I welcome in particular the following part of today's Statement by the Catholic Bishops of England and Wales
"In our dioceses we will continue to make every effort, working with our safeguarding commissions, to identify any further steps we can take, especially concerning the care of those who have suffered abuse, including anyone yet to come forward with their account of their painful and wounded past. We are committed to continuing the work of safeguarding, and are determined to maintain openness and transparency, in close co-operation with the statutory authorities in our countries."
In pursuit of that specific aim, I request that you institute as soon as possible a wide-ranging enquiry into child sex abuse at Ealing Abbey and St. Benedict's School. There is strong evidence that there has been abuse at the school, involving several monks, priests and lay teachers, extending over decades.
Such reviews as have taken place at Ealing Abbey so far appear to have concentrated solely upon the failure to effectively supervise Father David Pearce once it had been determined that he was a danger to children and had been placed on a restricted ministry. However, as you are aware, Pearce was convicted of sexual and indecent assaults over a 36 year period, and John Maestri, a lay teacher, has been convicted three times of sexual crimes against pupils of St. Benedict's School during his time as teacher there in the 1970s and 1980s. As far as I am aware, no enquiries have yet addressed this longer timescale, why Pearce and others were not detected and stopped sooner, what is the full extent of the abuse that went on there, and who else may have been involved.
My son attended St Benedicts Junior School for two years, when Pearce was Junior School Headteacher. Fortunately for both my son and for me, he was not among Pearce's victims. But as a result I have taken a close interest in the case. Through my blog http://scepticalthoughts.
Several victims have contacted me privately. I am treating their correspondence as confidential so I shall provide no individual details. But they all tell a very similar story of lives blighted, a loss of respect for adult authority, confusion about their sexuality, destructive and even psychotic behaviour, broken families and difficulty in forming adult relationships. I am doing what I can to offer support to them, by assuring them that they were in no way responsible for the abuses committed against them, and encouraging them to seek the help they need to rebuild their shattered lives and to contact the police to report the crimes against them.
The scandal of St. Benedict's School is not limited to those priests and teachers who actually committed sexual assaults on children. It appears that there was an active effort to silence victims and cover up abuse.
The victims of abuse at St. Benedict's School quite probably number hundreds, only a small proportion of whom have ever come forward. Those who have the strength to report their abuse deserve to have their story heard by a properly run enquiry, which will establish the truth of the matter as far as possible and make recommendations for improvements at the Abbey and the School.
Even after the Pearce and Maestri cases, the school's published child protection policies still fall far below best practice and do not conform to the CSAS guidelines. They are so bad that even the definition of "sexual abuse" depends on a subjective assessment of the extent to which the child involved has an understanding of the activities he is being subjected to. I have raised this matter both the Abbot and the Headmaster, to no effect.
In my opinion there is an imminent, continuing and serious risk of further sexual abuses committed against children at St. Benedict's School. An enquiry is urgently needed in order to prevent future abuse.