Sunday, 19 September 2010

Keeping the Faith

ITV1's documentary Keeping the Faith earlier this week contained an extended segment about St. Benedict's School. The section about St. Benedict's starts about 15 minutes into the programme.

The programme includes interviews with two victims of Father David Pearce, from the 1980's and 1990's. I know who both victims are though of course I shall not name either. I had no part in the making of the documentary. The complaints from the victim named "James" in the programme didn't result in a criminal prosecution because James's father unfortunately died before he was able to successfully press charges. The Abbot at the time flatly refused to discuss the matter. However, the threat of scandal almost certainly resulted in Pearce being moved from the post of Junior School Headmaster a year after James's father first made his complaint. The Abbot of the time was Lawrence Soper, the monk now living abroad who is being required to return to the UK and report to a police station to answer questions concerning child abuse.

The second victim "Mark" spoke of abuse that spanned over ten years, apparently starting in the 1990s, and described systematic and regular abuse not only of himself but of other boys, and stated that it is completely implausible that the Abbey authorities had no idea of what was going on. He is one of the victims of crimes for which Pearce was convicted. Pearce was ultimately convicted of a string of offences spanning 36 years, from 1972 to 2007.

But the most gobsmacking thing about the documentary is the part of the interview with Archbishop Vincent Nichols which dealt with the subject of St. Benedict's. The segment of the interview followed a narration which explained that Pearce had been abusing at the time that Nichols was chairman of COPCA, the body responsible for setting in place child protection guidelines within the church. Here is the relevant part of the interview.
Q: You put the guidelines in place, you made sure that things happened in parishes up and down the country, and yet we have St. Benedict's in Ealing, it was happening whilst you were in charge of the guidelines. What are your reflections on that?

VN: Anybody that produces guidelines knows that they are only as strong as they are implemented. And the duty for implementing them lies at different levels in the church. The church is quite a complex old thing, this is a Benedictine house, therefore the lines of accountability lie within the Benedictine community.

Q: What was your reaction when you heard about... well it was the tip of the iceberg as well, really at St. Benedicts.

VN: COPCA did not receive reports on cases, so we were not managing cases and allegations. We were trying to provide a framework within which those with immediate responsibility should work, and clearly it didn't work in this case.
The response to the first question can basically be summed up in the words "nothing to do with me, guv". He's saying that the guidelines are OK, and it's all the Abbot's fault that they weren't properly implemented. If I were the Abbot seeing that interview, my reaction would be "Gee thanks Archbishop!"

And Nichols is also saying that even though he now knows all about the problem, he can't do anything about it, because "the lines of accountability lie within the Benedictine community". So it's nothing to do with him at all. Hands washed entirely clean of the business. Pontius Pilate couldn't have worded it better.

Nichols quite frankly comes out very badly in his answer to the second question as well. Actual cases of child abuse within the church are far too lowly a matter for the chairman of COPCA to dirty his hands with. He produced his guidelines and then apparently showed no interest at all in whether they were working or whether they were being implemented. One would have thought that some passing interest in current cases coming to light would have been appropriate, if only to see whether the guidelines were being implemented properly and whether the cases had highlighted weaknesses that needed to be addressed. But no, it seems that the grand theory of the guidelines mustn't be sullied with such inconvenient things as facts.

This is the degree of support your children will get from the hierarchy of the Catholic Church as a whole. They will try to push the whole business onto the Benedictines, and since the Benedictines report direct to Rome, and they will tell you that you will have to write to Rome in order to get anything done. In fact, that is precisely what Vincent Nichols' Diocesan Safeguarding Adviser Peter Turner has said. I asked him some time ago what routes were available in the event that the Abbot remained intransigent. This is what he wrote in reply.
You asked me to ascertain who is responsible for overseeing the Abbot and I have tried to explain below.

The Abbot President (Abbot Robert Yeo) [sic] has the duty to advise and warn, but cannot directly intervene in the life of a united Community.

The local bishops have an interest but like the President have no power to directly intervene

Ultimately there is recourse to the Holy See. This could be done via the Apostolic Nuncio, but he’s very sick, so you would have to approach the Congregation for Institutes of Religious Life and Societies of Apostolic Life in Rome. They could ultimately invoke an Apostolic Visitation, but they’d probably go first to the Abbot President

The Abbot President of the English Benedictine Congregation
Abbot Richard Yeo OSB
Downside Abbey
Bath BA3 4RH
Of course, Vincent Nichols is not really quite as helpless as he makes out. There has been a comparable case in the Benedictine monastery of Ettal in Bavaria, where Archbishop Reinhard Marx of the archdiocese of Munich-Friesing asked  Benedictine Abbott Barnabas Bögle of the Ettal Abbey and Prior Maurus Kraß of the abbey’s school to resign. In response, an Apostolic Visitation was carried out. Ultimately Cardinal Franc Rode, Prefect of the Congregation for Institutes of Consecrated Life and Societies of Apostolic Life, cleared the names of the abbot and prior and said that the visitation found "that Abbot Barnabas had done all he was required to", even though Ettal is one of three church schools in Bavaria which have been rocked by abuse scandals.

But Archbishop Vincent Nichols hasn't even done that much. You really are on your own.


  1. Nichols will go far in the Church - he is quite the team player and on the same amoral page as the Pope on this subject.

  2. When Pearce returns to the Abbey after he has served his sentence the local community must take the law into its own hands.

  3. What parents need to appreciate is that from everything we now have before us we may still possibly only have 50% of the story or perhaps a great deal less.

    I would like to think that the administration is holding nothing back, but in light of their record we cannot be sure. Their credibility is shot, we know it and they should know it but I speculate they are in denial. If there was true parental choice in education then I suspect we would see a reduction in numbers and the waiting list diminishing. Because we have no choice the abbot and the headmaster will be convinced that they are doing “a great job” as so few children are being withdrawn. Dream on! I suspect parents are holding their noses and keeping their eyes open in the hope that a yard shovel is deployed to the current management.

    Even if there are no more known (by the school) known’s, there will be plenty of unknown unknown’s. Assuming we are now looking at 100% of the known known’s in the ISI follow up report, we are looking at a paedophile ring operating in the school for years, the definition of which according to the Cambridge dictionary is : a group of people who take part in illegal sexual activity involving children.

    The full extent of the ring’s activities is unlikely ever to be discovered. In December 2008 a paper into child abuse published in the Lancet suggested that only 10% of sexual crimes against children ever get reported. It is clear that what we have at St Benedict’s is a very serious situation and one that the DfE Independent Schools Team should be crawling over to assure us and themselves that systems and people can be relied upon. My deepest concerns rest with the current administration who I believe are collectively unfit to run a school.

  4. PART 2

    What should the DfE Independent Education and Boarding Team be doing?
    Regulations made under the Education Act 2002 set out a range of standards that all independent schools in England must satisfy as a condition of registration:

    • the quality of education provided
    • the spiritual, moral, social and cultural development of pupils
    • the welfare, health and safety of pupils
    • the suitability of proprietors and staff
    • the premises and accommodation
    • the provision of information and the way in which complaints are handled.

    Where is Mrs Margaret Pattinson and her team? What are they doing to ensure St Benedict’s conforms? Once more we have another DfE ‘team’ that wears a big badge that allegedly defines its role but upon closer inspection we find them to be pathetically ineffective whilst being armed with a significant “persuader.”

    The "persuader” is deregistration of a school. No private school has ever been deregistered, but the department liberally suggests this will occur when it is attempting to convince you it is a functioning and credible team.

    It’s piffle, they do not possess the cojones to deregister an independent school as the head of department has admitted, it’s therefore an empty threat which prompts sniggers from the hierarchy of the independent school sector.

    So here once again, independent education compliance is exposed as wanting. The DfE don’t like the independent sector, don’t get it, and don’t want to get it because it is responsible for educating just 7% of the country’s children. It’s an irrelevance in civil service terms and the department has little power in the sector, yet it is the DfE that is the author of the useless statutory framework and "guidelines" in which the sector 'operates.’

    Parents – YOU ARE ON YOUR OWN.

  5. In my opinion, no child is safe in this institution because the management has effectively condoned abuse by perpetrators who have taught there for the last four decades. It's a moral shortcoming. Such behaviour promotes the school to the paedophile community. Paedophiles are very bright people, good with children and parents with whom they foster close relationships. No identity badge is worn by a paedophile – you can’t tell – you just can’t tell!

    Cheerleader mummies are targeted by paedophiles. "Oh I am such a supporter of the school, all my brothers were pupils," you know the type. The ones who are desperate to be on the PTA or the board of "friends" because they are convinced being so will promote the interests of their son. As a result of the behaviour of this sharp elbowed troupe their children stand a good chance of being targeted by perpetrators, as are those bright boy's who won scholarships and those pupils whose parents work for the school thus qualifying for big fee discounts. Targeting is not limited to just these candidates; it is just that such children are the lowest fruits for perpetrators.

    Why you might wonder? Well let’s take the Cheerleaders first. Such women are just a nightmare for their children because they are so easy to groom. Your child will see you being befriended by member of staff ‘X’ and so it comes as no surprise when ‘X’ starts getting ‘close’ to the son/daughter. ‘X’ must be 'ok' the child thinks, because ‘my mother enjoys ‘X’s company’. It's the start of the slippery slope to abuse. Paedophiles like to get close to the parent/s of their targets - it closes the child's exit to the abuse.

    Scholars are also a target. Often they emerge from homes which could otherwise perhaps not afford to send their child to the school. So as ‘X’ gradually gets closer to the child the scholarship issue is used silence the child “you will be off to another school which will not be as nice as this one (if you speak about the abuse).”

    And children of school employees who receive discounts for their children are in similarly difficult position when approached by an abuser.

    Please do not for one moment believe a child has any ability to speak to parents about these matters. A relationship with an adult is the biggest secret a child can have. It is extremely rare for a child to speak of abuse – ever.

    I am familiar with all of these techniques, I had a cheerleader mother and a friend of mine who was abused at his school told me “I could not possibly speak, I saw my parents sacrifice everything to educate me. I had not right to speak.”

    I hope this provides an insight.

  6. To the first commentator here, who said Nichols will go far in the chrch: no doubt.

    His predecessor, Murphy-O'Connor, to whom Pearce's abuse was reported - and who covered it up - has reached the top in UK terms, both in the church and in politics:

    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 [2009].

    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.


    Murphy-O'Connor has other documented history of cover-ups in church child sex abuse cases:

    But he spin doctored his way out of the ensuing scandal very adeptly. Quite the politician. Last I heard, he was to be made a peer in the House of Lords:

    Cardinal Cormac Murphy-O’Connor set to be first Roman Catholic bishop in Lords since 16th century


    Very disturbing indeed.