Tuesday, 20 August 2013

Abbot President Richard Yeo

I've just been watching Sins of Our Fathers again, and decided to pay particular attention to the interview with Richard Yeo, Abbot President of the English Benedictine Congregation.

He started out by saying that he was "very sorry about any abuse that may have been committed at Fort Augustus", which of course very neatly avoids admitting that any abuse in fact had been committed there. These kinds of mealy-mouthed non-apologies are actually worse than useless. For victims and any right-thinking person, they just make the blood boil.

He was then asked about abusive monks who were relocated to Australia rather than the police being called, and how neither the civil nor church authorities in Australia were warned about the people they were receiving. those monks were free to abuse again, and they did. He said that "that is unacceptable, I'm not defending that."

He was then asked whether he had spoken about this to Fr Francis Davidson, the headmaster at the time. At that point Yeo clammed up and said that he wasn't prepared to talk about specific cases.

Yeo was then told that the BBC had evidence that the headmaster in the 60s had ignored allegations of serious sexual abuse by Fr Aidan Duggan. Yeo was asked what he had done to investigate this. He was asked whether he had looked at the school records. Yeo had not - the records are apparently in Edinburgh. Quite why this makes them inaccessible to him was not stated.

Yeo was then given a long list of monks: four who had committed physical abuse, three who had committed sexual abuse, and two headmasters who had covered it all up. Yeo was asked what he was going to do about this. His answer was "I want to wait until I get evidence." What!

He went on to say that "The big problem of Fort Augustus is that the school closed 20 years ago, the monastery closed 15 years ago, and a lot of the people involved are dead. Under those circumstances, it is going to be very difficult to get answers that are going to satisfy people."

But of course he is not going to be active about finding such answers as there may be, instead he is going to "wait until I get evidence"!

Yeo was then asked whether he had met Richard White (Fr Nicholas White) at Fort Augustus.White had been sent to Fort Augustus after having abused Rob Hastings at Downside School. Yeo admitted having met White there in 1997. On being asked whether he knew White was a paedophile, he said he knew there had been serious allegations made against him, which hadn't been handed to the police.

But the reporter Mark Daly I suspect was unaware of the next part of the history of Richard White. At about the time Yeo was elected Abbot of Downside in 1998, White was permitted to return from Fort Augustus. White continued to live at Downside until his arrest in 2010. For eight of the twelve intervening years, Yeo was his Abbot.

Of course, as Abbot, Yeo had access to the records of his predecessors. So he would have been fully aware of the abuse that White had admitted to before being kicked north, and it is for this reason that White was kept on "restricted ministry".

So Yeo must be regarded as a long-term participant in the cover-up of abuse. He said in the that the cover-up "is unacceptable, I'm not defending that." But he joined in that unacceptable action.

The Catholic Church's commitment to safeguarding can be judged by the fact that Yeo was one of the participants in the Cumberlege Commission, and was appointed to carry out the Apostolic Visitation to Ealing Abbey.


  1. Watching Sins of Our Fathers on Monday night reminded me of similar abuses in Catholic boys boarding schools in the Republic of Ireland where I live and where I went to school.

    Prosecutions resulted here also and convictions but only in relation to the more usually understood sexual offences, none however in relation to physical abuse, however severe, which went under the description of 'corporal punishment' such as occurred at Fort Augustus School.

    It indicates a reluctance on prosecution authorities in the UK, as much as it did in Ireland, to confront the issue of physical abuse simpliciter. The main issue,apart from the time limits involved, appears to have been the common law 'in loco parentis' rule which at that time provided immunity to teachers from prosecution where they used 'moderate and reasonable chastisement' on their students. The problem was of course that there was no definition of what was 'moderate and reasonable' leading in some cases to indiscriminate assaults on students.

    The point is illustrated by the rare UK prosecution taken in 1998 against a defendant who left bruises on his step-son after caning him several times. A majority of the jury acquitted the defendant of the charge of assault occasioning actual bodily harm by reliance on the defence of moderate and reasonable chastisement. It was up to the prosecution to prove beyond reasonable doubt that the defendant exceeded this limit and this it failed to do to the satisfaction of the majority of the jury. Times were then indeed different, as were attitudes.

    When this case [ A-v-United Kingdom (1998)] was taken to the European Court of Human Rights the verdict was that the United Kingdom had violated Article 3 of the European Convention, which outlawed torture or inhuman or degrading treatment or punishment, by failing to provide the child with protection since the defendant could and did successfully raise the common-law defence of moderate and reasonable chastisement.

    Some of the allegations of beatings handed out by monks at Fort Augustus indicate that they had gone well beyond the limits of moderate or reasonable punishment and their motives were highly questionable to say the very least. It was all very unedifying involving Catholic Benedictine priests supposedly running an elite boarding school,but regrettably a phenomenon we have now become used to hearing about as having occurred in many Catholic schools around the world.

    John A. Kehoe, LLB.,LLM (Human Rights)

  2. Jonathan

    You're quite right to highlight Abbot Richard Yeo's evasive answers and behaviour in Sins of Our Fathers. Yeo seemed to believe that keeping the Downside child sex abuser, Fr Nicholas (Richard) White, within a monastic community - at Fort Augustus - was to the latter's benefit. But what of the danger he would still be to the boys of that School?

    * * *

    I am concerned about the vital point of PUBLIC INFORMATION. BBCiplayer stated that Sins of Our Fathers, shown for the FIRST TIME on BBC2 on Monday at 11.20 pm - and not at PEAK TIME (9.00 pm) as it should have been - was stated to be available till Wednesday 21 at 12.00 am (approximately).

    Yet, on Tuesday, at 10.30 pm - less than a day later - Sins of Our Fathers was no longer available to see. What is going on?

    The BBC have failed to leave up an important and revelatory report on Benedictine child sexual abuse. Most programmes are kept on BBCiPlayer for at least a week. Why not this?

    As we now know, on the issue of child sexual abuse the BBC has shown itself to be naive and egregiously incompetent. If it wasn't so serious at matter, it would be laughable.

    Pollard's Enquiry said the BBC’s management system had proved completely incapable of dealing with the Savile issue and "the level of chaos and confusion was even greater than was apparent at the time".

    £4.9 million has been spent on the Savile Enquiry and Chris Patten, Chairman of the BBC Trust, has said: 'The Corporation seriously let down itself and licence fee payers'. And, YES, Mr Patten, it still does.

    The first duty of the BBC is to INFORM the public. Will it please keep Sins of Our Fathers on BBCiPlayer until 2014?

    Many less important documentaries are kept up for longer. If the BBC FAIL to put Sins of Our Fathers on BBCiPlayer, are we to assume that Jimmy Savile's links with Fort Augustus and Chris Patten's links with St Benedict's, Ealing, have something to do with it?

  3. Jonathan

    Sorry, my mistake. The BBC did keep Sins of Our Fathers shown of BBC2 on Monday 19 August at 11.20 pm on BBCiPlayer until midday on Wednesday 21 August - effectively for a day and a half. So the main point of my letter (above) remains - and needs addressing.

    It's the duty of the BBC to inform the public of ALL CHILD SEXUAL ABUSE. In this, the BBC continues to be LAX. And this concerns us all. For how, otherwise, are solutions to be found for this horrific problem - and then implemented?

    1. Jonathan

      I have submitted a complaint and request to the BBC. I have asked them again to keep Sins of Our Fathers on BBCiPlayer until 2014.
      And I await their reply with interest.

    2. The BBC removed the film from their site remarkably quickly. Did Old Priorian Fat Pang get huffy?

  4. Jonathan so every Benedictine school in the UK can be shown to have had abusing priests and monks working and actively molesting in it. The church authorities would like us to believe it was a case of a few rotten apples or two. It appears quite the opposite and there was certainly a strong inference in the Sins of Our Fathers that there was an active ring. I don't think it is about dealing with individual schools anymore, surely it is about the Order of Saint Benedict as a whole and how it is governed in the UK. Has the time not come when the OSB UK can be adjudged as not fit for purpose? Would it not be appropriate for the order to openly acknowledge that it has really got this whole situation wrong, and allowed many young and vulnerable children to be brutally abused, and ultimately has lost its way? Perhaps an appropriate penance would be to withdraw to their monasteries for a period of 5 years,let's say, (no doubt some will say for good) to reflect on this tragic set of circumstances but most importantly to remove all priests and monks from their schools and hand over the management of these schools to trustees/ responsible people with their future involvement in these schools to be reviewed.

  5. Hello Jonathan
    Watching Yeo do his act for the insurer made me feel physically SICK. These smug "abusing by proxy" individuals really should know better. with my dealings with The Methodist Church I have encountered the very same behaviour with regard to Rydal School now Rydal Penrhos School where abuse has taken place across a 50 year time period. I personally experienced and witnessed abuse there for 10 years. At Rydal the principle abuser a Peter MacLaren (who was at it for 34 years) was given a lavish Memorial Service after his death which fully indicates where THE METHODIST MORAL COMPASS POINTS!!! Sadly many of our "Institutions" engage in "Institutional Abuse" YEO is just another as demonstrated by his "NON" apology which as we know is just an insult and abuse all over again. Yours Alexander Curzon and I take full legal responsibility for my remarks/statement.

  6. It would strange if all the Fort Augustus archives were in Edinburgh. There is a central archive for the English Benedictine Congregation - at Abbot Richard Yeo's own monastery of Downside!

    Surely sensitive, strictly Benedictine archives, (like those pertaining to monks, went there rather than Edinburgh. If so, Abbot Yeo is living right next to them. How odd that he cannot get access to them.

  7. The logical place for the records to be is of course Downside, always assuming they haven't been destroyed.

    Even if Abbot Yeo is right and they are in Edinburgh it is not as though they are on the moon. Scotland's capital is well served by road, rail and air links, it would be a simple matter to send someone to Edinburgh to take a look. It is not an excuse to do nothing.

  8. Drizzle is a reason for halting a search for records of wrongdoing.

  9. I would be curious to know what steps (if any), Abbot Martin has taken to locate the fugitive Laurence Soper.