor to meet Lord Nolan’s final recommendation, which was that his report should be reviewed in five years’ time. The commission was chaired by Baroness Julia Cumberlege. In the foreword she wrote: ‘[there is] a determination to ensure that the future will be different, that a vigilant parish or religious community will prevent abuse and if it should take place it is detected and dealt with speedily and with care.’[5]

4. There have also been some independent reviews focused on specific institutions, such as that of Lord Carlile of Berriew, CBE, QC, who in 2011 was commissioned to produce a report into matters relating to Ealing Abbey and St Benedict’s School, Ealing.

5. Yet despite these reviews, the commitment to change that they spoke of and the recommendations made, allegations of child sexual abuse within educational establishments associated with the Roman Catholic Church have continued, as have complaints about how those institutions have handled them. Our Inquiry has therefore considered how committed the Roman Catholic Church in England and Wales has been to the implementation of recommendations, and whether the protection of children has come second to the protection of accused clergy, their institutions and the wider Catholic Church.

6. We have identified two case studies within the Roman Catholic Church investigation: the English Benedictine Congregation (EBC) and the Archdiocese of Birmingham. This report focuses on the EBC case study and two of its institutions, Ampleforth and Downside abbeys and their associated schools, where there have been numerous accounts of child sexual abuse. This report will examine the schools in the particular context of educational institutions run by a religious organisation.

7. There will be a further hearing in respect of Ealing Abbey and St Benedict’s School in February 2019, during which we will also consider some wider issues. Once our investigation of these three EBC-related institutions is concluded, taken together they will provide insight into the nature of the institutional failures, the challenges faced by the EBC and the efforts made to comply with the recommendations of previous reviews, in particular the Nolan Report in 2001. This in turn will inform the investigation into the wider Roman Catholic Church.

8. The content of this report will not preclude us from making further observations or criticisms in respect of Ampleforth and Downside or the EBC when we consider Ealing Abbey and School. We expect that there will be some additional relevant evidence received in that case study. We may also hear further evidence about the roles of the Office for Standards in Education, Children’s Services and Skills (Ofsted), the Independent Schools Inspectorate (ISI) and the Department for Education (DfE). This report must be read in the context of the broader Inquiry. There are a number of areas of potential overlap with other investigations such as the Anglican Church, residential schools, and accountability and reparations. Therefore, some topics and themes may be revisited in those case studies and reports.

Ampleforth and Downside: the reasons for their selection

9. Ampleforth Abbey is located in North Yorkshire, in the diocese of Middlesbrough.[6] Downside Abbey is in Somerset, in the diocese of Clifton.[7] Each abbey has an affiliated boarding school and is still operating.[8] At the time of their selection, and during our public hearings, each abbey was without an abbot in residence.

10. The background, structure, governance and safeguarding measures of these two institutions and their schools are notably different. These differences have allowed us to consider and contrast their approaches and have also informed us of the manner in which the wider EBC engage with and oversee their individual institutions.

11. While a significant part of the investigation has necessarily been backward-looking, allegations have been made both before and after the Nolan Report (2001) and the Cumberlege Review (2007). This provides insight into the institutions’ approaches towards safeguarding and responses over time.

12. The accounts that we have heard have encompassed a wide spectrum of behaviour, including excessive physical chastisement, sometimes for sexual gratification and sometimes as a precursor to further sexual abuse, grooming, fondling of genitalia, oral, anal and vaginal penetration, buggery and rape. We cannot deal with every allegation in this report, and the true scale of sexual abuse of children in the schools over more than 40 years is unknown. However, 10 individuals have been convicted or cautioned for offences involving sexual acts against children, including some involving highly publicised criminal proceedings. These include, at Ampleforth, Fr Bernard Green (1995), Fr Gregory Carroll (2005), Fr Piers Grant-Ferris (2006), David Lowe (2015) and Dara De Cogan (2016); at Downside, Fr Nicholas White (2012) and Dunstan O’Keeffe (2003 and 2004).

Issues considered

13. In this investigation, the Inquiry has sought to address issues derived from the Terms of Reference set by the Home Secretary[9] and the definition of scope for the EBC investigation.[10] Having considered the evidence received, we identified a number of questions which form the core focus of our considerations. These include:

  1. To what extent children at Ampleforth School and Downside School were sexually exploited by monks or others associated with these two institutions.
  2. Whether children were sexually abused by individuals against whom allegations had previously been made and not properly acted upon.
  3. Whether efforts made to implement the Nolan Report (and to a lesser extent to pay regard to the Cumberlege Review) were adequate, or merely box-ticking exercises, absent of any real desire to implement change, and leading to a culture of complacency.
  4. Whether adequate safeguarding structures were properly put in place.
  5. Whether there was a culture of ‘victim blaming’ or a suggestion that because a child had not made a formal complaint it was less serious than claimed.
  6. Whether the first instinct was to protect the perpetrator rather than to safeguard the child, or to consider the perpetrator’s wellbeing over that of the vulnerable child.
  7. Whether decisions were taken with a view to the protection of the reputation of the Church over and above the safety of children.
  8. Whether any events were deliberately hidden or covered up.
  9. Whether the general attitude was one of minimisation of allegations.
  10. Whether there was and is still an entrenched belief that the clergy are superior to the laity and that their methods of safeguarding are better than those that have been recommended to them.
  11. Whether rehabilitation within the religious community is ever a suitable option and if it is, under what conditions.

Guide to this report

14. We have set out below a brief explanation of the EBC, its structure and how it fits within the wider Roman Catholic Church. We then outline in summary the relevant legislation, reports and guidance.

15. We describe what we heard of the sexual abuse of children who attended the schools associated with Ampleforth and Downside. The way in which such allegations came to light and the timing of the relevant disclosures does not follow the same pattern for both institutions. The structure of the sections is therefore slightly different. The evidence summarised includes allegedly ‘consensual’ sexual activity, and in some cases ‘relationships’ that developed between a vulnerable child and an adult in a position of authority. It is axiomatic that although the changes in awareness and approach over the years may impact on what might be expected of institutions in terms of preventive or protective measures, they do not exempt those entrusted with the care of children from failures to protect children and young people from sexual abuse and harm.

16. The process adopted by the Inquiry is set out in Annex 1 to this report. Core participant status was granted under Rule 5 of the Inquiry Rules 2006 to 63 victims and survivors, three groups of victims and survivors, three other individuals and 11 institutions. The Inquiry held preliminary hearings in July 2016 and June and October 2017. The Inquiry held substantive public hearings in this investigation over 14 sitting days between 27 November 2017 and 15 December 2017.

17. The Inquiry took evidence from a number of sources. Witnesses who gave evidence to the Inquiry included complainant core participants, who gave accounts of the sexual abuse they suffered. The Inquiry also took evidence from corporate witnesses on behalf of the EBC, Ampleforth and Downside, the Catholic Church’s safeguarding bodies (Catholic Office for the Protection of Children and Vulnerable Adults (COPCA), Catholic Safeguarding Advisory Service (CSAS) and National Catholic Safeguarding Commission (NCAS)), the North Yorkshire Police and the Metropolitan Police Service, the Crown Prosecution Service, and safeguarding coordinators from the relevant dioceses. The Inquiry heard a brief opening statement from counsel to the Inquiry on 27 November 2017 and closing statements from all core participants on 15 December 2017.

Modes of address

18. It used to be customary for monks to adopt new names upon taking their vows. Here where we refer to a monk by name we use their religious name. If they have been convicted of a relevant offence, we also identify their birth name.

19. When discussing a monk, we refer to him as Father (Fr). When naming someone who was abbot at the time we are considering, we call them Abbot. Once they cease to hold that position, we refer to them as Dom.


20. Some of the accused whom we consider within this report have not been convicted of any offence and some are deceased. The allegations against them are nonetheless relevant because there may be institutional failings in responding to them. In such cases we have applied ciphers such as ‘RC-F18’ to the names of those accused and sought to prevent their identification through other means, such as not revealing the dates and the subject that they may have taught. In some instances, however, the position they held in the school or abbey is relevant to an issue, for example why a child may not have sought to complain at the time the abuse was taking place. In these instances, we have ciphered the name as described, but included other necessary information.

21. The names of complainants, victims and survivors are also ciphered, unless they have specifically waived their right to anonymity. The term ‘complainant’ is used to indicate someone who has made an allegation of abuse that has not yet been proved. Again, we have removed details that might lead to identification through other means, such as specific personal characteristics and the house in the school they attended.


22. References in the footnotes of the report such as ‘AAT000966’ are to documents that have been adduced in evidence or posted on the Inquiry website. A reference such as ‘Dom Richard Yeo 28 November 2017 110/9’ is to the witness, the date he or she gave evidence and the page(s) and line(s) reference within the relevant transcript. Hearing transcripts are also available on the Inquiry website.

Back to top