I think it is worth re-emphasising the main points I made in that original article.
- I made it clear that I did not blame the ordinary Catholics who attend Mass at the Abbey, I acknowledged that they had no idea what was going on.
- I suggested that the Abbey's records on all matters of complaints or allegations of sexual abuse connected to the Abbey should be independently reviewed.
- I suggested that provisions should be made for counselling and pastoral care to be provided to victims, including those who had not yet come forward.
- I suggested that a full and unreserved public apology be issued.
- I suggested that the parish and the schools review their child protection policies.
- And finally, I hoped that those involved in putting things right avoid getting into a siege mentality.
I wasn't asking for the school to be demolished or for the monastery to be dissolved. I wasn't branding all catholics as child abusers or suggesting that the pope was the Antichrist. All I was asking was that the mistakes of the past be acknowledged, the victims be apologised to, and measures be taken to make sure that this can never happen again.
It is now 2 years and 2 months since that original article. Had there been a determination on the part of the Abbot to do so, almost all these things could have been achieved 2 years ago. Each passing month lessened my respect for Abbot Martin and increased my conviction that he was deliberately hiding matters that had not yet come to light, and hoping that it would all blow over.
In December 2009, the Charity Commission published the report of its two Statutory Inquiries into Ealing Abbey. I had no hand in them being set up, they started before I ever became aware of the issue. Publication of the reports had been delayed until after the trial of Pearce had been concluded. The local MP Andy Slaughter said that he had never seen such a damning and critical report from the Charity Commission
In February, what purported to be the report of an "Independent Review" commissioned by the Abbot was published. I later learned who had conducted the inquiry, and a friend of mine spoke to him concerning the circumstances under which it had been carried out. It turned out that:
- the terms of reference were the Abbey only, not the school,
- it was a paper-only review, nobody was interviewed.
- the reviewer visited for only half a day
- the review addressed only the period covering the abuse of Pearce's last victim, when Pearce was already under restrictions
- the reviewer was not told about the duration and number of Pearce's other known crimes, though he inferred that other crimes not disclosed had been committed.
Despite this, the report was placed on the school website as being the fulfilment of the Abbot's promise of an independent review.
As my concerns increased, and as more facts came to light, I wrote to the Independent Schools Inspectorate and the Department for Education expressing my concerns. The DfE's response was to order the ISI to make an additional unannounced inspection, which resulted in a critical report the like of which had never previously been published by the ISI. This inspection took place at the end of April 2010, six months after my original blog article.
That report was published in July 2010, but not sent to parents until September. In the meantime of course, the cheques for another term's school fees had been sent to the school and banked. By this time, publicity was growing, there had been articles in the Times and there was a degree of restiveness among parents. So a Parental Forum was held, at which two mutually contradictory lines were pursued by the Abbot and headmaster. The first was that the abuse was all in the past, nobody involved with the abuse had any current connection with the school, all was now well and parents had no reason to be concerned. The second line was that this was all so serious that the school had decided to commission Lord Carlile to conduct an independent review.. (The earlier review was conveniently forgotten.)
The first approach was holed below the waterline when a perceptive parent asked if there had been any recent allegations of abuse against monks or members of staff apart from those mentioned in the ISI report. There was dead silence in the room for several seconds, before the headmaster admitted that a current member of staff was at present suspended following allegations of misconduct. (That member of staff was subsequently returned to duties, and the headmaster wrote to all parents on his return. The letter didn't state whether the allegations had been substantiated, but did say that the staff member concerned had been given training in "communication skills". The staff member has since been given additional pastoral duties.)
In June last year, I learned of the connection between Father Gregory Chillman and St. Augustine's Priory School. I also learned of allegations of misconduct by Father Gregory in his role as Chaplain there. There had already been allegations made publicly in the comments of the blog dating from his days as a teacher at St. Benedict's. I took a look at the school's child protection policy on the school website, and saw that it was so bad it made the St Benedict's policy look like a model of thoroughness and diligence in comparison. So I wrote again to the ISI and DfE, passing on the allegations I had received and requesting that they look into it. As it happened, St Augustine's had recently joined the Independent Schools Council, and had just had an ISI inspection in March, and the report had not yet been issued.
The ISI's final report was as critical of St Augustine's as the report of the special inspection had been of St. Benedict's. But rather than accept the report and make the necessary improvements, Mrs Gumley Mason sought Judicial Review of the report in the High Court. Judicial Review is a hard thing to obtain. In order to get an administrative decision by a public body overturned on Judicial Review, you have to demonstrate that the original decision is so perverse that no honest and reasonable person with two braincells to rub together could possibly have reached the original decision. Nearly a year after the original inspection, the report was finally published, still containing all the criticisms the school had complained about.
In June this year, I wrote to the new Papal Nuncio. I summarised my concerns regarding the abbey and both schools, providing brief histories of the key people involved. When I met the Nuncio at the end of July, he told me that he had been so concerned about the letter that he had researched the matter, and as a result had contacted Rome. Cardinal Levada, head of the CDF, had ordered an Apostolic Visitation, which would start in September and be conducted by Bishop John Arnold (auxiliary bishop of the diocese of Westminster) and Abbot Richard Yeo (Abbot President of the English Benedictine Congregation).
So this isn't just a matter of some sad obsessed individual with a grudge against the school (which is how the Abbey has portrayed me to journalists recently). My concerns were well-founded, the authorities agreed with me and have conducted investigations, the results of which so far have borne out my concerns.
In his prizegiving day address in September 2010, Mr Cleugh used the occasion to express his belief that the recent publicity seemed "hell-bent on trying to discredit the School and, at the same time, destroy the excellent relationship between School and Monastery",and speculated that it was "part of an anti-Catholic movement linked to the papal visit". This is not the attitude of a man who thinks that there is any need for improvements.
If I were as anti-Catholic as Mr. Cleugh appears to suggest, I would be taking no trouble at all over the safety of Catholic children. It is after all mainly the children of Catholics who attend Catholic schools. If I were anti-Catholic, I would say that it served them right and leave them to stew in their own juice. But in fact, I believe that the children of Catholics have as much right to be safe in their schools as any other children.
The next chapter will open next week, with the release of the Carlile Report. I very much hope that this will finally set the abbey and St Benedict's School on a new path where the evils of the past are acknowledged and apologised for, and work is finally started in earnest to ensure that this cannot happen again. I do not wish to see the closure of the school. For as long as there are parents who wish for a private Catholic education for their children, the existence of independent Catholic schools is entirely valid. All I expect is that those schools provide the highest standards of safeguarding for the children in their care.