Monday, 9 January 2012

Explanation incomplete

So, Fr Aidan Bellenger told something less than the whole truth in his email to the Gregorian mailing list. What a surprise. The Times today (behind paywall) has been talking to the police, and it turns out that the police enquiries have been going on for some time.
However, the abuse allegations are not confined to one priest, The Times can disclose, and two other Downside monks, also former teachers, received police cautions during an 18-month criminal investigation, which is continuing.

Detective Constable Mark White, of Avon & Somerset Constabulary, said: “As a result of our inquiries a 79-year-old man living in the Irish Republic received a caution and an 80-year-old man, resident in the South West of England, was also cautioned. The second man was removed from Downside Abbey following our inquiries.”

He added: “We identified a number of offences by a number of offenders. However, there is no evidence that offenders were co-operating together to victimise particular individuals. A lot of the victims in these cases have not wanted to give evidence.”
It is clear that Fr Nicholas was not the only abusing priest who was being permitted to live at Downside Abbey on restricted ministry.

Rob Hastings is White's victim, he has waived his right to anonymity to be interviewed in the Times today. This is what he had to say.
“I believe now he singled me out as someone who was vulnerable to grooming,” Mr Hastings said. “I had an interest in old books and maps and he used to take me to the library in the abbey. That’s where the abuse happened, and it went on for 18 months.”

Mr Hastings said: “I didn’t know how to deal with this when I was 12. I was told then that the Church knew how to handle it. I am aware of one boy abused by White before me, but the Church dealt with that by allowing him to carry on teaching in the junior school.

“I believe there are other former pupils out there who suffered similar experiences and I would encourage them to come forward to the police.
I'd like to commend the courage of Rob Hastings in coming forward and being willing to waive anonymity and be interviewed. I have spoken to a considerable number of victims of the abuses at Ealing Abbey, so I am aware of how very much courage his actions required.

I echo his call for victims and witnesses to come forward to the police. I know it is difficult. I have spoken to enough victims of the abuses at St Benedict's to understand how very difficult it is. But those who have gone to the police almost without exception tell me that once they have got over the exhaustion and emotional stress of actually giving the statement, it has helped lighten the load on them, that they feel better for having grabbed a bit of power back from those who would keep them silent and helpless.

It is also extremely powerful for abuse survivors to come forward and tell their stories, and even more so for them to be prepared to show their faces. It helps to lift the sense of shame from other victims. Abusers depend on everything remaining hidden so that few people realise what is happening and even fewer realise its effect. I think it very likely that Mr Hastings' willingness to go public will prompt others to come forward. He has made a real difference.

The Press Association has an extremely interesting twist in one paragraph of its article on the subject.
White's court case in Taunton heard that the school received legal advice in the early 1990s that they were not required to tell the police what happened. Instead White was sent to a number of monastic retreats in England and Scotland over the next 20 years.
Though it might beggar belief, their legal advice was correct as far as I know. Even if a pupil is raped by a member of staff, the school has no statutory obligation to report the matter to the police.

But I will leave it to you to decide on the moral status of an organisation that relies on legal advice to justify putting its reputation ahead of the welfare of the children in its care in this way.

With this most recent conviction, monks at five out of the six English Benedictine monasteries in England have been convicted in recent years of offences against children. There have been convictions at Ealing, Ampleforth, Belmont, Buckfast and now Downside, all since 2005. Only Worth has so far not had any monks recently convicted (at least, not that I have heard of). What is it about the Benedictines?


  1. When one perpetrator is discovered in a school, there are very often more. Two examples are St Benedict’s and Downside and in the same schools franchise, Ampleforth. This is because perpetrators operate more efficiently and safely in numbers. They look out for each other and have a much better chance of hearing rumours of their suspected predilections.

    When a perpetrator receives a 'soft' unreferred departure, the paedophile’s 'welcome' sign is placed on the school gates. Why do schools fail to refer? Because weak governors, most of whom are ‘connected’ with the school and therefore suffer 'groupthink,' cannot bring themselves to see such a scandal visit the school on their watch. They believe the reputation of the school will be damaged, and they mistakenly argue, it is ‘just one pupil and one perpetrator.' They then discover the ‘deal clincher’ which justifies non referral and which follows a conversation with one of the big educational solicitors - there is no mandatory requirement to report actual or alleged abuse to LADO, police or SSD.

    The self congratulation is overwhelming. The governors have “saved the institution from scandal.” What great people. But, as usual the allegedly abused child in all this is forgotten just as Alastair Rolfe was forgotten in the documentary “Chosen.”

    But the governors have made a dreadful error. And so uneducated are they on this subject that they are completely unaware of its scale and what will very likely now happen.

    The remaining perpetrators at the school are empowered by the actions of the Chairman. They will be calling acquaintances they know who share their predilections, informing them of the vacancy at the school. The odd quiet word in the ear of the recruitment team to say what a good candidate ‘X’ is, and so forth. The school’s perpetrators have seen a soft departure of a colleague who they knew was an abuser, and this provides them with huge power of precedent (blackmail) in the unlikely event they are caught. They can even increase the risks they take to abuse because they know a ‘soft departure’ is now guaranteed.

    The Chairman of Governors has effectively destroyed safeguarding at the school. It will potentially take years to recover. St Benedict’s and Downside are two examples. But there are many other independent schools which have operated in a similarly weak and dishonest ways.

    Perpetrators shoal around ‘perpetrator friendly’ settings for very obvious reasons. If a perpetrator is considering a school at which s/he does not know anyone, the first port of call is the safeguarding policy on the school’s website. The first thing they look for in the policy is whether there is an unequivocal written undertaking to refer ALL allegations of abuse to the LADO? If this is present and the rest of the policy is clearly robust, the perpetrator will likely go elsewhere – there are plenty of easier places to be and these presently include St Benedict’s and Downside among others. Both schools have a history of concealed departures and neither currently undertakes to refer all allegations to the LADO.

  2. The article in yesterday's Times said:

    "Father Aidan Bellenger, Abbot of Downside, wrote to former pupils last week apologising for White's actions but did not mention the sanctions against the other two priests".

    This is reminiscent of Abbot Martin Shipperlee's various "Letters to Parents" at St Benedict's in which he sought to underplay the seriousness of what had happened by leaving out important information.

  3. I'm appalled but not surprised. It was openly endemic at Downside in the 1970's..I've not seen the name of the most notorious monk surface yet.