Monday, 31 October 2011

Bishop John Arnold's interview

Bishop John Arnold was interviewed by BBC presenter Jane Little on the BBC R4 Sunday programme yesterday. below is a transcript of the interview with my comments
Jane Little: Let me start with Sean’s point that the archdiocese should have stepped in with an investigation of its own, even though technically religious orders don’t come under your jurisdiction.

Bishop John Arnold: No, and you were quite right to correct him. The monastery is autonomous and under the Benedictines, and they have their own structures there for visitations and of course the Vatican can step in and supervise that and establish an Apostolic Visitation. The parish as it is, is under the diocese and of course subject there to the safeguarding provisions and procedures adopted by the diocese and all dioceses in England and Wales.
We have a masterly bit of confusion right at the start here. He seems to be saying that Ealing Abbey both is and isn't under the jurisdiction of the diocese. It seems that in general terms it isn't, but in the specific context of safeguarding it is. So, if the parish is not implementing "procedures adopted by the diocese", does the diocese have the right to intervene in matters of safeguarding or does it not?

This is quite important. If the diocese has the right to intervene, then it should have done, and Archbishop Vincent Nichols was wrong to tell me he was unable to intervene. And if it hasn't the right to intervene, then it should have expressed its concerns to those who can intervene.

JL: But in the case of the diocese of Plymouth, the Bishop there had ordered a review into child protection at Buckfast Abbey and beyond, so why if it can happen there can’t you do it in the diocese of Westminster?

JA: I’m not that familiar with Plymouth itself, but as I understand it, Bishop Budd has brought in the NSPCC to review the whole operation of procedures following the conviction of Chris Jarvis, but again, the monastery would be autonomous. A bishop can make recommendations, and in this case it was in fact the Nuncio who made recommendations to the Vatican that there should be an Apostolic Visitation to Ealing.
The thing I most notice about this is that John Arnold has managed quite neatly not to answer the question. The question is why has the Diocese of Westminster not intervened at Ealing Abbey in the way the Diocese of Plymouth has at Buckfast. But all he's said in answer is to describe what has happened at Buckfast, and then describe what has happened at Ealing, which is that the Papal Nuncio (rather than the diocese) requested a visitation. What he hasn't said is why the diocese never requested a visitation. It is quite clear from comparable cases in other countries that Nichols does have the right to make a request along these lines to Rome, other bishops have (e.g. in Munich) when faced with obstructive Abbots.

JL: What about the argument made there by Sean that the church authorities here were obstructive rather than co-operative and that it’s very important to achieve some sort of transparency?

JA: Well, I’d have to disagree. I think the procedures are working pretty well, and they’re in place. I don’t tink there’s any intention of the church to be obstructive. We’ve got a very difficult problem here, and we’ve got ongoing work with victims, we’ve got to make sure that the safeguarding procedures are in place and I think there is transparency. What there mustn’t be is an overlap, so the Apostolic Visitation is looking to make sure that the safeguarding procedures are in place, and they’re being followed, but the investigations must be handed over to the statutory authorities.
Well, he would disagree, wouldn't he? Note that again though, he seems to be talking about the church in general, whereas Sean O'Neill was talking more specifcally about the church authorities responsible for safeguarding at Ealing and Buckfast.

And in his claims of transparency, I notice he says "we’ve got to make sure that the safeguarding procedures are in place" without making any statement about whether (at Ealing) the safeguarding procedures actually are in place.

And I have severe concerns about the church's procedures for handing over investigations to the statutory authorities. Section 2.1 of the CSAS procedures addresses handling of allegations of abuse of children. Within section 2.1, clause 2.1.1 deals with reporting allegations or concerns to the local safeguarding representative. But clause 2.1.2, describing referral to the police or social services starts as follows. 

"When the decision has been made, after consultation with the Safeguarding Officer or Safeguarding Coordinator or by the Local Safeguarding Representative or recipient of the information in the case of an emergency, to make a referral to Children's Social Care Services or the Police, the following steps need to be taken."

And it goes on to describe the actions to be taken, once the decision to refer has been reached. What the clause doesn't do is describe the basis for making the decision to refer, the circumstances under which a referral must be made. So, Ealing Abbey could arguably claim that it is following the CSAS procedures, and yet never refer anything!
JL: It’s a bit embarrassing though isn’t it that the Vatican has come in over the local church’s head, and essentially said “You can’t deal with it. We will.”

JA: No, not really. Apostolic Visitations are not uncommon, and Rome very often steps in. As any big company when procedures are under question, they will come in and review procedures and make sure they are in place. So it’s not unusual, and some people have said this is a rebuke to Archbishop Vincent and a rebuke to the Benedictines, that couldn’t be the case. Here I am, I’m Archbishop Vincent’s auxiliary, and  the Abbot President of the Benedictines is my co-visitor. Really, if was in a way a rebuke to either, then there would be a much more senior official from the Vatican coming in and doing the Apostolic Visitation.
In that case, there is a significant concern as to whether the visitors chosen are in a position to be sufficiently independent. For instance, Bishop John Arnold himself is an auxiliary in the Diocese of Westminster, yet the Pontius Pilate job the diocese has done here in leaving Ealing to its own devices is something that ought to be worthy of comment in the visitation's report. But is John Arnold going to have the guts to criticise his own Archbishop? I doubt it very much.

And Abbot Richard Yeo is in an even more invidious position. As Abbot President of the English Benedictine Congregation, he had a role in advising Abbot Martin Shipperlee how to address the crisis in Ealing, and has the benefit of his own participation in the Cumberlege Commission. If he has failed to give the proper advice, then his own personal actions are ones which reasonably ought to be considered by the visitation. So, it is quite possible that Yeo will have to investigate himself as part of his visitation duties. This is madness.

And it is worse. There have been allegations of abuse at Downside, dating from the time when Yeo was Abbot there. So it may yet happen that Yeo will be found to have covered up abuse. Also, the English Benedictine Congregation isn't all that big, the senior monks all know each other very well, they have been colleagues for years. For instance, Richard Yeo has known Abbot Francis Rossiter for many years. Rossiter was Abbot of Ealing from 1967-1991, a time when it seems that Father David Pearce (convicted of abuses), Father (later Abbot) Laurence Soper (on the run from the police) and John Maestri (convicted of abuses) were all teaching at St. Benedict's. Who knows how many oher abusers Rossiter was allowing to run around unhindered? Can we reasonably expect Yeo to conduct a thorough and impartial investigation of an old friend and colleague? He might be able to, but we can't have confidence that he actually will. So somebody who really is independent needs to be appointed if the visitation is going to be remotely credible.

A mess like Ealing doesn't happen without multiple management failures at different levels within an organisation. The immediate responsibility lies in the Abbey itself of course, but there are further levels of responsibility in the diocese and in the wider Benedictine Community, in that the mess in Ealing ought to have nbeen noticed and dealt with many years ago. Both in the diocese and the English benedictine Congregation (EBC) failed to do so. And yet the diocese and the EBC are conducting the visitation! Is there any reason to think that they are going to look into any of this?

JL: Critics have suggested that the Visitation has been carefully designed to achieve nothing at all.

JA: Well, we have our remit. The scope was the monastery to make sure safeguarding procedures are there and being followed, there is a pastoral concern for the monks, and for the victims of past abuse. I think that’s the scope we hope to complete and to achieve in your report to the Congregation.
That "carefully designed to achieve nothing at all" is me, quoted in the Times. I stand by that statement. Consider the following:
  • Who has been chosen to conduct the visitation
  • The visitation started without the public announcement by the church which had been promised to me by the Nuncio
  • The visitation has started and issued an interim report without attempting to contact me to obtain the information I told the Nuncio I had available for them.
  • Bishop John Arnold has been very vague about the terms of reference of the visitation
  • Bishop John Arnold is supposedly investigating Ealing, and yet he's asked them about me, and as a result has decided it seems that he doesn't need to ask me about them!
What other conclusion could I reasonably come to on the basis of the evidence available to me so far? I'm very ready to be persuaded otherwise. John Arnold has my phone number, he can call me any time and arrange a meeting.
JL: When will you report, and will you make the findings public?

JA: Well, an interim report is already being made. We don’t make a final report yet, we want also to see Lord Carlile’s report. He was invited in to consider the whole governance of safeguarding between school and abbey.

JL: And that’s coming out in a couple of weeks.

JA: That’s right, so we’ll want to consider that too. As to publication, we don’t actually own the report, the Congregation does. I wouldn’t be at all surprised if they choose to make it public given the circumstances, but it is their report.
What's the betting that the report will sit on a desk in the CDF for several months, and then quietly get forgotten about? They didn't even voluntarily announce that the visitation was happening, the Times found that out for themselves.


  1. One wonders if any grip on truth and reality will ever be discovered by this bunch? Personally I'd rather deal with Robert Mugabe because at least you know from the outset you are dealing with a shit who will behave accordingly. It's honest shitdom!

    The 'visitation' is all about protecting the status quo. The orders don't have to be issued to the visitors because there is a default "tow the line and you bob to the top." Everybody knows this and so there are never any surprises and naturally - No changes!

  2. Bishop Arnold: "Apostolic Visitations are not uncommon, and Rome very often steps in. As any big company when procedures are under question, they will come in and review procedures and make sure they are in place. So it’s not unusual..."

    This is simply untrue. There has not been an Apostolic Visitation in this country in living memory. The fact that the BBC radio-"journalist" allowed Bishop Arnold to say this without demure shows how poor the "Sunday" programme is.

    In recent times there have been Apostolic Visitations of the Legionaries of Christ and Ireland due to systematic child abuse but there are few examples of Apostolic Visitations of a particular house of a Religious Order. The only one I can think of is Santa Croce which was closed down as a result of the Visitation.

    Link here:

    Bishop Arnold is using the skills he learned as a Barrister in this interview.

    Bryan Dunne

    1. I understand that Bishop John Arnold attended Grace Dieu and Ratcliffe College. These are two schools operated by the Institute of Charity(Rosminian).Given the fact that Gentili Province is now subject to a multi million pound law suit with respect to the sexual abuse of pupils at Grace Dieu and a school in Tanzania I would be grateful if Bishop Arnold could clarify his relationship with the order and the the four Rosminian priests so far named in the sexual abuse of students at these institutions. It begs further questions......

  3. Like Brian I was extremely surprised that the programme failed to mention this was the first Visitation. When Arnold stated these were not "uncommon" any wind that might have been in the interviewers sails was greeted with an equal, opposite and unchallenged breeze.

    But this was a 'soft' exchange because to get to the grit of this subject the interviewer would have needed to know something of the complex matter of child protection which would have taken a considerable time.

    She did not and so it was another pointless skim across the meniscus of this scandalous state of affairs, for I doubt even Arnold has got a grip on the detail of the framwework (statutory and church combined) that is meant to protect children and in which the church and other institutions legally hide to protect their reputations.

  4. In light of the Pearce situation at St Benedict's and the Abbey I thought you may be interested in this article I came across during some research.

  5. Dear, oh dear, I cannot believe that these people are simply going to cover up all the abuses that occurred. If there was a ring, and (lay) staff as well as monks knew what was happening, then the truth needs to come out. If staff knowingly covered up the abuse of pupils, and knowingly provided abusers with professional references to move on to another school to continue their deviant ways, then they should be brought to justice too. This whole episode has left me dumbfounded and genuinely angry. Stop covering up NOW, and act in a good Catholic way and tell the TRUTH.

  6. There you are West, not only Catholic priests. Do you dare criticise other religions?

    A teacher started sexually abusing one of his pupils when she was aged 11 and continued the relationship for 11 years, a court has been told.

    The girl became pregnant aged 15 but the relationship continued until she was 22, the Old Bailey heard.

    Mohammed Akorley is alleged to have started abusing the girl when she was at a school in Dulwich, south-east London.

    Mr Akorley, of Honor Oak, south-east London, denies eight counts of rape.

    The offences were said to have taken place between January 1999 and January 2005, when the complainant turned 16.

    Climbing scaffolding
    Brian Reece, prosecuting, said: "This girl was taken advantage of from a very early age at a time when she could not have had any understanding of what was happening to her.

    "When she was aged 15 she had become pregnant by this defendant and had a termination."

    Mr Reece said the sexual encounters between Mr Akorley and the complainant had taken place up to five to six times a week, often in his car.

    He said Akorley had even gained access to her family home by climbing scaffolding.

    On one occasion in 2008, Mr Reece said, Akorley's wife found him and the complainant in bed.

    Mr Reece said Mr Akorley was arrested when the relationship stopped and the woman went to police.

    Mr Akorley also denies one charge of indecency with a child.

    The trial continues.

  7. 11.19 said: If staff knowingly covered up the abuse of pupils, and knowingly provided abusers with professional references to move on to another school to continue their deviant ways, then they should be brought to justice too.

    Well we know that Maestri's abuse was never reported either to the police or social services, and neither to the Teacher Minconduct Team which has since morphed into the ISA.

    Was this a cover up? Well some would certainly say it was and I include myself in that number?

    Your second point has to be answered with a question because we on the 'outside' do not know the answer. How did Maestri manage to continue his career in teaching unimpeded after he left St.Benedicts? Do you suppose he did not need references for the teaching post he went onto? Did he go to another setting which knew what he was? Or did he have references from St Benedict's in his back pocket?

    I could also raise a further question about a former teacher who is about to come before Isleworth Crown Court but in light of his impending trial I will not comment further.

    So it seems perfectly possible that at least one former teacher left the school as a known abuser of pupils, with decent references. This undertaking by St Benedict's exported a known problem to another school!

  8. 16:05
    I'm very ready to condemn child sex abuse, whoever it may be committed by, whatever religion they may have, or if they have no religion at all.

    Mr Cleugh suggested in his prizegiving day speech that I am anti-catholic. That is not true, I am anti-abuse.

    I have previously pointed out that the cover-up of child sex abuse in independent schools is not a specifically Catholic problem. In the absence of effective inspections and stern penalties for non-reporting, there is a great temptation for the management of any independent school to find ways of not reporting child sex abuse to the authorities. The resulting publicity is very bad for business.

    I've been concentrating on St. Benedict's School because it is local to me, my son attended through fortunately was not an abuse victim.

    Although the scandal of St. Benedict's is part of the catholic clerical abuse scandal, I am well aware of the wider aspects that mean that all schoolchildren are at greater risk of being abused in school than should be the case.

  9. 16.05

    Oh dear - the Catholic persecution complex and its chippiness on show again. Next the Abbeyvistas will be on the wing again having heard the 'scramble bell' but they must first be released by Martin from their enforced silence.

    Sweatpeas - this is to do with child abuse in whatever 'setting' (institution) it happens.

  10. I totally understand that Mr West has important issues regarding the welfare of children and I support them. I'm afraid to say that I believe that child abuse was a common factor of all boarding school life until fairly recently, either in monastic schools or indeed every other boarding school. What I don't think is fair, is that he is determined to tar current schools with the same brush and will not allow them to move forward, I think he has an unhealthy obsession with St. Benedict's who now have many happy pupils who are well looked after. I agree that past abuses in all schools need to be exposed, but many schools have moved on with excellent pastoral care. i am a teacher and champion this move. Nothing seems to be good enough for Mr West: the Church, the ISI, independent enquiries. No one will please him and he plays one off against the other. Isn't it time for us to try and support reform rather than criticise all those who are trying to make things better?

  11. @ 01:48

    Father David committed his last known offences as recently as 2007, this is not ancient history. Abbot Martin Shipperlee and Mr Cleugh failed to prevent these crimes but in spite of this they remain in their posts.

    I see no reason to believe that the School is any safer now than it was four years ago.

  12. St Benedict's, and plenty of other schools, are no safer now than they were fifty years ago and that is because in the law surrounding safeguarding remains unchanged and entirely dependent on "guidance."

    Sure, there are plenty of words and acres of "guidance," (with elements of it contradictory) wonderful people called LADO's, but in reality much of it fails to work, and the number of "black holes" down which abuse can vanish are many.

    In 1960 there was no mandatory requirement to report allegations or actual abuse to the LADO or equivalent.

    2011 - nothing has changed.

    Go speak to the abuse victims in Eire. They'll tell you the effects of non-mandatory reporting. The Irish government seems to have only recently 'got it' to the point that the Nuncio has been withdrawn by the Vatican in a fit of pique at the Irish government's criticism of the church.

    This would have been unimaginable a few years ago.

  13. We have a masterly bit of confusion right at the start here. He seems to be saying that Ealing Abbey both is and isn't under the jurisdiction of the diocese. It seems that in general terms it isn't, but in the specific context of safeguarding it is. So, if the parish is not implementing "procedures adopted by the diocese", does the diocese have the right to intervene in matters of safeguarding or does it not?

    I thought he was drawing a distinction between the parish run by Ealing Abbey (diocesan responsibility) on the one hand and the school (ISI) and the Abbey (Benedictine Cong, Vatican) on the other. So if there's a problem with, say, safeguarding procedures re altar servers at the parish mass then the diocese has the right and responsibility to intervene directly, but if there's nothing at the parish as such (and the allegations don't really seem to refer to the parish) then all the diocese can do is point the Vatican and state authorities at it.
    I don't know Ealing but customarily where monastic communities, with or without schools, have run parishes, at least in this country, the life of the parish has been quite separate from the community & school, so you can actually make a practical distinction of that sort.

  14. 14:40
    In fact, the abbey, monastery, school and parish are all legally run by the same charitable trust, and the chairman of trustees is the Abbot.

    When I wrote to Archbishop Vncent Nichols expressing my nconcerns, he simply said he wasn't able to get involved. He didn't say he could get involved in parish issues but not school issues. he simply said he had no powers at all.

    I'm sure it is a great comfort to all the victims and their parents to know that the abuse wasn't a diocesan responsibility even though the archbishop knew about it.