Sunday, 9 September 2012

Failing to report abuse

In recent weeks, two senior Catholic churchmen have been found guilty of failing to report child sex abuse.

In July, Monsignor William Lynn was sentenced to three to six years in jail for covering up a sex abuse complaint against a priest. According to the report on the BBC website:
Lynn supervised hundreds of priests in his role as secretary for clergy at the Archdiocese of Philadelphia.

Last month he became the most senior clergyman convicted in connection to the US Roman Catholic Church scandal.

Judge M Teresa Sarmina said Lynn enabled "monsters in clerical garb... to destroy the souls of children".

"You knew full well what was right, Monsignor Lynn, but you chose wrong," the judge said.
Then last Friday, Bishop Robert Finn was convicted of failing to report suspected child sexual abuse to authorities and was sentenced to two years of supervised probation for the hushing up of suspicious activities by Reverend Shawn Ratigan.

I wholly welcome these convictions. Abusers cannot operate in an environment where suspicions are promptly reported and acted on. In this respect child sex abusers are just like other criminals, they have an interest in not getting caught. If they perceive that the risks of getting caught are very high, they do not dare abuse in the first place. So an institution with a diligently implemented policy of prompt reporting acts as a powerful deterrent to abusers. Preventing abuse from happening in the first place is by far the best protection for children. That is why in all my blogging one particular theme keeps coming up, the need for prompt reporting of all allegations to the authorities, and for it to be thoroughly known to everyone, including potential abusers, that this is what will happen.

If allegations are handled "in-house", the result can be disastrous. First, a school doesn't have investigators trained in this, so they will make mistakes. Second, the investigator is inevitably going to be a colleague of the alleged perpetrator, and may well believe "Mr X is a fine teacher, he would never do a thing like that", and so the allegations are discounted when they should not be.

Finally, even if it is established that abuse has happened, the handling of the matter sometimes also remains in-house. For instance Pearce was moved from being Junior School Headmaster to Bursar at the end of 1992 in response to substantiated complaints about his behaviour. At Downside, Robert White was prevented from teaching the youngest boys as a result of allegations which were admitted by White to be true. Stephen Skelton was given a good reference and sent on his way. In all three cases they went on to abuse again.

We need to describe in-house handling of complaints by its true name - protecting abusers. And when abusers are protected, they will often abuse again. A school with a policy of handling abuse allegations in-house might has well have a large "Paedophiles welcome here" sign above its entrance.

It is easy to see the temptation to handle it in-house. Management has a responsibility to maintain the reputation of the school (and its associated church if it is a church school), and a reported paedophile case is very bad publicity. So the temptation is to believe that the school's pupils can be protected and the school's reputation maintained all at the same time by dealing with the matter internally.

These two convictions, of Monsignor William Lynn and Bishop Robert Finn occurred in the US. Had these events happened in Britain, prosecutions would never have been brought, because  - unbelievably - failing to report child sex abuse is not a crime here. It ought to be, not because I expect to see a large number of convictions for failing to report, but rather to resolve this conflict of interest decisively in favour of reporting allegations. A headmaster will hesitate to cover up abuse (even if he thinks of it as handling it in-house) if he knows that he might go to jail for three-to-six years as a result. There will be much more reporting at a much earlier stage, and schools will become far more dangerous places for abusers to operate.

This won't stop all child sex abuse, but it will greatly reduce it within institutional settings. And that has to be a good thing.

Thursday, 6 September 2012

Update on Soper

The online version of the Mail on Sunday article has just been updated with an interesting new piece of information.

A former worker has also raised concerns about Soper’s time as part-time chaplain at Feltham Young Offender Institution between 1988 and 2000, while Ealing Abbey has now confirmed that Soper was questioned by police during this period.
In the mid-Nineties, Scotland Yard investigated an alleged paedophile ring visiting boys there.
The Metropolitan Police have also put an appeal for information up on their website. Unfortunately, at the time of writing this, their appeal is somewhat inaccurate in its details about him.
  • They have misspelled his name as Lawrence Soper instead of Laurence Soper.
  • They have neglected to mention that Laurence is his monastic name, his forenames are Andrew Charles Kingsdon and that is probably what is on his passport.
  • They have called him a "former priest" which is untrue, he has not (yet) been laicised by the church though I have no doubt that their wheels of bureaucracy are grinding away on that task. They also have failed to mention that he is the former Abbot of Ealing.
Also, they have said that he is wanted "on suspicion of historical sexual assault". I loathe that word "historical". Child sex abuse is the only crime which commonly gets tagged with the word. The implication is that it is a matter which is or should be only of interest to historians. It isn't. This is a crime for which the alleged perpetrator has not yet been brought to justice.

The Metropolitan Police would not call an unsolved murder from the 1980s "an historical murder". And no officer would dare describe the murder of Stephen Lawrence as an historical murder, particularly not in the presence of Mrs Doreen Lawrence. Victims of child sex abuse deserve the same consideration.

Tuesday, 4 September 2012

The Horsey Building

Father Kevin Horsey, an Ealing monk from 1942 until his death in 2006, was a prolific child sex abuser. I have written about him before, here and here, The Daily Mail has also named him. His obituary has been taken down off the OPA website.

And yet, the school still has a building named after him, or at least it does according to the school site map on the school website. Building number 13 is the Horsey Building, next to the Orchard Hall.

I rather think it should be renamed, with a public ceremony of rededication to which the press are invited.

Sunday, 2 September 2012

Abbot Laurence Soper

Abbot Laurence Soper
Abbot Laurence Soper, wanted by the police
The police have obtained a European Arrest Warrant for Abbot Laurence Soper in connection with allegations of sexual assaults committed while he was a monk and teacher at St Benedict's.

The Mail On Sunday broke the story first today, and they were rapidly followed by the Daily Telegraph, the BBC, the Press Association, The Times (behind paywall) and a whole load of other news outlets.

One remarkable aspect of these stories is that we now at last have a good clear photo of Soper (albeit taken 10 years ago). I wonder why it took Abbot Martin Shipperlee so long to release it? If he is truly as keen as he says he is to see Soper brought to justice, why has it taken 18 months from when Soper disappeared for him to make this picture available to the press and the police? Does he really expect us to believe that he never noticed that the previous press pictures of Soper were either very old or very blurry and indistinct?