Several years ago, I clearly remember being at Mass in my parish and thinking at the Consecration: imagine if the hands that held the host were the hands of someone who had assaulted a child. To those who are not Catholic, such a thought would be meaningless alongside the horror of a vulnerable child being abused. But it would make any Catholic shudder. Might I have had any inkling of what was to come? A short while later, a priest friend asked to meet me. Something was clearly up yet it never occurred to me - not once - that this Benedictine monk whom I'd known most of my life was to tell me that he was accused of abusing children.Catherine has previously gone on record as having been a longstanding friend of Father David, and I entirely sympathise with her shock about this. Clever career paedophiles are very good at polishing their outward appearance of respectability. The primary damage they do is to their child victims. But while it doesn't compare in seriousness to the damage done to children, it is worth acknowledging the damage done to the adults who were taken in by that outward show of respectability. Father David was the very epitome of this. What could possibly be more respectable than a monk, priest, teacher, former dentist, TA officer? All jobs which earn people's trust. There is no disgrace in having been taken in by such a very plausible liar.
Today, Fr David Pearce is in prison.
Three of his fellow Ealing Abbey monks have been investigated as well. One has been restricted in his dealings with children; another was found not guilty but after his acquittal was asked to leave the monastery. The third, Fr Laurence Soper, is wanted by the police after failing to answer bail. He is thought to be somewhere in Italy.I'm sorry to have to break this to you Catherine, but there are more than this. The ISI report last year mentioned six separate cases, five monks and one lay teacher. Four of the five monks are Father David Pearce, Father Gregory Chillman, Father Stanislaus Hobbs, and Abbot Laurence Soper. I have a good idea who the fifth is, (he no longer lives at the Abbey) but I haven't had sufficient confirmation yet to justify naming him.
But in addition to those five, and John Maestri (the lay teacher referred to in the ISI report), Father Kevin Horsey would very likely have been charged by now had he not died in 2006.
The fallout from this scandal continues, day after day, in Ealing. Monks who have given their lives to the Church, to their order, to their school, and to the parish, and who are innocent of any crime, are now viewed by some with suspicion.That suspicion is understandable. Not only because people will be wondering whether somebody else will be charged with abuse, but because they will also be wondering who knew about the abuse, and covered it up.
The individual who was found not guilty of abuse was made to leave the monastery, under pressure from the diocese.The way you have presented this suggests that you might have been misinformed about the circumstances. The monk in question is Father Stanislaus Hobbs, and he has indeed been moved out of the monastery. And I don't doubt that pressure from the diocese was a factor. But the primary insistence on this came from the Department for Education.
Hobbs was indeed acquitted in 2007 of the charge made against him. But in the course of police questioning, recorded and played during the trial, he admitted to a similar indecent assault on the same boy during a school trip to Italy. Because of the way the law stood at the time, that assault could not be prosecuted in the UK because it took place abroad. the defence argued that the victim had made up the story of the assault in the UK because he knew that the assault in Italy couldn't be prosecuted. The jury decided there was reasonable doubt and acquitted, as they had every right to do.
The Independent Schools Inspectorate, the Department for Education, Ealing Social Services and the diocese all formed the view that Hobbs on balance of probability was a danger to children, since there was a recorded admission of an assault on a child, even though no prosecution could result from it.
The ISI in its recent report on the school advised that the trustees should "Ensure that any staff or members of the religious community live away from the school, if they are subject to allegations of misconduct related to safeguarding or convicted of wrongdoing." On the basis of that recommendation and in the light of Hobbs' own admission, there was no way that his continued presence at the Abbey could be justified. And yet the Abbey fought tooth and nail to prevent his removal. Why?
And the monk you mention who "has been restricted in his dealings with children" by the same token also ought not still to be at the Abbey. He would hardly be restricted unless he too had been found to be a danger to children, and yet he remains at the Abbey, in defiance of the ISI recommendation. Have you attempted to find out why this is so?
There have been rows between parishioners with very different opinions, from those who think that a priest in prison is evil and should have no contact with any of us, not even a Christmas card, to others who refuse to believe that "Father" could possibly have done anything wrong and it's all a plot by the anti-Catholic media.I can believe it. Those who claim it is all an anti-Catholic plot include the headmaster of the school Mr Christopher Cleugh, who used his prizegiving day speech in September 2010 to press that line. In front of several hundred assembled staff, pupils and parents, he said "Recent media and blog coverage seems hell-bent on trying to discredit the School and, at the same time, destroy the excellent relationship between School and Monastery. Is this part of an anti-Catholic movement linked to the papal visit? I do not know, but it feels very much as if we are being targeted." Has it occurred to you that at least some of those who complain most loudly about anti-catholic plots might be doing so in order to divert attention from genuine catholic abuses which they have committed, or at least know about?
There is also a great deal of suspicion about the past. When Fr Laurence Soper was abbot and suddenly resigned, we were never given any formal explanation. Then a story floated which seemed to stick: that he'd had a row with his brethren about the cost of the church extension. Or did he flee because there were already complaints about his behaviour towards young boys?I think you are right to be suspicious. It is perhaps a pity that your suspicions weren't aroused earlier. One of the things school inspectors are supposed to be trained to do is regard any sudden departure of somebody from a school setting as worthy of detailed investigation, especially if it occurs in the middle of the school year, and even more so if it occurs in the middle of a school term. All such sudden departures are supposed to be checked during an inspection. The majority do have an entirely innocent explanation - a move to a better job at another school, a departure for reasons of illness or to look after a sick relative. But concealed amongst them can be departures that are actually for reasons of abuse, which the school has kept quiet about because they don't want the adverse publicity. This it seems is how John Maeastri's departure from the school was handled, it was put about that he had left for reasons of ill health. And for that matter, ill-health was also given as the reason for Father Gregory Chillman's retirement as a governor of St Augustine's Priory School last year.
If it turns out that Soper did skip town because of complaints about his behaviour (for instance, possibly at Feltham Young Offenders Institute, of which he was a visiting chaplain until he left for Rome), then the rumour put out about the row over the church extension must have been a lie, and known to be a lie by those who spread the story, and know to be a lie by Abbot Martin Shipperlee, who clearly did nothing to prevent the story from being accepted.
And what of Fr David: how long did other monks know of his activities? What secrets were kept hidden for so longI can answer that for you. His abuses were kept secret for at least 15 years, and possibly considerably longer. He "retired" as Junior School Headmaster at the end of 1992, as a direct result of complaints about abuses. I have spoken to the victim concerned. But he wasn't removed from the Abbey, he was instead made Bursar of the school, and as far as I am aware remained associated with the Cadet Corps. Later, he was even given additional responsibilities within the Abbey, being appointed Novice Master in 2004. This was at the time the diocesan safeguarding adviser, Peter Turner, was advising the Abbey that Pearce should be placed on restrictions because there had by now been several independent and credible complaints against him. That advice was ignored by Abbot Martin Shipperlee.
In 2006, the boy known as "C" sued the Abbey and Pearce for damages resulting from Pearce's abuse of him when he was a pupil in the school in the period 1989-93. The Abbey fought the case and lost. Damages were awarded to the value of £43,000. I have been told by a number of parishioners that the story put out was that the case had been settled out of court, not because the abuse had occurred, but out of consideration for the claimant's fragile mental state. This was of course a complete lie.
But at least after this, the Abbot, under pressure from the diocese, did finally put Pearce on restricted ministry. But you appear not to have known that he had been put on restrictions - it seems that very few people did know that he had been restricted, and even fewer knew the real reason why. At the sentencing hearing of Pearce's trial in 2009, the prosecution read out part of a letter from Abbot Martin which stated that the restrictions were "to protect Father David from unfounded allegations", whereas in fact the allegations were all too well-founded, as Abbot Martin knew perfectly well.
And problems with several monks from the same monastery: is that bad luck or symptomatic of a failure in leadership?You don't get a mess like Ealing, with multiple abusers able to operate unchecked over a period of many years, without there having been serious management failures at many levels. The earliest account of abuse I have been told about dates back to the late 1940s. Here we are, over 60 years later, and the Abbey has not yet come to grips with the problem.
Yes, of course the Abbey's leadership has failed in the most catastrophic way imaginable. But the failings haven't ended there. The Abbot President of the English Benedictine Congregation is supposed to advise the Abbot. Whatever advice was given doesn't seem to have been effective. And the diocese of Westminster has known about abuses at Ealing for many years, and yet has neither obtained the Abbot's agreement to a diocesan inquiry nor made a request to Rome for an Apostolic Visitation. That request was made by me, and passed on by the Papal Nuncio, bypassing the diocese altogether. Archbishop Vincent Nichols had essentially washed his hands of the business, offering to do no more than pass my concerns back to the Abbot. There is plenty of blame to go round, enough for it to stick to a lot of senior catholic officials.
Time and again, the Catholic Church's response to calamity has been secrecy. Last weekend, I went along to a parish meeting at Ealing Abbey, wanting to know more about the abuse scandal and Fr Laurence's disappearance. But the parish priest refused to take any questions other than those submitted in advance. Those selected were about lighting, sound systems and the new translation of the Missal. Any other business would throw things off course, he said.I suspect that they realise that no honest answers will remotely justify their continued management of the school. And they also probably realise that any lies they tell may well be found out next week when Carlile publishes his report. So their only option is to say nothing and helplessly wait for the axe to fall. Carlile is due to publish next week.
The conspiracy theorists will view this as a sinister attempt to conceal scandal. I suspect it is more to do with incompetence and the fears of people who are completely out of their depth.