Skip to main content

0800 917 1000   Open weekdays 9am-5pm

IICSA Independent Inquiry into Child Sexual Abuse

The Roman Catholic Church (EBC) Case Study: Ealing Abbey and St Benedict’s School Investigation Report

E.3: English Benedictine Congregation

Ealing Abbey

13. A motu proprio (ie a personal edict from the Pope to the Roman Catholic Church) was issued by the Pope in April 2001 making the sexual abuse of children a serious delict (or crime in canon law), and requiring superiors to report clerics against whom there was ‘probable knowledge’ of child sexual abuse to the Congregation for the Doctrine of Faith (CDF).[1]

14. The Abbot President from 1985 to 2001 was Francis Rossiter. As he was also Abbot of Ealing, his powers and duties as Abbot President were exercised in respect of Ealing by the first assistant of the EBC. From 1985 to 1997, the first assistant was Abbot Patrick Barry of Ampleforth and from 1997 to 2001, Abbot Stephen Ortiger of Worth.[2] At some point Abbot Ortiger learned of allegations of child abuse against Pearce, and he passed on this information to Dom Richard Yeo when Yeo became Abbot President in 2001.[3] However, Abbot President Yeo did nothing about Pearce at this point.[4]

15. Abbot President Yeo undertook visitations of Ealing Abbey on five occasions, in 2003, 2007, 2010, 2013 and 2016. He was also initially involved, alongside Bishop John Arnold (auxiliary bishop of Westminster), in an Apostolic Visitation which was ordered by the CDF in 2011, following the Carlile report.[5]

16. During his 2003 visitation, monks raised concerns with Abbot President Yeo about Pearce and his going onto the school territory. He spoke to Abbot Shipperlee about it, and said that Pearce should not be going through the school. However, Abbot President Yeo did not record the details of that advice, nor did he address it in his report to the monks as a whole.[6] It does not appear that he was treating the issue with due seriousness. In his evidence to us, Dom Yeo criticised Abbot Shipperlee, saying “that it all seemed to be rather casual”,[7] however his own approach was no less so.

17. The 2007 visitation took place after several further serious allegations had been made against Pearce and the civil court had given judgment against him in 2006. Abbot President Yeo did not read that judgment; although he knew of the trial, he told us “I don’t think I knew then about the judge’s comments”.[8] He did not inquire into the restrictions upon Pearce and gave no consideration to the details of managing the risk that Pearce posed to children.[9] In his report to the monastic community, there was no express recognition of the fact that the judge in the civil proceedings had found that Pearce had abused RC-A6 and others. Rather, in that report he referred to the impact on Pearce himself, and thereby the community:

all of you have been bruised by what has taken place not only [RC-F41] and Father David but also the rest of you, because you are their brothers and when they are hurt, you are hurt.[10]

18. In August 2009, Abbot President Yeo wrote a general report for the Holy See, following the EBC’s General Chapter. By that time, Pearce had been charged with the abuse of RC-A621, a current pupil at St Benedict’s, committed while he was under restrictions. However, Abbot President Yeo’s report said only that:

there is a court case pending which could cause serious damage to Ealing Abbey. It needs to be stressed that the problems arise as a result of abuse that is revealed to have taken place many years ago … [11]

There were two mistakes here. First, Abbot President Yeo’s assumption that the abuse was entirely historic. Second, his representation of it as such without checking the facts. These illustrate a failure to obtain a proper understanding of the problem.

19. In 2010, Abbot President Yeo undertook an Extraordinary Visitation between 30 August and 7 September, in part as a result of Abbot Shipperlee asking for help. As he told us, “I think we both realised that something needed to be done.[12] In his report, Abbot President Yeo stated that he would enact two Acts of Visitation (ie decrees requiring compliance):[13]

I want to state in unequivocal terms, and this will be the subject of an Act of Visitation, that any member of the community who is under such restrictions is bound, in virtue of the vow of obedience, to observe those restrictions in full, and failure to observe them could lead to serious disciplinary action being taken against that person.[14]

it is very important to be absolutely clear: there is never any excuse for the sexual abuse of children, young people and vulnerable adults. No member of the community may say or imply, either inside the community or when speaking to outsiders, that any victim who pressed charges against Father David has done wrong. This is so important that it will be the subject of an Act of Visitation, which means that it binds in virtue of the vow of obedience.[15]

20. Dom Yeo conceded to us that, in retrospect:

I should probably have suggested at the 2007 Visitation that it was too serious a risk to allow … Pearce to continue to live in the monastery.[16]

The EBC’s wider structural response

21. There were some general developments in respect of safeguarding during Dom Yeo’s time as Abbot President. As referred to above, in 2001, post-Nolan, the EBC set up a working group “to propose a common framework of procedures for Child protection in the houses of the Congregation in light of the recommendations of the Nolan report”.[17] At the EBC’s General Chapter of 2013, it was decided that an expert review of safeguarding would be undertaken before any Ordinary Visitation of a monastery took place.[18] The Abbot President was also given a supervisory role, independent of visitations, thereby strengthening his role in overseeing individual monasteries.[19] In July 2017, the General Chapter made further changes, amending the EBC constitutions so that an abbot may now require a monk to live outside his monastery for safeguarding reasons, whether or not the monk has agreed to move.[20]

22. However, the response of the EBC did not proceed quickly enough. Christopher Jamison (who is Abbot of Worth Abbey) was elected Abbot President on 1 August 2017. He told us:

I think individual abbots and the Abbot President have not, in the past, exercised sufficient authority and leadership in these areas …[21]

Abbot President Jamison told us that he has instigated a number of changes since he took up his position as Abbot President. These changes are addressed in Part G.

Back to top