The revelations about the child abuse that went on at St Benedict’s School for a period of about 40 years are distressing. As a parent one attempts to do the very best for one’s child; this included a Catholic and Christian education at what was then known to be an excellent private Catholic school in West London. The struggle to find the fees was thought to be well worth while for the prize of a place at St Benedict’s.
My son was taught religion by Father David Pearce and Father Pearce was also his form master. As “Captain David” he ran the Cadet Corps which involved going away to camp in Wales. This priest, as we all now know, is serving 8 years, (now reduced to 5 years) imprisonment for child abuse. One trusted these priests and the lay teachers, as one consigned to their care, the most precious commodity – a child.
My son did not really achieve what he should have done at St Benedict’s, although with much parental support and help he has turned out to be a model and responsible citizen, with a good career and a happy marriage. His success in life has come through his own efforts with strong family support and not, I regret to say, from his time at St Benedict’s which made him under achieve and with left him with a contempt for authority. I now understand why.
When the news broke about Father David, my son’s reaction was “Oh, I am not surprised it’s him, but there was one monk, much worse that has not been mentioned”. I had had no inkling at all before this that anything inappropriate had gone on. My cousin’s son, also a pupil at St Benedict’s at about the same time, similarly never raised with his family any inappropriate behaviour, yet both boys were obviously aware that “things were not right”. I suppose some strange code of schoolboy behaviour prevented them from saying anything.
My son, regularly returned home from the Rugby field, dressed in two shirts (possibly not his) no socks or two pairs of socks and clothes thrown on any old how; my reaction to that was that boys did not care, and paid no attention to how they dressed. Now I learn that Father David appeared in the changing rooms complete with ciné camera and, with hindsight, I now realise the need for speedy dressing. It never dawned on me at the time that anything could be wrong; my son never complained.
Likewise my cousin’s son mentions a group of boys going up to one monk’s office to stand outside and make a noise, whilst one of their friends was inside being “chastised”. This was their effort to ensure that the headmaster knew they were there, so nothing “inappropriate” might happen to their friend. My worried question to my son “were you.....?” was answered by “don’t worry Mum, I knew enough to keep out of his way”. Really? Is this the best St Benedict’s could offer its children?
My question to the monks and lay teachers at St Benedicts is this: How over a period of nearly forty years did all this abuse go undetected? Within any organisation, especially one as close-knit as an abbey, can no-one else, ever have raised or had any suspicion about what was going on? I am afraid it beggars belief.
Careful wording of documents issued from the abbey can confuse the issue. Does one need to know “officially” about child abuse before deciding to take action? Letters stating that “I am sorry you feel you were let down” puts the blame on the victims. Fathers, we don’t just feel we were let down. Five or six child abusers in one school? We were let down and badly.
We now hear that Father Lawrence Soper, has failed to turn up for police questioning or “jumped bail” as eloquently reported in the national press a few days ago. It is a wild stretch of the imagination to believe that this 80 year old, known to the boys as Father Florence, has simply gone on the run. Obviously someone, somewhere is looking after him, caring for him and giving him succour. I only hope and pray that this won’t turn out to be a Benedictine monastery or convent somewhere in Europe.
As for my son? His “caring” Catholic and Benedictine education has made him “not officially” a practicing Catholic. Not quite the hoped for result in sending him for a good Catholic education. With whom, Fathers, rests the responsibility for his lost Soul?