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IICSA Independent Inquiry into Child Sexual Abuse

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

H.2: Conclusions in relation to the English Benedictine Congregation, the abbeys and the schools

20. Despite some differences, there are common themes in the institutional responses by Ampleforth Abbey, Downside Abbey and Ealing Abbey, and the EBC as a whole to child sexual abuse.

21. The nature of these communities as largely autonomous bodies under the authority of an abbot means the leadership of the particular abbot is especially important. If the abbot is ineffective, that is a significant impediment to effective action. If the abbot is himself a perpetrator of abuse, as Laurence Soper was at Ealing, the impediments are overwhelming and therefore the need for effective external oversight is even more crucial.

22. The difficulties that complainants face in bringing allegations of child sexual abuse have historically been acute in respect of abuse perpetrated by monks. When parents were told, some were afraid to damage their own relationships with the institutions or to damage the reputation of the Church, so did not intervene. Some did but found themselves under pressure from the institution to drop their complaint.

23. Often teachers and other monks would be disinclined to believe that a monk could perpetrate such abuse. They were reluctant to support complaints for fear it would undermine the institutions and the Church. That made it harder for complaints to be made, and easier for the abuse to continue.

24. There are particular aspects to managing risk where the alleged perpetrator of abuse is a monk. For example, the monastery is the monk’s home, and he usually has no private income and few personal possessions. When considering how to manage the risk a monk posed, the institutions all prioritised the monk rather than the need to protect children at risk.

25. The culture in these institutions was generally closed, defensive and resistant to external involvement. Typically, allegations of child sexual abuse were not raised externally. This was on occasion due to denial of the problem, on others due to an instinct to cover it up. Perpetrators were often moved on – whether a monk or a lay teacher – without any steps to prevent a risk of abuse recurring elsewhere.

26. The closed culture within these institutions was compounded by a lack of safeguarding expertise. As a result, it would be left to monks with no relevant experience to assess the risk posed by another monk or to consider how restrictions would be implemented and monitored.

27. When abbots and others sought advice outside the institution, often from a diocesan safeguarding representative, the advice they received was not always appropriate.

28. There were some efforts made to strengthen safeguarding procedures after the Nolan report in 2001 and again after the Cumberlege report in 2007, but even then (as we identified in our report on Ampleforth and Downside) not all recommendations were followed.

29. The EBC, the abbeys and the schools associated with them were often slow to take action on safeguarding matters, frequently believing they knew better than those with specialist knowledge about child protection. There were repeated failures in making, and then keeping, appropriate records of safeguarding issues. Deficiencies in record-keeping were symptomatic of the generally casual approach of these institutions to issues of child protection, which in turn reflects an underlying failure to take such issues sufficiently seriously.

30. The EBC has not satisfied the Inquiry that in the past it had the institutional capability to ensure proper safeguarding of children, including those attending its schools. For example, during his tenure, Abbot President Yeo showed too little commitment to addressing safeguarding in the EBC with sufficient urgency. While visitations were undertaken, they had little if any practical effect on safeguarding and the protection of children from sexual abuse. The recent extension of the role of the Abbot President of the EBC to have a supervisory role independent of visitations should provide some counterbalance to the authority of the abbot. Much now will depend on the leadership of the Abbot President.

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