Not everything I do gets published in this blog, or at least not at the time. In June, I wrote to the new Papal Nuncio, Archbishop Antonio Menini, summarising the situation at Ealing Abbey as I then knew it. I described the situation with regard to Father David Pearce, Father Stanislaus Hobbs, John Maestri, Abbot Laurence Soper, Father Gregory Chillman and Father Kevin Horsey. I described the Statutory Inquiries by the Charity Commission, the inspections by the Independent Schools Inspectorate, the Parental Forum that occurred in September last year, the Carlile Inquiry, the conflict of interest by the school's solicitor, commissioning Lord Carlil'e inquiry into (amongst other things) Father David Pearce's criminal activities while at the same time acting as Pearce's defending solicitor in the forthcoming criminal trial. I described the previous "independent inquiry" where Abbot Martin Shipperlee quite deliberately misled the person he commissioned concerning the extent of the Father David Pearce's activities.
I also described the issues which have occurred at St Augustine's Priory School, the fact that Father Gregory Chillman remained a Governor even though he had been placed on restricted ministry. I described the criticisms of the school's safeguarding measures as described in the ISI report, and the school's decision to contest this in the High Court rather than make the necessary improvements immediately. I also described the school services conducted by Father Gregory Chillman while under restrictions which supposedly meant that he had no public ministry.
I said that in my opinion, Ealing Abbey was incapable of reforming itself unaided, and so to ensure the future safety of the pupils of both schools and of the children of the parish, I requested an Apostolic Visitation or other inquiry.
Archbishop Antionio Menini invited me to a meeting at the Nunciature on 29th July. At the meeting, he announced that he had been making inquiries following my letter. He had consulted with Rome, and Cardinal Levada, the head of the CDF, had decided that there should be an Apostolic Visitation into Ealing, that it would start in September, and that it would be conducted by Bishop John Arnold (auxiliary bishop of the diocese of Westminster) and Fr Richard Yeo (Abbot President of the English Benedictine Congregation).
So, it seemed as if I was hurling my whole weight against a door to force it open, only to find that it was ajar all the time. I provided a file of information to the Nuncio to pass on to the Visitators, and explained what each item was. I said that this was a small subset of all the documentation I had available, and that I would welcome the opportunity to meet with them to pass across the rest of the information and to explain my concerns in more detail.
I was requested not to make any public mention of the Visitation until it was announced by the church itself in September. The Nuncio promised that my information would be passed to the Visitation and they would be in touch with me in due course.
September came and went. No further word from the Nuncio, no contact from the Bishop or Abbot, no public announcement. So in October, I wrote again to the Nuncio. I told him that I wanted to pass the additional information I had to the Visitation, and asked if he could tell me when it was due to start, what were its terms of reference, and how I could make contact to provide my additional information.
The Nuncio replied saying that the visitation had already started, and said that in the circumstances I should direct my questions straight to them. He provided me with postal addresses, but no phone numbers or email addresses.
I managed to find an email address for John Arnold, and wrote to him asking the same questions. He provided a couple of "I will reply fully later" responses, before sending me the following more substantial email
Dear Mr West,So, he didn't answer my question about the terms of reference of the Visitation. He just talked about how visitations in general are carried out. Score 0/1 for transparency.
Thank you for your email of 20 October, and for your patience. Again, I apologise for not getting back to you earlier, but both Abbot Richard Yeo and I have rather heavy schedules at the moment. As you have been informed by the Nuncio in London, the Congregation for the Doctrine of the Faith has requested us to conduct an Apostolic Visitation of Ealing Abbey.
You ask about our terms of reference. The role of Apostolic Visitors is to inquire into a given situation and report back to the Holy See. It is up to the Holy See (and in this case the Congregation for the Doctrine of the Faith) to decide when the Apostolic Visitation should be concluded. As visitors, we do not have the power to impose our views on Ealing Abbey. Rather, we make recommendations to the Congregation for the Doctrine of the Faith, which then decides whether to implement those recommendations or not. For that reason, Apostolic Visitors do not publish their recommendations, either to the institution being visited or to outsiders. It may be that the Congregation will want to publish its decisions but that is not up to us to determine.
We cannot speak in the name of the Congregation. Nevertheless, in order to give a response to your queries, it may be helpful to give some thoughts of our own, even though I expect some of them will be obvious to you.
The general policy of the Catholic Church in this country in regard to safeguarding is that it is extremely important not to interfere with, nor in any way impede, the work of the statutory authorities. In making our visitation, we wish to be sure that the Church’s safeguarding policies are being properly carried out and that the Church’s safeguarding authorities are playing their proper part, and to be able to tell the Congregation for the Doctrine of the Faith that they are doing so. However, it is not for us to interfere in their work or take over their role. This, as you know, was the recommendation of the Nolan Report which was reinforced by the Cumberlege Report. By insisting on the role of the statutory authorities we have the best guarantee that there is transparency and accountability.
You mention that you have examined the child protection policies of St Augustine’s Priory School and of St Benedict’s School, and that they fall short of best practice, and that you wish to discuss with us how improvements can made. We understand that the Independent Schools Inspectorate is responsible for ensuring that these schools have appropriate policies. We would suggest that it makes more sense for you to approach this body. The Inspectorate is currently monitoring those policies with the schools. If you were to speak to us about this, there is nothing we could actually do except pass on your suggestions to the Independent Schools Inspectorate.
Given our role, it is not for us to judge whether allegations are well grounded. We would not be equipped to make such a judgment and we are not empowered to do so. Therefore it would be wrong for us to receive details of offences which are alleged to have been committed by the eight individuals you name; these should (indeed must) be given to the police.
All this means that we are not sure that a meeting with you would be helpful to us or to you. We fully agree that it is important that any restrictions imposed by the Church’s safeguarding authorities should be appropriate and should be properly observed, and this has been an issue which we have examined. You sent a long letter on the subject to the Nuncio on 11th October; a copy of that letter has been passed on to us. It contains some information that we did not previously have, and we are grateful for this.
We have asked at Ealing Abbey what is your interest in this matter, and we have been told that you are the parent of a former pupil in the school. However, when we asked whether your son was a victim of abuse, we were told that this had not been alleged. If this is correct, then we wonder whether we could say anything to you beyond what we have written in this letter.
I am sorry to sound rather negative but, while we are not ruling out a meeting, we would invite you first to reflect on what we have written in this letter. I believe, and think you would agree, that we share the same concerns for the proper implementation of best practice with regard to safeguarding at Ealing but I think that you will understand our particular role and our need not to appropriate the role of the statutory authorities and the Independent Schools Inspectorate.
Please let me know what you think
With all good wishes,
Then he explained that Visitiations don't publish their reports. The reports go back to Rome, and Rome decides what (if anything) to do. The public, parents and even Ealing Abbey itself doesn't get to see trhe report. Transparency score 0/2.
He then waffled a bit about the role of the statutory authorities, and how it is important not to interfere with their role. This seems to miss the point that good safeguarding practice should be pro-active and go beyond the minimum statutory requirements. It involves such things as education and institutional awareness.
The next bit is really troubling. I'll re-quote it in full.
You mention that you have examined the child protection policies of St Augustine’s Priory School and of St Benedict’s School, and that they fall short of best practice, and that you wish to discuss with us how improvements can made. We understand that the Independent Schools Inspectorate is responsible for ensuring that these schools have appropriate policies. We would suggest that it makes more sense for you to approach this body. The Inspectorate is currently monitoring those policies with the schools. If you were to speak to us about this, there is nothing we could actually do except pass on your suggestions to the Independent Schools Inspectorate.WHAT!!!! They are conducting a visitation in response to serious safeguarding failings at Ealing Abbey, involving criminal activities that went unreported for decades. All John Arnold proposes to do in response to information about continuing shortcomings in policies and procedures is to pass it on to the ISI. If that is so, what on earth is the purpose of him being there? Because for sure it isn't to ensure that safeguarding is actually improved at Ealing!
Then the next paragraph is even worse.
Given our role, it is not for us to judge whether allegations are well grounded. We would not be equipped to make such a judgment and we are not empowered to do so. Therefore it would be wrong for us to receive details of offences which are alleged to have been committed by the eight individuals you name; these should (indeed must) be given to the police.This betrays an illiteracy about safeguarding that should be shameful in any churchman. In somebody whi participated in the Cumberlege Commission, is it nothing short of an absolute scandal.
For Bishop John's benefit as much as anybody else, let me explain the real basics here. There are two entirely separate issues to be considered. The first issue is whether there is sufficient evidence that a crime has been committed, that a person should be convicted and punished. Once an allegation is passed to the authorities (a duty of the church and school), the investigation of this is the job of the police and courts.
The second issue is whether, on the balance of the available evidence, it can reasonably be concluded that a person may pose a risk to children, and that for the safety of children, it should be considered whether that person should still be permitted to supervise children. For instance, if a teacher makes sexually suggestive remarks to children, then you wouldn't want that teacher to remain in charge of children. It isn't a police matter, because no crime has been committed. Something less than a crime still needs to be reported to the authorities, because of the duty of care the school has towards the pupils.
If something less than a crime is not properly reported and investigated (generally by social services) then there is the risk that abuse may continue and escalate until a crime is committed. Nobody wants that. But if the school's policy is inadequately clear about reporting allegations and incidents to the LADO (Local Authority Designated Officer for child protection), and is unclear about what to do thereafter, then there is a risk that abuse will go unreported and escalate.
On the evidence of his email, the Bishop seems to think that nothing need ever be done except to pass on reports of crimes to the police.
He went on as follows:
All this means that we are not sure that a meeting with you would be helpful to us or to you. We fully agree that it is important that any restrictions imposed by the Church’s safeguarding authorities should be appropriate and should be properly observed, and this has been an issue which we have examined. You sent a long letter on the subject to the Nuncio on 11th October; a copy of that letter has been passed on to us. It contains some information that we did not previously have, and we are grateful for this.So, let me understand. He's received information in my initial letter which he didn't previously know, and which has been helpful. But he doesn't think there is any purpose in meeting me to see if there is anything further that I know that might be useful. The strong impression he gives is that he doesn't want to find out too much lest it require the church actually take some action!
The next paragraph is nothing short of a straight insult.
We have asked at Ealing Abbey what is your interest in this matter, and we have been told that you are the parent of a former pupil in the school. However, when we asked whether your son was a victim of abuse, we were told that this had not been alleged. If this is correct, then we wonder whether we could say anything to you beyond what we have written in this letter.So, they are investigating Ealing Abbey, as a result of information I have provided. But they ask Ealing Abbey about my interest, but they don't bother to ask me about it! And they are saying that they think they can't say anything further to me. The idea that there might be something it would be worth their while to listen to has been dismissed out of hand.
I have been corresponding recently with another highly experienced campaigner against child sexual abuse in the Catholic Church, who has been chasing this issue for many more years than I have. His opinion is as follows.
I am most grateful for all of your information about the abbey and the so-called visitation. To be blunt but realistic, such ventures by the church are a total farce. I do not know of a single internal investigation that has been honest. The older and more established the entity the more dishonest the investigation and with some of the old English abbeys you can bet for sure that they have no intention of getting at the truth.On the evidence of Bishop John Arnold's email to me, I have to conclude that this is quite correct. This visitation has no intention of getting at the truth, end even less intention of making any attempt to reveal the truth, and no intention of making any serious improvements in safeguarding at Ealing. The sole purpose is to impress that Catholic laity by showing that Something is Being Done. But because that something is being kept entirely secret, the laity have no way of knowing that it is designed solely to protect the reputation of the church, and will not in any way address the safety of children in the church's care.
I go by evidence. If Bishop John Arnold or Abbot Richard Yeo wants to contact me and demonstrate that my conclusion is wrong, I will be very ready to hear them.
But I'm not optimistic.