Friday, 27 November 2009

Open Letter concerning Child Protection at St Benedict's School (Part 1)

I had hoped to get Abbot Martin Shiperlee's co-operation in improving child protection at St. Benedict's, but it seems that he is putting up the shutters and refusing to speak to me. So instead I'm going to have to make my point in public. To that effect, here is an open letter to the Abbot. I am publishing it here in two parts, since the two parts deal with two separate topics. This will make it easier for any subsequent comments to be kept in separate threads each concerned with a different subject.

Dear Abbot Martin

I am extremely disappointed that you have refused to meet me, and have taken four weeks even to summon up the courtesy to make any response to my requests – two requests by email and two phone calls.

There were two matters that I wished to discuss with you in your role as chairman of governors concerning child protection issues at St Benedict’s School.

The first matter I wished to discuss is the “independent review” you announced in your press statement and in your letter to parents. I have the following questions regarding this review:
  1. Who will conduct it?
  2. On what date will they start? (or have started if the review is already underway)
  3. What are the terms of reference of the review?
  4. Will the school and abbey make all records available on request to the persons conducting the review?
  5. Can victims or their families make direct contact with the people conducting the review in order to give evidence? If so, how should they do this?
  6. When is it expected that the review will be concluded?
  7. To whom will the report be provided?
  8. Will the report be made available to the public?
  9. Will the Abbey and the school act on the recommendations of the review?
You may be aware that a significant number of people have been publicly expressing concern about the lack of any public statement regarding this review since it was announced. When we met in September, I suggested an independent review to you, and it appeared at the time that the idea of one had not until then occurred to you. It seems strange that you have chosen not to engage in further discussions in person with me on this subject since I first suggested it to you, and this can only give rise to suspicions that your intention in announcing the review may be to appear to be doing something to improve child protection while in fact ensuring as little information as possible about past abuses is permitted to come to light.



  1. This investigation should examine all reports of sexual abuse against Fr David Pearce, Father Lawrence Soper and any other member of staff against whom credible allegations have been made at St Benedict's School.

    From reading the Dublin Report it is clear that the Diocese of Dublin decided to take out an insurance policy against claims for sexual abuse in 1986. This Ealing report must examine the question of similar insurance. Did the School take out similar insurance, and if so, when and why?

    I hope we hear something from Abbot Martin soon. Let's remember here he is not acting as the Abbot - he's acting as the Chairman of the Trustees of St Benedict's School. He should be consulting widely about the investigation especially with this Advisory Committee.

  2. St Benedict's Abbey Trust..4 December 2009 at 16:21

    Sorry I would like to correct my comment above. I have just looked at the Charity Commission website. There is no St Benedict's School Trust. There is 242715 - THE TRUST OF ST BENEDICT'S ABBEY EALING and the main income of that Trust is the school fees - in 2008 the net School fees were £9,271,780.

    This Trust of St Benedict's Abbey includes the School, the Parish, the Monastery and the Arts Centre.

    From my reading of the 2008 accounts where the Parish plate donations were just £375,755 and the cost of the ministry of the monks of Ealing Abbey and the upkeep of the Abbey Church was over £1million it looks as if the monks are being heavily subsidized by the School Fees. (Perhaps those with accounting k. might like to comment)

    I think those who talked about separating the School from the Abbey may be unaware how the School is part of this Trust. Of course, all the Trustees are monks of Ealing. I cannot see the Abbot or the other monk-trustees agreeing to separate the school from the Abbey without a struggle.

  3. Of course there will be a struggle. These monks are sitting pretty - regular holidays, frequent trips to restaurants, well stocked alcohol cabinets, personal computers, tv sets, dvd players, in fact everything any well-heeled guy could possibly want. Heavily subsidized-lives for sure!!

  4. More than a subsidy..15 December 2009 at 12:50

    It more than a subsidy for booze I think it's ijn the region of £1million per year.

    The School was established as the means of income for the Abbey - just as some Belgian Abbeys make beer for Ealing it was St Benedict's School. That was fine when the majority of staff were monks.

    Let's recall that was the main selling point for years was that there were lots for Benedictines on the teaching staff to give the School its distinctive character parents were told. (I was never sure how Father Gregory fitted into the image being portrayed of the angelic Benedictine monk-teacher.)

    Now as far as I can see the School simply funds the Abbey and there are so few monks involved in the School I do not see how they can justify siphoning off so much money from the School to keep the Abbey going.

    As i said before someone with greater accounting skills might look at the financial reports on the Charity Commission website.

  5. Unfortunately, I’m not qualified to pass judgement on the accounts of this Trust. But, if one looks at the Commission website (see above) it is clear that suspicions have already been raised vis-à-vis the ‘charitable’ and moral status of Ealing Abbey. In the light of recent events and Martin Shipperlee's failure to mount an independent investigation or to respond to polite questioning, it may be time to re-engage the interest of the Commission? Many of us now have profound worries about
    •the finances of this Trust,
    •the extent of child abuse perpetrated or condoned by its monastic community, and
    •its overall fitness to be involved in the running of a school.

  6. Charity Commission Report16 December 2009 at 14:30

    To the poster just above:

    Thank you for pointing out the Charity Commission Report on St Benedict's publisged on 15th Dec 2009.

    It is an important document and provides some new information. Eg: St Benedict's DID have an Insurance Policy against claims for Child Abuse before the Civil claim in the High Court against Fr David.


    "19. The Charity (ie St Benedict's Trust) confirmed that both Individual A (Father David Pearce) and the Charity were co-defendants in the civil claim. The Charity also confirmed that its legal costs in this claim and the award of damages against Individual A were covered by an insurance policy held by the Charity.*****

    The legal fees for Individual A were paid for from the Charity’s funds. The Charity explained that it had a responsibility to cover these costs for the following reasons:

    (a) Individual A is a beneficiary of the Charity and therefore entitled to support from the Charity;
    (b) it is important to defend Individual A and the priests more generally, as their reputation is tied to that of the Charity. If the Charity’s reputation is tarnished this could lead to future financial loss to the Charity through fewer pupils attending the school;
    (c) it is the nature of the community life that the Charity is a part of, that it cannot turn its back on its members prior to them being found guilty of the allegations made. A failure on the part of the Charity to be supportive in these circumstances could be damaging to the principles of community; and
    (d) there was a realistic prospect that the Charity could be held liable for Individual A’s actions as a former employee of the Charity."

  7. Charity Commission Report16 December 2009 at 14:39

    Charity Commission Report on the St Benedict's Trust published 15th Dec 2009 -

    52. The Commission concluded, in relation to the two issues investigated by the second Inquiry, the following:

    Child Protection

    53. Despite assurances from the trustees, they failed to implement the restrictions placed on Individual A whilst on Charity premises and the Commission is extremely critical of the trustees in this regard. One of the terms of Individual A’s continued role in the Charity was that he was to have no access to children and young people on the Charity’s premises – the trustees failed to ensure this was the case (refer to paragraph 47 above).

    Actions taken to protect the reputation of the Charity

    54. Following the arrest in January 2008 the trustees took positive steps to protect the reputation of the Charity and continue to do so – the trustees have confirmed publicly that an independent review will be carried out to ensure that this situation can not reoccur.

    end of extract ------ from Charity Commission Report

  8. What local MP, ANDY SLAUGHTER, has to say on this matter:

    '..the Charity Commision wrote to me with the findings of their Inquiry into St Benedict's Abbey in Ealing. The Gazette has reported on the scandal of Father David Pearce, a priest at the Abbey and former head of St Benedict's junior school, sentenced to eight years custody in October after almost 40 years of sexual abuse of young boys. In the most damning report I have ever read from the Commission, they concluded: 'the trustees failed to ensure that the restrictions imposed against [Fr Pearce] were properly implemented and we were extremely critical of the trustees in this regard'.
    The restrictions were those placed on Pearce after the High Court had found allegations of sexual abuse proven against him, but which allowed him to continue to abuse children. These appalling events are reminiscent of those recently exposed in the church in Ireland and the United States.
    What is now being called for and must be implemented is proper compensation for all victims and an independent and transparent inquiry into how Pearce was able to continue his criminal behaviour for so long.'

  9. So, come on Abbot Shipperlee you've known and befriended Dom David for many many years. Don't please forget that in replying to the Commission! Try out a little Christian honesty, it may do us all good.

  10. How about Christian Forgiveness, to the post above! For goodness sake don't you see the Abbot is doing all he can, the scool has been safe for years, since David was taken out of it! I am still at the school and all the teachers, monks and lay people are fine honourable teachers, I am also a parishioner and there is nothing but hurt in the parish for the people involved, and parish is on high alert all the catechism safeguarding has been tightened. I knew the recent victim very well he was in the year above me, is he resilient about the monks and the abbey and the school? No.

    Your just opening wounds and pouring salt into them, enquiries are being conducted two independent ones, what good is this blog doing nothing, where was the present abbot when all but the recent claim was made a normal monk, the real culprit and person you should be asking for apology and action is the past abbot, the present abbot is doing all he can.

  11. did not mean resilient but resentful.

  12. To the previous commenter:

    I asked for a meeting with the Abbot to discuss the inquiry, and he refused to meet me. There appears to be no publicly available information concerning these "independent" inquiries. This is the first I have heard about there being two of them. Can you enlighten me at all as to what is going on?

    I think it might also be worth considering a little more the hurt of the victims, and what the parish can be doing for them. I realise perfectly well that the vast majority of parishioners had no involvement in what was going on and even no knowledge of it. But now that you do know, it cannot simply be left to the Abbot to sort things out. Some help is needed.

    For instance, you say that "school has been safe for years". Well, I have to say that really can't be said for certain. I have taken a detailed look at the school's child protection procedures, and they seem to me to bear a great resemblance to a colander in the number of holes they have.

    It seems to me that it is entirely possible that a new abuser could operate at the school, and the school's procedures might not be sufficient to ensure that he is detected and prevented from doing harm.

    But I agree with you that past Abbots have a share in the responsibility and that we deserve to hear from Fr Lawrence Soper. But I have no idea whether whoever conducts the independent review will have an opportunity to interview him.


    Forgiveness is a wonderful thing. Catholicism insists, however, that it can come only after due repentance and reparation on the part of the sinner - the culpable.

    David Pearce had a profound psychological problem that directly involved others, namely adolescent boys. Because the help and supervision he needed were not forthcoming, his involvement with young boys continued over many years. In a very real sense, one can say that David Peace couldn’t help himself. The truly culpable are those who failed to come to his aid, preferring to turn a blind (forgiving) eye.

    Today, Mr West has detailed the inadequacies of the Abbey’s new Child Protection Programme. In thanks, he has been ostracised by the Abbey. Abbot Martin refuses to speak to him or to communicate with him in any way. One of Mr West’s requests, which he’s been putting now for many months, is for information about the nature of ‘the independent enquiry’ promised by Abbot Shipperlee on behalf of the Abbey Trust. The Abbot’s response has been a deafening silence.

    The only conclusion an observer like myself can come to is that, far from ‘doing all he can’, Abbot Shipperlee is doing his best to do absolutely nothing at all. Given that the Abbey is the major culprit in all this, no forgiveness is possible. As good Catholics, we’re still anxiously waiting for some positive sign of ‘repentance’ and marks of ‘genuine reparation’ from the Abbey.

  14. Could not help himself..??3 January 2010 at 15:50

    "In a very real sense, one can say that David Peace couldn’t help himself."

    No I disagree. The Courts held him responsible for his actions. Even Father David himself, by pleading guilty, acknowledged he was responsible.

  15. I have just visited the School website as I wanted to see that the “Abbot’s Letter to Parents” concerning Father David. It seems that I am too late, the letter has already been deleted. Presumably the school considers that the matter is now closed.

  16. GUILT

    To deny the sexual urge is extraordinarily difficult and where the habit of gratification has been established almost impossible! In that sense, surely, everyone would agree that someone like David Pearce 'needed help' which, no matter how desirable, he couldn't find in himself.

    So far as the law is concerned, yes, he was guilty and to say otherwise would have thrown guilt onto his accusers. This being so it is hardly surprising that 'the accused' often, in fact almost invariably, plead guilty. In so doing they hope for a lighter sentence. All that is a matter of law and common sense.

    At the psychological level, however, law is of little help and, whatever the legal verdict, the guilty man may still need our understanding and our help.

    I'm sorry if this spoils a neatly balanced picture of 'guilt versus innocence', but, as the old saying goes, 'life's like that'!


    'enquiries are being conducted two independent ones'.


  18. I very much doubt that the Abbot has commissioned two “Independent Inquires” into the Father David Scandal. The original claim was made by a current St Benedict’s pupil (several comments above). I think he may have confused the Abbot’s enquiry with the two inquiries carried out by the Charity Commission.

  19. Oh dear! So much for private education!

  20. Absolvo te Abbot Martin? - hang on a mo..4 January 2010 at 21:07

    I thought the same as 14:35 when I read the current pupil's comments: the 2 Charity Commission investigations.

    I was slightly perturbed by his defence of Abbot Martin - if Abbot Martin had taken more care in supervising Father David this chap's friend might not have been abused. Furthermore if Abbot Martin had been open with the Parish and School following the civil trial then parents could have warned their children to take care when Father David was around.

    The key question here (for me at least) is what message Abbot Martin sent verbally and otherwise to the Parish and School community after the Civil trial. Did he use the aborted criminal case to cover-up Fr David's misdemeanours?

    No Abbot Laurence is in no way responsible for Abbot Martin's failings.

    I am glad a current pupil has contributed to this blog - I hope others are reading it and keeping themselves up-to-date on developments - that can only make them safer.

    As to the commentator above at 15.51 St B's was always "mixed ability" why do you think they offered extra Geography & English lessons to boys in the 5th Form, followed by the reliable RE/Geography/History A/L option!

  21. You're probably quite right - up to a point. We cannot, however, ignore Abbot Laurence's own failings.

  22. I have just looked at the San Anselmo website the details for Abbot Laurence as as follows:

    Rmus. Laurence Soper OSB, Treasurer

    So he is part of the General Secretariat of the Benedictine Order.

    I grow increasingly sceptical about the claims made against him as he remains in good standing in the Order. No-one appears to have made a formal complaint to the Westminster Safeguarding Officer (or the Abbey) about him.

  23. Father David appeared to be in "good standing" with the Order until fairly recently.

  24. I think that, though apparently in "good standing" with the Order, you are quite wrong about Fr Laurence Soper. Enquire why he now finds himself as "part of the General Secretariat of the Benedictine Order." Promotion, like so many things, isn't always quite what it seems!

  25. Re Lawrence Soper, I would simply put it this way.

    I think he has questions to answer concerning his handling of Fr Pearce. He was Abbot at the time Pearce was removed as head of the junior school, and we know from evidence given at the Civil trial that the move was associated with complaints about Pearce's paedophile activities.

    So at the every least I would want to know why Soper appears to have committed the "crime of inaction" in his dealings with Pearce, and I would want to know whether in his time as Abbot he dealt with any other complaints of abuse, either by Pearce or by anybody else.

    I never met Soper, so I'm in no position to say anything more on the subject.

  26. Unfortunately, were someone like Mr Andy Slaughter to investigate the 'promotion of Abbot Soper' we might find there was more to it than the "crime of inaction". But, anyone can, of course, try asking the present abbot about it, for themselves. It would, to say the least, be interesting to see how he responded.

  27. Feel free to ask Abbot Martin but do not expect any response. I have been waiting a month for a reply to my email. I suspect that his lawyers have told him to say nothing.


    A very good friend, who knows the abbey well, told me some weeks back that 'Abbot Laurence's problems' stemmed from his work with young offenders. She said there may have been other issues, relating more directly to the abbey and school, but could not be sure.

    What a pity the abbey hasn't understood that 'honesty is the best policy'! Dragging the truth from it, piecemeal, is like extracting rotten teeth and a terribly sad, unpleasant spectacle to boot.

    The abbey, church and school should be the heart of our community - honest, upright, trustworthy, giving - a centre of nobility and exemplary goodness.

    What must St Benedict think of these errant, self-serving sons and their devious ways?

    - L B


    St Benedict would have had little time, it is true, for self-serving, venal or devious monks. However, he was the product of Roman civilization. So, erotic relations between men or men and boys would not have seemed in the least bit strange to him. In Roman law, for instance, a slave boy could not refuse the advances of his master. As one historian puts it: 'By custom and by Roman law, a master might simply command any slave's sexual compliance.' It was against this background, of course, that monastic Rules, such as that of St Benedict, made certain - necessary - provisions.

  30. LB (above) you make some good points. I remember sitting the school entrance exam in 1975, on the English paper we had a choice of three essay titles. In view of your comments it is ironic that my choice was "Honesty is the Best Policy".

  31. Ironic, maybe; but isn't it also the ago-old story of DO WHAT WE PREACH/TEACH NOT WHAT WE DO? A story that's kept clerics in business for centuries!

  32. However old that story may be, we must ensure, as a society, that we do our best not merely to envisage ideals and mouth our approval, but to see that practice lives up to theory! Unless we do this we rapidly sink into the sterility of cynicism!