I apologise. I apologise to anyone. Actually apology is a feeble word but what words are there. This is too awful. You can’t ever stop apologising to everyone.There's one refreshing thing about what Shipperlee is saying - and that is that he's not trying to duck responsibility. He's not trying to put the blame for Pearce having access to his last victim on anybody but himself. For this he deserves credit.
Defenceless children were hurt and harmed by bad or foolish or weak people and they weren’t stopped from doing that and that’s awful and I can’t ever stop saying sorry. Sorry’s not a very good word either, but what more can I say? If someone wants me to say sorry, phone me up. I’ll say sorry.
But there are two extremely troubling aspects to this nonetheless.
The first concerns what quite frankly has to be regarded as his dishonesty in failing to explain at the time the true reasons for Pearce being placed on restricted ministry.. Instead, in a letter from the time which was later read out in court by the prosecution at Pearce's sentencing hearing, he said that it was "to protect Father David from unfounded allegations" when he knew perfectly well that the allegations were all too well-founded. They had been tested in court and found to be substantiated. It is not as if those were the only allegations which had been received about Pearce either.
We must be blunt here, this was a lie. It is a lie which is on record. It is a lie which put children in danger, and very directly contributed to causing harm to a child. Pearce's last victim was aware that he was under restriction. He didn't know why. The sole responsibility for that state of affairs lies with the Abbot. If he were the Chairman of Governors of a maintained school and something comparable had happened, his immediate resignation would have been required by the Local Education Authority.
What happened here is something which is dreadfully familiar to those who have read the various reports about the Catholic abuse crisis in Ireland and elsewhere. Abbot Martin put the welfare of an abusing priest ahead of that of his abused victims and ahead of the welfare of the children of his parish.
The 1989 Children Act establishes a principle in law and in government practice that in any decision concerning children, the child's interests are paramount. Now, the Abbey is not a public body, so the Act doesn't quite apply directly in this way. But it is still a good principle. Children have to be defended because they aren't in a position to defend themselves. In lying in this way, Abbot Martin did the precise opposite. One might forgive an honest mistake in keeping Pearce at the Abbey, but a deliberate lie with such harmful consequences is harder to stomach. I haven't yet heard the Abbot apologise for it. He's had opportunity enough these last few years.
The second really troubling aspect is this. If he realised what a disaster this is, why has he persisted with the same policy with two other monks under restriction, even since Pearce's arrest and trial?
Following his trial and acquittal in 2007, Father Stanislaus Hobbs was placed on List 99, presumably because of his admission under police questioning of an indecent assault against a pupil during a school trip to Italy. (Because of the way the law stood at the time, this incident could not be prosecuted in the UK.) The Abbot chose to keep him also at the Abbey under restrictions.
In their supplementary inspection report published in July 2010, the ISI took an extremely dim view of this policy, and said that it had to cease.
The Abbot fought this decision tooth and nail. By September, Hobbs had still not been moved, and at the Parental Forum held to discuss the ISI Supplementary Report, he explained all the reasons why he opposed the process. The reasons included concerns for Hobbs' welfare and the fact that he didn't have anywhere to put him. Hobbs was moved to a care home outside the diocese in March 2011.
At the same Parental Forum, the Abbot mentioned the other monk described in the ISI report who was on restrictions, but didn't name him. This was in fact Father Gregory Chillman, and he had resigned as a Trustee in March 2010 following allegations of abuse from a former pupil. Abbot Martin said that there was no need to remove Chillman because "almost all the restrictions had been lifted". He didn't say what restrictions remained, why the restrictions had been imposed or why they had been lifted. He also it seems did not trouble to inform the diocesan safeguarding team of Chillman's changed status.
Restrictions were re-imposed when an incident dating from 2004 concerning pupils at St. Augustine's Priory School came to light. This had previously been handled internally within the school and not been reported to Social Services at the time.
There are still very troubling discrepancies here. The Carlile Report states that these new allegations came to light in July 2010, and that restrictions were imposed, but based on his own account they had not been put in place by September at the time of the Parental Forum.
Paragraph 68 of the Carlile Report states the following.
The Department for Education, to Ministerial level, has been following carefully the progress of the ISI inspections. I have reviewed the correspondence. The Minister of State for Schools in July 2010 sought reassurance that all the recommendations the ISI had made would be implemented promptly. This has been done. The Minister was particularly concerned about the arrangements whereby monks, after conviction or being placed on List 99, had continued to live at the Abbey, even under restrictions imposed by the Abbey in consultation with the Archdiocese of Westminster. These arrangements were described as ‘ineffective’ (and the practice no longer continues).There just one small problem with that last sentence. It isn't true. The Carlile Report itself states as the outcome to the 2004 incident "Deemed inappropriate behaviour: restrictions imposed". And at the time of writing, Father Gregory Chillman is still listed as one of the "Monks Resident at Ealing Abbey" on the Abbey website.
Are we expected to accept the Abbot's apology when he is continuing with the behaviour he has apologised for? In such circumstances, can his repentance be regarded as genuine? Or is he merely sorry that he has been found out?
Update: Pearce's last victim has sent me a message via a friend of his. He has asked me to add the following note to this article.
"I did not know that David Pearce was on restricted ministry, I only found this out while/during the moments when I brought it to the attention of the deputy head. I believe the court case, or whatever was said was misinterpreted, of what I actually meant, I could be very grateful if you could amend your blog post."
As this has come from the person concerned, I must of course accept this as his accurate account of events, and I'm happy to correct the record. My earlier statements were based on what I myself heard and made notes from the prosecution barrister's recitation of Pearce's crimes at his sentencing hearing.
In terms of what Abbot Martin should have done, my original point still stands, and if anything it is made stronger. Young people should not have been allowed inside the monastery at all, and the reasons for Pearce's restricted ministry should have been known more generally.