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IICSA published its final Report in October 2022. This website was last updated in January 2023.

IICSA Independent Inquiry into Child Sexual Abuse

The Roman Catholic Church Investigation Report


Pen portraits from the case studies

As part of the investigation into the Roman Catholic Church in England and Wales, the Inquiry undertook case studies into the institutional responses of the Archdiocese of Birmingham and the English Benedictine Congregation (EBC). The pen portraits below summarise some of the evidence we heard.

Archdiocese of Birmingham

The Archdiocese of Birmingham has a Catholic population of approximately 450,000 people and is one of the largest archdioceses within the Roman Catholic Church in England and Wales.

Since the mid-1930s, there have been over 130 allegations of child sexual abuse made against 78 individuals associated with the Archdiocese, including many priests and deacons. Thirteen individuals have been convicted of some of the most serious sexual offences against children. Three other individuals received cautions. Those 16 criminal cases involved no fewer than 53 victims. However, the true scale of offending and the number of children who were abused are likely to be far greater.[1]

Samuel Penney was born in Ireland in 1939 and became a priest in the Archdiocese of Birmingham in March 1967. In March 1993, he pleaded guilty to 10 offences of indecent assault against seven boys and girls when he was the local parish priest. Penney was sentenced to seven and a half years’ imprisonment.[2]

In the mid-1980s, RC-A15 told his mother that Penney (the local parish priest) had sexually abused him. When she confronted Penney, he accused RC-A15 of exaggerating. She also told Monsignor Daniel Leonard, the then Vicar General, who said that Penney would be removed from the parish and not allowed contact with children. Penney was moved to Olton Friary, Solihull. The superior of the friary was told that Penney had made an improper suggestion to a young boy. This was not an accurate report of RC-A15’s allegations.

When Penney left Olton Friary, he was appointed as parish priest at St Joseph’s in Nechells in Birmingham.

In May 1990, Eamonn Flanagan told his parents that he had been sexually abused by Penney during the 1970s when he was in his early teens. They informed their parish priest, who raised the matter with Bishop Philip Pargeter and also with Monsignor Leonard. In July 1991, Mr Flanagan also personally told Bishop Pargeter about the abuse. At the time, Mr Flanagan did not want to report the matter to the police or for Penney to be removed from the priesthood but he did want Penney to be prevented from having contact with children and to no longer work in a parish. Bishop Pargeter subsequently wrote to Mr Flanagan stating that the matter had been resolved and that “All the conditions you asked for will have been met”.[3]

In autumn 1991, Penney was sent to Heronbrook House, a therapeutic centre for clergy and members of religious congregations. Penney was free to leave when he wanted and, in direct contravention of the Archdiocese’s wishes, he returned to the Nechells area of Birmingham where he had been a parish priest. He stayed as a guest in RC-A357 parents’ home and, while there, he sexually abused RC-A357.

In June 1992, the Archdiocese stopped Penney from working as a priest. He was sent to the Gracewell Institute, a clinic providing treatment for those accused or convicted of child sexual abuse. While Penney was at Gracewell, Monsignor Leonard told another parish priest to go to Gracewell and warn Penney that he was about to be arrested. The priest was told to give Penney several hundred pounds with the message that Penney was to make his way to Ireland and, from there, to the USA. Shortly afterwards, Monsignor Leonard told the priest not to go to Gracewell but told him to visit Penney’s sister and tell her that her brother was about to be arrested. Whatever response Monsignor Leonard envisaged, Penney remained at Gracewell until his court appearance in March 1993.

On each occasion that Penney’s abuse was reported to the Roman Catholic Church, it seems that little, if any, thought was given to victims and the risk Penney posed. The Archdiocese simply sought to move Penney on. Action could have been taken by the Archdiocese of Birmingham in the 1980s and early 1990s which might have prevented Penney from abusing other children.

Ampleforth Abbey and School

Ampleforth Abbey is an English Benedictine monastery. In 1803, it established Ampleforth College as a boys’ boarding school. In 2010, it became fully co-educational, admitting both boarders and day pupils.

We heard accounts of appalling sexual abuse inflicted on pupils at Ampleforth School. Five individuals, mostly monks, connected to Ampleforth have been convicted or cautioned in relation to offences involving sexual activity with a large number of children, or offences concerning pornography.[4]

One abuser was Father Piers Grant-Ferris, who was a monk at Ampleforth Abbey. In 1966, he joined Gilling Castle, the junior school at Ampleforth.[5]

In 1975, RC-A152’s parents complained that Grant-Ferris had inappropriately touched their son (then aged eight or nine years), who was a pupil at Gilling Castle. The school conducted an internal investigation, during the course of which RC-A170 and RC-A177 (also eight or nine years old) said that Grant-Ferris also abused them. The school did not refer any of the complaints to the statutory authorities. A psychiatrist assessed Grant-Ferris as “not a suitable person to continue as a master at Gilling”.[6] Although withdrawn from his post at the school, Grant-Ferris was moved to at least six other parishes and continued to have contact with children.

From the mid-1990s onwards, more pupils from Gilling Castle reported that Grant-Ferris had sexually abused them. For example, RC-A61 reported that he was about eight years old when Grant-Ferris first abused him. RC-A61 recalled that during beatings, often on RC-A61’s bare bottom, Grant-Ferris would masturbate. When, in 1995, RC-A61 reported the abuse to the Diocese of Middlesbrough, one of the priors of Ampleforth contacted RC-A61 and told him that he was the first person to make such an allegation against Grant-Ferris. That assertion was untrue.

The vast majority of allegations of child sexual abuse at Ampleforth only came to light as a result of developments following the Nolan report in 2001 and a police investigation in 2005.

Even after the 2001 Nolan report, Ampleforth and its Abbot, Timothy Wright, resisted the involvement of external agencies. In contravention of the Nolan report and the EBC’s own guidance that disclosures of child sexual abuse must be reported to the statutory authorities, Abbot Wright drew an artificial distinction between ‘admissions’ of abuse by monks (which he considered to be confidential) and ‘disclosures’ of abuse (which were not confidential), such that admissions did not need to be reported.[7]

The statutory authorities also had difficulties with the prevailing approach at Ampleforth. The then general manager of North Yorkshire social services, David Molesworth, said:

we encountered extraordinary resistance … it was something I had not encountered before anywhere else, this resistance to simply doing safeguarding well … Ampleforth was the most complicated professional task I dealt with in 35 years of social work … I found it, in the early days, inward looking, closed and even secretive. I felt they resented external involvement and in particular resented challenge. … I felt there was no child protection leadership.[8]

In 2006, Grant-Ferris was convicted of 20 counts of indecent assault against 15 boys who attended Gilling Castle.

Downside Abbey and School

Downside Abbey in Somerset is the senior Benedictine monastery of the EBC. Downside School is situated within the historic buildings of the monastery and was originally established as a Catholic boarding school for boys, although it became co-educational in 2005.[9]

From the 1960s onwards, there have been a number of accounts of child sexual abuse in relation to Downside, some of which have also involved allegations of physical abuse. Five individuals connected to Downside have been convicted or cautioned for sexual offences against children.[10]

One monk, Father Nicholas White, sexually abused a number of boys over several years, while he was a geography teacher at the school.

RC-A221 started in one of the ‘prep houses’ at the school in 1986 when he was 11 years old. He told us that, whilst in his first year at the school, White would sexually abuse him, which included White touching RC-A221’s penis and masturbating him on a number of occasions. RC-A221 eventually told both his grandmother and father about the abuse and RC-A221’s father reported the abuse to the school. RC-A221 recalled that thereafter White stopped teaching him. However, on his first day at the senior school, RC-A221 was “completely shocked to learn that White was his housemaster, responsible for him and approximately 80 other boys aged 12 to 13. RC-A221 said that White recommenced his abuse and also began to abuse a second boy.

Following RC-A221’s disclosure, White should not have been permitted to continue to teach or act as housemaster at Downside School. In allowing him to do so, Downside showed complete disregard for safeguarding principles and enabled him to abuse not only RC-A221 again, but also another boy. As RC-A221 told us:

had my original declaration to my grandmother and, therefore, to the Downside authorities been taken seriously, that second boy would never have been abused”.[11]

In the 1990s, White lived away from Downside, but he returned in 1999 without a proper assessment of the potential risks he posed. It was not until 2010 that an audit of school records by the Diocese of Clifton and the police uncovered the original complaints against White. He subsequently pleaded guilty to seven child sexual abuse offences and was sentenced to five years’ imprisonment.[12]

Ealing Abbey and St Benedict’s School

Established in 1897, Ealing Abbey is an English Benedictine monastery. St Benedict’s School is situated adjacent to the Abbey. It is the only Benedictine day school in England. It started as a boys’ school but became fully co-educational in 2008.

Child sexual abuse at St Benedict’s School was extensive. Since 2003, two monks (Laurence Soper and David Pearce) and two lay teachers (John Maestri and Stephen Skelton) have been convicted of multiple offences involving the sexual abuse of over 20 children. In 2016, another teacher, the deputy head Peter Allott, was convicted of offences relating to the possession of indecent images of children. The Inquiry received evidence of at least 18 further allegations against these men and eight other monks and teachers.

David Pearce was born in 1941 and attended St Benedict’s as a child. He joined Ealing Abbey in 1969 and was ordained as a priest in 1975. From 1976 to 1992, he taught at the school, later becoming headmaster of the junior school, the bursar and novice master.

In June 1992, RC-A595 (who was 11 years old) alleged that Pearce sexually abused him, including by digitally penetrating RC-A595’s anus.[13] A report was made to the Metropolitan Police but the Crown Prosecution Service declined to prosecute Pearce. Following a formal complaint about the abuse to the trustees of St Benedict’s, insurers paid £24,400 to RC-A595 in an out-of-court settlement. An ex gratia payment (without an admission of liability) of £10,000 was also made to RC-A595’s mother after she asked for a refund of school fees.

It appears that many in the school and Abbey – teachers and monks alike – were aware of Pearce’s behaviour. There was gossip amongst the boys and staff. Complaints, including from parents, failed to trigger any action by the school. Staff were afraid that by speaking up they would lose their jobs. Accountability for inaction primarily rests on those in charge during this period. They were the Abbots of Ealing Abbey (Francis Rossiter and Laurence Soper[14]) and the headmasters of St Benedict’s (Father George Brown, Father Anthony Gee and Dr Anthony Dachs).

In August 2009, Pearce pleaded guilty to sexually abusing five pupils between 1972 and 2007. The sexual abuse included Pearce exposing himself, filming the boys in the showers and sexually assaulting them over and under clothing. In October 2009, he was sentenced to eight years’ imprisonment.[15]

Pearce’s abuse had a devastating impact on his victims. As one of his victims (RC-A596) said:

He destroyed the foundations of mental, emotional and psychological wellbeing and stability … His despicable conduct robbed me of the ability to trust other[s], destroying my capacity to form loving and lasting relationships … The self-loathing and self-hatred his crimes engendered in me saw me go through a lifetime of self harm, beginning at the age of 15 … I was repeatedly confined to psychiatric institutions over the next 25 years. I found myself unemployable and homeless, incapable of pulling out of the negative spiral that is substance abuse and dependence, a direct result of Pearce’s crimes … He still appears in my nightmares … his crimes are woven into the very fabric of my existence.[16]


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