Father David Pearce of Ealing Abbey, retired headmaster of the junior school at St. Benedict's School, has pleaded guilty to 10 cases of indecent assault and one of sexual assault against boys at the school, on dates ranging from 1972 to January of this year.
My son went to that school.
He's OK. I've checked with him. He was only in the junior school and nothing happened to him. From what I can gather, the reported assaults were against boys in the senior school. He had heard rumours of goings-on, mostly since he had left the school.
Ever since the sex abuse scandals first hit the Catholic Church, I have wondered how widespread it was, and whether anywhere local would be affected. The abuse elsewhere seemed so widespread and systematic, and there seemed to be nothing particularly exceptional about any of the places where it happened, and before it was made public it seemed that little was done by the church to prevent or deal with it.
I have to say that while I am extremely shocked that this has happened so close to me, I cannot say that I am in the least bit surprised.
I am very saddened but even less surprised that there is no mention of Father Pearce on the St Benedict's school web site - no apology, no contact number for concerned parents of present or past pupils, no offers of pastoral care to other possible victims who haven't yet come forward. It is as if Pearce - former headmaster of the junior school - never existed.
Nor is there any mention of him on the Ealing Abbey website, beyond his continued listing as one of the monks "resident elsewhere".
Nor is there any kind of apology or mention of the matter on the website of the Westminster diocese.
This seems to be a pathetically inadequate public response.
It isn't even as if the authorities were unaware of the existence of problems. Back in April 2006, a former pupil won damages against Father Pearce and Ealing Abbey in the High Court.
And yet, according to the BBC report of his arrest, the criminal investigation was into incidents between 2006 and 2007, and according to the Ealing Gazette report the abuse did not finally end until last January when Pearce was arrested.
So, it appears Pearce had contact with children and the opportunity to continue abusing them even after civil damages were awarded against Ealing Abbey for his abuse of children, at least until his arrest.
I don't suppose many of the parishioners at Ealing Abbey are likely to read this blog, but for any who do, I have this plea to make to you.
I know that most of you had no idea this was going on. I know that most of you are in no way responsible for the actions of a few evil individuals. But now that it is known, all the parishioners have a responsibility and a duty to do all you can to ensure that this can never happen again at the Abbey or at any of its schools, and to ensure that everything possible is done to help the victims.
You can demand that the Abbey's records on all matters of complaints or allegations of sexual abuse connected to the Abbey are independently reviewed, to see whether appropriate actions were taken in respect of any and all complaints. Such a review should go back least 40 years. Now, it would clearly be inappropriate for all the Abbey's records to be made public - there are issues of confidentiality with respect to the names of possible victims. But it is perfectly reasonable for all records to be turned over to some independent expert tasked with investigating the matter on behalf of the parishioners.
- An independent external investigation is necessary, because it appears that the Abbey has proved unable or unwilling by itself to guard against this kind of abuse. The report should be as comprehensive as possible subject to maintaining confidentiality with regard to the identities of victims
- The expert should preferably be a non-Catholic, so that there is no reason for people to believe in any complicity by the church to cover up or minimise the extent of any problems.
- The report should state whether there was any lack of co-operation on the part of anybody who in the past or present has acted in an official capacity at the Abbey or any of the schools, and it should name those who failed to co-operate fully and describe the nature of the lack of co-operation.
- The report should should be made public.
You can demand that provisions are made for counselling and pastoral care to be provided to other victims. If the abuse stretches back to 1972, then it is certain that there are more victims (possibly very many more) than have been mentioned in the criminal and civil cases. Those victims deserve your help and support, whether or not they have yet come forward. The support should probably be provided by people with no official connection to the Abbey, and should include provision for professional counselling of anybody in need of it.
You can demand that a full and unreserved public apology be issued in the name of the Abbey to all victims of Father Pearce. It is incredibly sad that such a public apology has not already been provided unprompted. ut better late than never.
You can demand that the parish and the schools review their child protection policies and ensure that they meet all current legal requirements and conform to all the relevant "best practice" guidelines issued by the relevant expert bodies. You can demand that the policies are independently audited on a regular basis to ensure that that they are kept up-to-date and are consistently adhered to.
You can choose to withhold your planned giving to the Abbey unless and until these actions have been carried out to your satisfaction. You can decide for the time being to divert your charitable giving to secular charities, or you can put your money into a separate bank account to be given to the Abbey only if and when it has demonstrated that it is a fit recipient for your charitable donations, or you can divert your giving to help pay for the cost of the investigation or to the expenses involved in providing the victim support.
The church is not the victim here. The damage to the church has not happened because these matters were made public, the damage has occurred because the events happened in the first place, and has been made far worse because it took so long for it to become public and to be stopped.
Please do not enter into a siege mentality of believing that everybody in the secular world is ganging up against the Catholic Church. That will do a disservice to those who have really suffered in all this. The children at the school, both past and present, are the victims. The victims probably include people you know, and the children of families who are friends of yours. The past abuse cannot be undone. But it is within your power to see to it that something is done to minimise the damage to those who were abused, and to minimise the risk to future children.
Please do what you can for the victims, and to make sure there are no more victims in future.