Saturday, 10 April 2010

The Times and Ealing Abbey

There are several articles about Father David Pearce and the events at Ealing Abbey and St. Benedict's School in today's Times. The Catholic boy abused by Father David Pearce whose life fell apart, Britain’s top Catholic ‘protected’ paedophile, and Catholic Church’s bluster over child abuse puts its good work at risk.

If you who have come here as a result of seeing one or other of the articles there, I would like to welcome you. If you have a connection with the school or the Abbey, you are especially welcome to comment here about your experiences.

If you want to see what I have written here on the subject in the past, this link will take you to a list of all my Ealing Abbey articles. Some of those articles have a large number of comments below them. If you were at the school, you may well recognise some of your school contemporaries among those who have left comments.

I have been in touch with some of Father David's victims, both as as a result of people commenting here on the blog and people contacting me privately. If you are a victim and want to tell your story to somebody, but don't feel able to do so in public in a comment here, you can email me at Anything you write privately will be treated in strictest confidence for as long as you wish.

My aim in writing about St. Benedict's as I have is quite simple. My son was at the junior school for a couple of years while Pearce was Junior School Headmaster, and could so easily have been one of his victims. The fact that he wasn't is the sheerest good fortune for me and my son - it is certainly not down to any merit or caution on my part against such a threat. It simply didn't occur to me at the time that this was something I needed to be on guard against.

More recently, I had followed the various abuse scandals in America and Ireland, and had noticed that they didn't seem to stem from a single exceptionally bad character, but rather were the result of a failure to respond appropriately to reports of problems. There seemed to be nothing unusual about any of the places where it happened, so I wondered somewhat idly whether I would hear of any cases in the UK.

So I was very shocked, but not all that surprised, when quite by chance I happened to read in the papers last August the story of Father David Pearce's conviction. That brought it a bit too close to home. That meant that I almost certainly knew victims or at least the families of victims.

Nobody else at St. Benedict's School should have to suffer the same kind of abuse. To that end, I am applying such pressure as I can to ensure that the school's child protection procedures are improved. At the moment, they are still a sorry mess, and I have written to the Abbot pointing this out. Also, I wish to provide whatever support and comfort is within my power for past victims of sexual abuse at the school - caused by Father David or anybody else. It is only too easy for these abuses to go unchecked if everybody just looks the other way and assumes that somebody else will deal with it. So I've decided that I will not look the other way.

But I can't do it all myself. If you feel able to join me in taking action in support of these aims, please send me an email. Much more can be achieved with people acting in concert. If you are concerned about abuse at the school, either past, present or future, then we can help each other.

If you are a parent of a pupil presently at the school, then I recommend that you read my article Chosen, written a few months ago. In it you will find a link to a BAFTA award winning documentary of that name, produced by three former pupils of Caldicot School. Caldicot School is a private boarding school, (with no Catholic connection) and the three participants in the film, now all in middle age, describe their experiences of being groomed and then abused by teachers at the school. The details of the sexual crimes committed against them differ in some details, but the techniques used to groom the victims are exactly the same as was described in court at Father David's sentencing hearing in October. You can view the film online via the link given in the article. You may find parts of it distressing.

If you are a parent, you need also to be aware that there is no statutory obligation to report allegations or suspicions of sexual abuse to the authorities. You are dependent on the school choosing to, and at present the school's Child Protection and Safeguarding Policy leaves it to the discretion of the school whether a case is of sufficient seriousness to justify a report.

I am perfectly well aware that sexual abuse is not limited to the Catholic Church or its schools. Any job which involves contact with and supervision of children will attract its share of paedophiles. The protection of children means that schools and other organisations caring for children need to have policies and procedures in place which ensure as far as humanly possible that abuse is prevented, and that any abuse that happens is detected early and stopped immediately.

The policies and procedures of St. Benedict's School and Ealing Abbey completely failed to do this. Father David Pearce abused pupils at the school in a paedophile career that spanned 36 years, and he was brought to justice as a result of a pupil making a complaint directly to the police. The school's procedures contributed nothing to the process. I doubt very much that the procedures have been improved to the point that any new paedophile at the school would be quickly detected.

I have no time for anti-Catholic abuse or discrimination. So far, the comments on previous articles have remained remarkably free of anything like that. I would like it to stay that way, and I will delete any comments I consider to be abusive. I want this blog to be somewhere where victims and others concerned about the issue can feel safe contributing to the discussion.


  1. Well, okay! However, for BBC Radio 4’s TODAY programme the case of Fr David Pearce (cited at some length this morning in the light of the Times coverage) is remarkably clear-cut. The ‘exemplary’ Guidelines of the English & Welsh hierarchy were followed and if any blame has occurred it is due not to any lack of response on the part of the Church or Ealing Abbey but of the police. This very public account makes nonsense, it seems to me, of much that, month-in-and-month-out, is pushed, to the point of exhaustion, on this particular site! If one resolutely refuses to 'look the other way' one is surely in danger of getting a very distorted picture of reality!

  2. If Murphy O'Connor, the then Archbishop, was briefed about the allegation that led to the civil case in 2006 that found against Ealing Abbey, then in that part of the guidelines at least, the Abbey acted correctly, in that they informed the Archdiocese. The police, of course, would have already have been informed.

    However even the summary report of the independent review that the Abbey published recently includes plenty of criticisms about how the Abbey communicated Father David Pearce's restrictions. The victim who went to the police in 2008, about abuse carried out in 2007 while the restrictions were still in place, certainly was unaware that he was under a restriction of no contact with children.

    From my indirect contacts to parishioners in Ealing Parish, that misapprehension was widespread. People were certainly aware that there had been alleged abuse by Pearce. The story was however that the Abbey had deliberately settled out of court to avoid worsening the victim's already bad emotional state.

    There was no word of the Abbey having lost a civil case on the abuse, at all. Although in fact the Ealing Gazette did report it that way.

    So, no, I don't think they followed the guidelines completely or well, sorry.


  3. The Pope and Archbishop Nichols tell us that they are opposed to paedophilia.

    The sodomite Pearce was convicted more than six months ago. Why is he still a priest?

  4. proof that he is still a priest?

  5. The website for Ealing Abbey refers to him as "Fr David Pearce".

    I think it reasonable to conclude that he has not been defrocked yet.

  6. He hasn't been defrocked yet, no. He gets to have a trial on it, under Canon Law, if the Church decides to laicize ("defrock") him, which they very likely will.

    I don't have any information on how long this takes, or whether the process runs concurrently with his prison sentence or not. If he doesn't oppose laicisation, it would probably go through concurrently.


  7. Yeah, I mean after all, no hurry or anything. He's only been sexually abusing boys under the church's protection for more than 30 years, so why the rush to do anything?

  8. To 'laicize'or 'defrock' simply means that a priest is no longer allowed to function within the church and free to peruse his own life-style. However, according to catholic theology the sacramental mark of ordination cannot be removed and a priest is, thus, a priest 'to all eternity'. Calls for Fr David Pearce to be 'defrocked'are really neither here nor there as he will, in any case, remain a monk of Ealing Abbey and part of its community until he dies.


    I am a new arrival to the horror of the news that the abuse of children at St Benedict’s was so widespread. I was aware of John Maestri’s prosecution through friends, but had not heard of David Pearce’s conviction until I opened The Times on Saturday morning. Until that point I had clearly blocked his name from my consciousness. This is the first time I have either spoken or written about what happened.

    As a pupil in the mid-1970s to early 1980s, I too had an intimate introduction to culture of abuse, initially sexual and subsequently psychological. It permanently broke my faith in the religion we shared, damaged my relationship with my family and irreparably harmed my education, as well as having an insidious effect on my personal relationships in subsequent years.

    I was initially abused by John Maestri during my time in the Middle School. As a typical pupil who occasionally got into trouble, I was punished by a beating; he seemed to take great pleasure in my discomfort, far beyond what one would normally expect. Once the beating had been delivered, I was mollified and cosseted, the teacher taking great pains to “rub it better”; it was clear that under his academic gown he was doing the same.

    Eventually I felt I needed to confide in an adult and ironically chose the one person who had always shown an interest in me – Father David. His response was to question my at a near-forensic level of detail, to swear me to secrecy on pain of eternal damnation and later to coerce me to re-enact what I had gone through. This was repeated on several occasions, and eventually extended to further abuse.

    That initial conversation with him remains the single most difficult, shameful and humiliating experience I have ever had to undergo.


  10. PART TWO
    David Pearce continued his abuse for some time, taking the total duration by both teachers to a little over 2 years. Over the course of my remaining time at St Benedict’s I went from a bright, eager pupil to a borderline troublemaker with poor reports, one suspension (a rarity in those days) and poor academic prospects.

    This was something I couldn’t begin to discuss with my contemporaries. While it was possible that they too were in receipt of similar attention, we had a very limited view of the universe, and any deviance from the accepted norms would be pounced on and exploited by bullies. And the idea that I could talk to my parents, even now, remains far from easy. They are both kind and loving people, but it is so far removed from anything we have ever talked about that I cannot begin to imagine how the subject could possibly be broached with them.

    I decided I wanted to leave the school and study for my A Levels at a sixth form college. When I announced this to my form teacher I was sent to the headmaster to explain myself. I told him that there were two reasons for my decision – that I didn’t feel I was getting the best education, and that I hoped I would find a college where I wasn’t surrounded by perverts masquerading as teachers. This news was greeted with great anger by the then headmaster, who proceeded to threaten my with divine justice (no great worry there, as my faith had already evaporated into the ether), ruin through the courts and, finally, ruin of my parents. That was the threat which achieved the desired result – I left the school and went elsewhere without ever discussing the matter again.

    There were good teachers at the school who, I still believe, cared genuinely and rightly for the good of their charges. I recently made contact with one of my previous lay teachers – a good man and an excellent teacher, and it was a positive step to have the realisation that they weren’t all the same.

    Separately, I read last year of the conviction of one of my contemporaries – David Bye – for a catalogue of offences against young children. I wonder now whether the origins of his own preferences lay in his treatment at St Benedict’s School, and whether he too was a victim of his teachers’ attentions.

    What do I do now? Should I complain to the authorities? The perpetrators are already in prison. Should I sue? Surely the statute of limitations is long past. Should I ask for an apology from the abbot, who was not at the time in a position of any authority, and from whom such an apology would be utterly meaningless? I seek no abasement from the diocese, as it is no longer my church.

    The damage has been done and I left to get on with my life; while the echoes of the past clearly sound in my own life, I work hard not to let them ring too loudly.

  11. The preceding post is a courageous posting from a former pupil. Parents are part of the problem – all too trusting for one thing. You do not like to hear news that you have made a mistake by choosing the wrong school, especially when you are paying for so much for the privilege of educating your child there. Perhaps others in your family have sent children to the same school – and of course they are all “fine.” Parents invariably never read the child protection policies of the institution believing that “everything will be fine” because you have never “heard anything like that about the place.” What you fail to realise is that you are unlikely to ever hear anything “like that” about the place because the entire system is designed to make this very unlikely. But incompetence, arrogance, and determined victims sometimes breach the wall of silence. St Benedict’s is an example.

    Many children end up in abusive relationships. This is not a minority happening. Of all sex crimes reported to the police 40% involve minors [Home Office]. One in six children are sexually abuse before the age of 16 (Lucy Faithfull Foundation + NSPCC). The biggest secret any child can have is an abusive relationship with an adult. Parents mistakenly believe that if anything ever happened “like that” their child would “always tell me.” Well dream on because you are only fooling yourselves and what is more the abusers know it. And when you confront your child and ask if s/he has ever been “interfered” with the answer will conveniently be the one you want to hear. “No.”

    You may be unaware of the fact that you, the parents of school pupils, are the external police of any school. You, according the DCSF, are meant to hold schools to account for safeguarding and welfare. How can you do this ignorant of the ineffective child protection policies of 99.99% of schools that fail even to commit to report actual child abuse to the authorities? There is no mandatory requirement to report child abuse to the authorities contrary to the misleading presentation of DCSF guidance, so unless there is a written undertaking in the school’s policy your child is guaranteed of nothing. What is more should a school fail to report abuse there is no sanction for failing to report.

    Parents – these are the terms on which you are sending your children to schools.

    Wake up!

  12. As the poster of the long, two-part message above, I feel I need to respond to the comment "parents are part of the problem – all too trusting for one thing", or at least place it into a context that's relevant to my own experiences.

    This may be the case today, but it was not a part of our parents thinking 30 years ago when this abuse happened. It was so far from the experiences of our parents that they cannot reasonably have been expected to have had child abuse in their consciousness.

    I know this is different today, but we cannot judge the actions, or inactions, of those who failed to respond to something about which they knew nothing. I don't blame my parents for anything other than doing the best that they knew how. If it fell short, it was not their fault: the blame lies wholly and completely with the two teachers.


  13. Child abuse was well known about when I was abused rather more than 30 years ago. Parents were and remain too trusting and disengaged on the subject, mine included. I was asked "that question" and my mother received that default answer. As I have since discovered other parents from the school questioned their children suspecting the same and uniformly received the same reply which prompted no further action.
    Perpetrators are of course guilty as are the administrators of institutions who are often keen to conceal these matters from public gaze. To this mix one sadly must add disengaged parents who then as today remain a contributory factor to the success of perpetrators. As one might expect without an effective parental police force, crime prospers.

  14. I don't want to start arguing about the role of parents in this issue, rather I want to salute the courage of the contributor who has identified himself as "Paul" for having shared his story so openly. It was a timely reminder to those of us whose knowlege of abuse is only theoretical of just how truly damaging it is to its victims. The thought that he turned for help with his abuse at one teacher's hands only to find himself in those of another abuser is truly chilling. What is remarkable, however, is how his experience has failed to completely embitter him or victimise him entirely. I thank him for the example of true decency he represents and wish him well in what I am sure is an ongoing journey of healing.

  15. To the poster of the two long postings earlier above, I was deeply moved by what you wrote. I magine we were contemporaries. I was never a victim of an approach or abuse although I was taught by both Mastri and Pearce.

    John D.

  16. John,

    You and I might well have been contemporaries, or at least only a year or so apart, and I'm thankful that you were never approached by either Maestri or Pearce.

    Like you I'm hesitant to go public. A little time (and probably a lot of work) needs to pass before I make any decisions about who I tell and what I say. It won't surprise you to know that my name isn't Paul, but it a useful one to use for the moment.

    I'm sure you understand my reticence and hope you won't be offended by it.


  17. They are discussing Father Dave over at the Telegraph Holy Smoke blog.

    I have defended Mr West's blogs here from someone called John Knox's love child.

  18. "Paul,"

    May I recommend you visit and watch the documentary. You need an undisturbed 90 minutes. Wisely you may consider watching it more than once as it is highly content rich. More is revealed with each viewing.

    Many dynamics of abuse are revealed which are challenging for the abusee to express.

    Chosen provides an insight into many areas of this complex subject. It is more likely to assist than hamper the decisions that you now face.


  19. The Catholic Herald have this to say:

    "Archbishop Vincent Nichols of Westminster is considering legal action against the Times newspaper over its allegation that he tried to protect a paedophile.

    The story, published on the front page on Saturday, marked a new low in relations between the Church and the British media.

    The paper alleged that the Archbishop "protected" a priest who abused children at a Benedictine school in west London - even though, as then Archbishop of Birmingham, he had no involvement in the case.

    A Church spokesman said: "The attempt to saddle the Archbishop with responsibility for this tragic case is completely unfounded and is an unwarranted slur. His office is taking legal advice."

    Sources close to Westminster have confirmed that one of the options being considered is a possible court action for defamation."

    Archbishop Nichols takes legal advice over newspaper’s allegation
    By Mark Greaves

    16 April 2010


    That seems a far fetched interpretation of the original Times article:

    “The head of the Roman Catholic Church in England and Wales presided over a child protection system that allowed a paedophile priest to continue abusing schoolboys despite repeated complaints from victims, an investigation by The Times has discovered.
    The Archbishop of Westminster, the Most Rev Vincent Nichols, chaired the church’s child safety watchdog in 2001-08 while Father David Pearce was repeatedly investigated by church officials and police. Despite a High Court ruling in 2006 awarding damages to one of his victims, Pearce remained a priest at Ealing Abbey, West London, where he groomed and assaulted one final victim before his arrest in 2008.
    Pearce, 68, a Benedictine monk and former headteacher at the prestigious St Benedict’s School, was jailed for eight years in October after admitting a catalogue of sex offences against teenage pupils during 35 years at the abbey.


    Church officials said that Archbishop Nichols was not told the full details of Pearce’s child abuse offences until he replaced Cardinal Cormac Murphy-O’Connor at Westminster last year.”

    - particularly when the Times writes:

    "However, his predecessor knew of the allegations, a spokesman for Cardinal Murphy-O’Connor confirmed. The Cardinal has recently been appointed by Pope Benedict XVI to sit on the Vatican body that appoints bishops."

    Even the Catholic Herald should appreciate the effect of the "however" in contrasting the ignorance of Archbishop Nichols with the knowledge of the Cardinal Murphy-O'Connor.

  20. the story by "Paul" certainly rings true. Very brave of you to post it.

    and that is why this forum is a good thing. Again, well done, Harry West.

    I wonder, did Pearce perhaps try to "groom" me? Once, after administering a caning (nothing too excessive, just the usual six) he gave me a smile and asked "are we still friends?"

    I just glared at him I think, and didn't answer. I didn't of it as a come-on as such. Just a very inappropriate breaching of the boundary between teacher and pupil. Of him wanting to be popular, almost apologising for the beating.

    But I suppose it could have gone a different way, if I'd reacted differently. Strange, it made no great impression on me at the time.

    Looking back though, it feels like I must have been blithely walking through a minefield without realising it.

    Of the three teachers there I know of convicted of sexual abuse, the only one I really had pegged as dangerous was Mr. Piper, in the junior school. Physically dangerous, not sexually. He really was unstable, I knew that even at nine. How could they possibly have kept him on?. Maestri and Pearce I completely missed.

    and as "Paul" stated, there were good, conscientious teachers too.


  21. The article in the Catholic Herald says it all. The authorities are very quick to defend the honour of the Archbishop, and quite right they are if the feel he has been misjudged. Its just a pity they didn.t react with such prompt action over the years of Father David Pearces abuse. But it all comes down to to the same old principles. Our children come behind the reputation of the catholic Church. As a very angry parent I believe we should be looking at the two previous Abbotts regarding their failures to protect our children not at the Archbishop who does appear to be genuine in his desire to expose abuse.

  22. But appearances can so easily deceive. Actions demonstrate commitment - nothing else.

  23. Was Piper a sexual abuser too? He was indeed a violent sort - no doubt. But a sex case? I never had him pegged as that. Do please tell more, if not too painful or difficult.


  24. Ludolphus

    I have noticed you several times on the Telegraph blogs, often quoting this site. I'm grateful. Could you contact me by email?

  25. ballymichael

    If you have any information regarding Mr Piper, I'd be very grateful if you could let me know, either on the blog or by email to me at

  26. Jonathan / anonymous

    (to anonymous). No, it's not too painful. He was physically abusive to me, but no more than to most, as far as I can see. And this was the 70's - nobody paid too much attention to it then.

    (to Jonathan).
    Well, my information sources (parents active in ealing parish, whose children were in the school after I left in 1982) are indirect, and I do think it's probably putting yourself in legal jeopardy, so feel free to delete these comments if you wish, I won't mind. And since it's a very serious accusation to make, it would probably be better.

    But yes: my understanding is that Mr. James Piper, who taught 4th year in the Junior School with special subject Art and extra tuition in fencing outside school hours, was convicted of sexual abuse of children in either the late 1980's or early 1990's.

    I don't know the exact year, or any further details of the offences. Nor do I know how to check these facts. Searchable archive at Ealing Reference Library? Searchable archive at Ealing Gazette.

    Is there some sort of publically available way of searching for convictions of this kind, going just by name of the convicted?


  27. Ballymichael

    Thank you for that. I was able to track down the court records of John Maestri on the basis of information originally not much more than this. I will get digging.


    FROM Irish Times - Monday, April 19, 2010

    Priest says he was pressurised into taking blame for pope


    A FORMER vicar-general in the archdiocese of Munich has claimed that he was pressurised last month into taking the blame for a mistake made 30 years ago by the then Archbishop of Munich, Joseph Ratzinger (now Pope Benedict), concerning the case of a paedophile priest.

    Fr Gerhard Gruber has now said he did so only after coming under huge pressure from unnamed Catholic Church sources to take responsibility, so as to “take the pope out of the firing line”.

    In a letter to a friend, seen by German weekly magazine Der Spiegel , Fr Gruber wrote that he was “begged” in numerous phone calls and after receiving a prepared statement by fax for him to sign. The magazine said Fr Gruber expresses unhappiness in the letter at being given the sole blame in public.

    A spokesman for Munich archdiocese has dismissed the report as “completely made up”, saying Fr Gruber was at no point forced to sign anything but that he merely assisted in formulating the statement.

    Last month media reports claimed that in 1980, Pope Benedict, as Archbishop of Munich, had mishandled the case of paedophile priest Fr Peter Hullermann. The priest was moved to Munich for “therapy” in 1980 after abusing a boy. The psychiatrist dealing with his case warned he was not to be allowed work with children.

    Fr Hullermann was allowed return to parish duties in Munich within weeks of arriving there. The priest reoffended and in June 1986 he was convicted of the sexual abuse of other minors and given an 18-month suspended sentence. When this emerged last month, Fr Gruber assumed total responsibility, thus seeming to absolve Pope Benedict.

    Meanwhile, according to the Spanish daily La Verdad , Colombian cardinal Dario Castrillon Hoyos said at a weekend conference in Murcia that Pope John Paul approved the policy of not reporting to the police clerical sex abuse crimes.

    In a September 2001 letter, recently published by the French Catholic publication Golias , Cardinal Hoyos wrote to French bishop Pierre Pican to congratulate him for not reporting an abuser priest. Earlier that year, Bishop Pican received a suspended three-month sentence for not reporting serial abuser Fr René Bissy, who was eventually given an 18-year prison sentence for child sex abuse crimes between 1989 and 1996.

    Speaking in Murcia on Saturday, Cardinal Hoyos confirmed the text of the letter, adding also that Pope John Paul had seen it and “authorised me to send it to all the bishops”.

    Four months earlier, in 2001, Pope John Paul assigned judicial responsibility for certain “grave” sins (including child sex abuse) to the Congregation For The Doctrine Of The Faith. It was following this that the then prefect of the CDF, Cardinal Ratzinger, wrote to all Catholic bishops advising that they refer all credible cases of clerical child sex abuse to him. That letter was accompanied by another one, also in Latin, instructing that this be kept secret.

    If Cardinal Hoyos’s claim is true it would suggest that Pope John Paul’s 2001 directive was intended to encourage a policy of cover-up.