Friday, 3 May 2013

Interview in the Universe

I've just had it brought to my attention that Abbot Martin Shipperlee was interviewed in the Universe in November last year, the full text of the interview was placed in the December 2011 edition of the parish magazine.
What is your reaction to Lord Carlile’s Report?
Lord Carlile’s report does not make very pretty reading, in fact, what it contains is a source of shame for us. That is why we have accepted the recommendations in the report and are doing everything that we can to prevent anything like this happening again.
The bit about having accepted all the recommendations of the report is just not true. Father Gregory Chillman was listed in the report as one of the monks against whom there were credible allegations, and one of the recommendations of the report was that any such people should not be permitted to live at the Abbey. And yet he is still there.
Can you describe these measures?
First of all, we have taken a great deal of expert advice on safeguarding and we now have in place trained safeguarding teams for the school, the abbey and the parish.
That's good as far as it goes, it's a bit vague though.
The school has detailed safeguarding policies and procedures which meet with the approval of the Department for Education and the Independent Schools Inspectorate. The parish, of course, follows the Catholic Safeguarding Advisory Service policy and guidelines and the NSPCC are advising the Abbey on procedures. All key staff have had safeguarding training to the appropriate level.
The school's "detailed safeguarding policies and procedures" are still inadequate. Lord Carlile, though he has prosecuted and defended child abuse cases, is not an expert in how to organise effective safeguarding measures in an institutional setting. The Department of Education and the Independent Schools Inspectorate are only interested in ensuring that a school's policy meets statutory requirements, and given that the ISI and DfE managed not to notice anything wrong with the school until I explained it to them in words of one syllable, a reliance on their approval is not something that inspires confidence.
Lord Carlile advised that the governance of St Benedict’s School was, to be frank, no longer fit for purpose and that the school should become an educational charity, quite separate from the Abbey Trust.

Work has already started on this and everything should be in place by September 2012. The new governing body of the school cannot take over formally until the educational trust is established, but the transition will start shortly and an interim governing body, or governing body designate, will gradually assume responsibility for the school.

The governing body will have a lay chairman and monks will be in the minority. New governors will be recruited with the appropriate expertise and experience.
On this point I agree with Lord Carlile. But Lord Carlile is mistaken if merely changing the governance to a more secular model will of itself make much of a difference to safeguarding. There are plenty of secular independent schools which have had serious safeguarding problems. So this is welcome but largely irrelevant to the reason Lord Carlile was called in.
Over and above what Lord Carlile has recommended, I have commissioned an independent safeguarding expert to make unannounced inspections of the safeguarding arrangements in the school, parish and abbey.
He hasn't said who this expert is. We have been here before. Back in February 2010, long before Lord Carlile became involved, what purported to be the report of an "Independent Review" commissioned by the Abbot was published. I later learned who had conducted the inquiry, and a friend of mine spoke to him concerning the circumstances under which it had been carried out. It turned out that:
  • the terms of reference were the Abbey only, not the school, 
  • it was a paper-only review, nobody was interviewed.
  • the reviewer visited for only half a day
  • the review addressed only the period covering the abuse of Pearce's last victim, when Pearce was already under restrictions
  • the reviewer was not told about the duration and number of Pearce's other known crimes, though he inferred that other crimes not disclosed had been committed.
Despite this, the report was placed on the school website as being the fulfilment of the Abbot's promise of an independent review.
It is on record that abuse occurred over many years, why was nothing done about it?
Hindsight makes everything clear, but in years gone past there was a general unwillingness to accept that such things could happen so that the children themselves found it difficult to find anyone to listen to them. The result was that often enough there was only gossip and rumour and little fact on which to act. That is why we have our present safeguarding structures in the Church, so that people are trained to notice, to listen and to act.
Many of those safeguarding structures were put in place by Archbishop Vincent Nichols, when he was Bishop of Birmingham and chairman of COPCA. However, when I raised concerns about Ealing Abbey with him, his response could be paraphrased as "nothing to do with me, guv". So much for the church's present safeguarding structures.
In his report, Lord Carlile states St Benedict’s rule of love and forgiveness appears to have overshadowed responsibility for children’s welfare. Is this the case?
This I think, refers to my decision to allow Fr David Pearce to continue living in the monastery after a civil claim for abuse had succeeded against him. I could have sent him away, but that would have meant that someone about whom I had justifiable concerns would have been living without any supervision. I judged that it was safer if he remained in the monastery where we could be sure that he had no contact with the school or parish and thus with young people. As it turned out, I made a grave error of judgement and can blame no‐one but myself. What I was attempting was much more difficult than I had expected and a young man was put in harm’s way as a result.
It could also be taken to refer to the habit of the Catholic hierarchy (clear from many other reports into abuse) when talking about "welfare" of considering solely the welfare of the abusing priest. The welfare of the abused child rarely if ever gets a look-in. There are Benedictine monasteries in England which do not have schools attached to them. Pearce could have been sent to one of them. Shipperlee could have cooperated with the local Social Services to work out the best approach to keeping children safe from Pearce.

But he did none of these things. He kept Pearce at the abbey, he did not tell people the truth about why he was on restricted ministry, instead he put it about that the restrictions were "to protect Fr David from unfounded allegations", and worst of all, he allowed a pupil of the school into the monastery itself as an employee to wash dishes at weekends.
Is the situation as bad as has been reported in the national press?In some ways, yes, in others no. As I have already said, I am making no excuse and I don’t seek to minimise what happened in the past. The press are quite right to report this. However, some reporting has given the impression that abuse has been taking place up to the present day. Editorial comments have sometimes appeared to be biased against the school, again dwelling upon what happened in the past with no recognition of the school as it is today. Certainly since I have been abbot and since Christopher Cleugh, the present headmaster has been in post, which is over a decade, there have been no suggestions of abuse in the school.
That is quite simply not true. We can admire the Abbot's sophistry of "no suggestions of abuse within the school", in that while Pearce's last victim was a pupil of the school and Pearce was a monk and priest and former teacher at and Trustee of the school, his last victim was abused outside the school. But even allowing for that, the Abbot's statement is not true. The Carlile report refers to a further incident that occurred within the school in the summer of 2010, after Pearce's arrest and conviction. Admittedly no criminal charges followed, but additional training in "communication skills" was given to the teacher in question.

Furthermore, Social Services have been notified of incidents concerning Father Gregory Chillman's conduct as chaplain of St Augustine's Priory School as recently as 2005 - in other words during Shipperlee's time as Abbot.
Why was Lord Carlile chosen to carry out the inquiry into events at St Benedict’s School?
As the situation unfolded, I quickly realised that I was out of my depth, that I needed guidance from professional people with experience in dealing with safeguarding matters in schools and within the Church. I had benefit of advice from a number of people from within the Church and others with no connection to the Church, including a senior social worker who has carried out high‐level investigations into the Church in Ireland. The consensus of advice was that a thorough independent investigation into past events was required, and Lord Carlile was recommended as someone eminently suitable to carry out that investigation. He has a track record of in depth investigations and has extensive experience in child abuse cases.
"Out of my depth" is about the most charitable possible interpretation of the situation. It is worth noting that Lord Carlile, by his own statements, did not carry out "a thorough independent investigation into past events". He did not report on individual incidents, he did not make recommendations concerning needed safeguarding improvements identified as a result of examining those incidents. He included in an appendix to his report a child protection policy for the school which he stated was as good as any in the country, but which did not ensure that all allegations of abuse without exception would be reported promptly to the LADO. If Shipperlee was wanting and expecting a thorough investigation, he didn't get it.
It has been widely reported in the press that (former Ealing monk) Fr Laurence Soper is on the run from the police. What exactly are the circumstances?That is the case. For the past 12 years, he was working as bursar at the Benedictine University in Rome. Back in March, he agreed to return to England for an appointment with the police.He had returned at the request of the police on two or three previous occasions, it was a matter of trust. In March, he abused that trust. He left the monastery in Rome, ostensibly to come to London and he hasn’t been seen since.
Laurence Soper is not just a former Ealing monk. He is Shipperlee's immediate predecessor as Abbot. We have a former Abbot of Ealing who is on the run rather than face child abuse charges.
Don’t you have any idea where he could be?
He could be anywhere, I have absolutely no idea. I have notified religious houses where he had stayed in the past about the situation, no one has any idea where he is. We have given every possible assistance to the police and we urge him to contact the police so that they can deal with allegations against him. He is an embarrassment to the Order of St Benedict and to the Church. He betrayed the trust placed in him by the police.
That photo was a bit slow appearing. It only appeared about 18 months after Soper went on the run.
Should you resign as Abbot?That is something I have thought about every day. As I have already said, I made one serious error of judgement but aside from that, all of the cases highlighted in the report happened in the past, many in the distant past, and all before my watch. The community has confidence in the measures I have taken and want me to see this through. Before I complete my term as Abbot I want to ensure that everything that needs to be done is in place for my successor.
By definition, all the cases in the report happened in the past, but there have been three known cases involving either Ealing monks or teachers at St Benedict's which have occurred during Shipperlee's time as Abbot. So "all before my watch" is not true. It is, to put it in the vernacular, a lie. What is more, it is a stupid lie because the dates of the incidents are recorded in the Carlile report available for anybody to take a look at.
What future do you see for the Benedictines in Ealing?
There have been times in recent months when I have wondered if Ealing Abbey has any future at all. But if I step back from the immediate train of events I can see a school that has flourished in the past decade and which is larger and more successful than ever despite the stain of its past. As for the monastery, we will prosper if we can show that we have learned from this terrible story, that we can confront the past and be better people and better monks for it.
If that is the basis for his confidence in the future of the Benedictines in Ealing, then the monastery is doomed. There is no sign that he has "learned from this terrible story". The school's child protection policy is still not of very good quality through it scrapes by National Minimum Standards. (You can compare it with the new St Augustine's Priory School policy, which is very much improved and is now clearly and obviously designed to ensure that the authorities are promptly informed of all concerns.) The parish website simply makes a blanket reference to NCSC procedures, which is not at all the same as actually having a safeguarding policy.

I also wouldn't mind an apology for this astonishing outburst from Mr Cleugh, in his September 2010 prizegiving day speech, given in the presence of the Abbot, parents, children and assorted dignitaries.
I absolutely refute that anyone associated with St Benedict’s School has misled the Inspectors or protected offenders - such allegations are at best misguided and at worst deliberately malicious. Recent media and blog coverage seem 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.
Cleugh has never publicly retracted those words.


  1. This comment has been removed by the author.

  2. "at best misguided and at worst deliberately malicious"

    At this point the phrase "deliberately malicious" seems a better description of Cleugh and Shipperlee. Either that or they are so far gone into denial they can't see reality. Child abuse and its abetting are evil.

    Who needs "an anti-Catholic movement" when these people are doing such a terrific job of desecrating the church from the inside. I recently attended a funeral in my local Catholic church and looking at the priests, couldn't help thinking - did you know? The people that taught you probably knew. I felt a rising tide of anger and disgust instead of feeling spiritual renewal.

  3. Things really are very quiet these days at st benedicts,it appears things have improved for the better with mr cleugh very happy with the way the school is going forward,well done st benedicts,gazette page 5 this week.