Tuesday, 6 August 2013

Fort Augustus

Last week, BBC Scotland aired a documentary Sins of Our Fathers about the former abbey at Fort Augustus, and its associated schools at Fort Augustus and Carlekemp.

It had all the elements we have become dreadfully familiar with through Ealing, Downside and all the other cases we have learned about over the past few years. Brutal physical abuse, physical abuse being administered for sexual pleasure, grooming, sexual abuse up to and including child rape.

And there were the cases of children not being believed, and being threatened into silence when they tried to report what had happened to them.

The BBC journalists traced one monk who many children had reported abused them to a house in Australia. Unsurprisingly Fr Chrysostom Alexander did not want to be interviewed, but it was quite clear that he was completely unsurprised at the BBC being there. His only reaction was to threaten to call the police if the journalists didn't get off his property.

But there is another aspect which is also dreadfully familiar. Fr Chrysostom was sent back to Australia, but it seems that neither the diocese of Sydney nor the Australian civil authorities were warned about his abusing. He continued to act as a priest for many years.

It seems that Fort Augustus was also used as a dumping ground for abusive monks and priests.  After Rob Hastings was abused at Downside School, his abuser Richard White (Fr Nicholas White) was sent away from Downside to Fort Augustus. Other priests, including ones who were not monks at all, seem also to have lived there. The former Abbot of Downside, Abbot Richard Yeo, appeared on the program to apologise for any abuse that "might have happened", but seemed remarkably slow off the mark with regard to any possible investigations he might conduct. Mind you, he probably knows quite a bit already. Richard White returned to Downside at about the time Yeo became Abbot. Yeo of course didn't tell the police what White had done.

And it gets worse. Jimmy Savile had his holiday home at Glencoe, only an hour's drive away, and according to the Scottish Daily Record was a regular visitor to Fort Augustus.

I've been told that monks from Ealing used to take "holidays" at Fort Augustus. If anybody knows more details, then I would be interested.

The one good thing in comparison to the other Benedictine abuse scandals is that at least the school and abbey at Fort Augustus are closed, and have been for 20 years. No more children can be harmed there.


  1. Jonathan, I was impressed by your comments on the ibenedictines blog about the high proportion of Catholic priests convicted in the past decade of abuse who were English Benedictines. As usual people seemd keen to tone down what you were saying, but it struck me that you were merely stating unadorned fact. The Fort Augustus scandal means there isn't a single English Benedictine monastery (functioning within living memory) that has not had a sex scandal to some degree. It also struck me that the bishop of Aberdeen (a monk of Pluscarden Abbey, of the Subiaco Benedictine congregation) was keen to imply that there were a few rotten apples at Fort Augustus. This may be true of some EBC monasteries, but several of the cases have involved proportionally large numbers of monks in smaller communities (Fort Augustus/Ealing) or prominent members of the community even abbot (Ealing/Buckfast). The trend would clearly indicate that there is or was something very wrong in the EBC. And those monks still in those monasteries who would claim not to know...well, Benedictine communities are families, & I frankly don't believe they didn't know. In the case of Ealing the fact that the school pupils called one monk Fr Florence & another Gay Dave would have clearly indicated something was wrong.
    To anyone not keen to perpetuate the cover-up, one thing is clear: there has been something extremely wrong in the EBC. As to whether it's sorted out...would you believe these people?

  2. Keep up the good work. The greater the pressure on the Church the greater the likelihood (which admittedly is still miniscule) that something effective will actually be done..like banning any monastic order from having close contact with children for any purpose.

    Sean.. Fort Augustus Old boy '61-'65

  3. The system will swing into action. One or two offenders will be ''hung out to dry'' then all will be forgotten and business as usual for the R.C.Church and Benedictines. The Church has never accepted responsibility for its foul actions in thousands of years history. I was there 58 - 63 and Sins of Our Fathers has brought back over 50 years suppressed memories. I hated the place, particularly the hypocrisy of the men of god. Congratulations to BBC Scotland and the brave men who took part in the film. Chris.

  4. All I will say is thnk yoi for your persistance and for the good result. You have done what the rest of us, I hope would have liked to have done but did not.

  5. I was at Carlekemp, 'Carlies', from autumn 1973 to summer 1977, and Fort Augustus, 'The Abbey', from autumn 1977 until summer 1980.

    Corporal punishment was not uncommon at both schools, as was singling out and bullying by teachers.

    At Carlekemp, one punishment for minor offences was 'kneeling out': kneeling upright, facing the wall, bare-kneed (we wore shorts), usually on the wooden floor of the main corridor, not allowed to make contact with the wall, usually for at least an hour. One would also sometimes have to hold a book in each hand. For talking in the dormitory after 'lights-out', the punishment was the same, although one did have the 'luxury' of pyjama trousers and dressing-gown to insulate ones knees from the floor. This punishment was often meted out by prefects.

    At Fort Augustus, detention was more common, although there was also regular use of either the belt or the cane by housemasters, depending on the housemaster. Violence by both house and school prefects was not uncommon, either. Cold showers were another common punishment, usually authorised by prefects.

    Perhaps there was a hiatus during my time at both schools, but I never heard about any sexual abuse actually going on at the times I was at either school, although there were rumours at Fort Augustus about 'Fr.' Chrysostom and a boy, he had already been sent back to Australia just before I started at Fort Augustus, and he was not at Carlkemp when I was there.

    I don't know where the hell the BBC got the idea that either school was somehow exclusive. Fort Augustus was a rough and often frightening place, where bullying was rife. Apparently, one nickname for 'Abbey boys' was 'the borstal boys'.

    1. Does the term 'crimes against humanity' spring to anyones mind?

    2. We were exact contemporaries at Carlekemp, and I am sure knew each other. The corridor wasn't wood, it was red lino, I know because I was forced to kneel there (as you describe) for 7 hours (I helped with the documentary - (the boy's voiceover about that bit is my bit). It's good that those bastards are being exposed.

  6. If Pope Francis wants to make a mark, then perhaps he could launch a publicised inquiry about this affair.

    Perhaps he could dissolve the EBC.

    Perhaps the RCC could cooperate with civil juridical authorities.

    Perhaps there needs to be something like the Simon Wiesenthal Organisation to track down these evil 'men of god'.

  7. I was there.

    The programme can still be viewed here:


    Statements from the EBC and Fort Augustus old boys club can be found here:


    and here:


    The old boys club seems to be in a state of denial about the whole affair, as evinced by this:


    Edward Delepine is one of the monks implicated in the horrible affair, but this is not mentioned.

    If you were there and either you were affected or abused, or you just have information, then please summon up the courage to contact:

    http://www.children1st.org.uk/ on 0800 345 7457

    and/or Police Scotland


    There were easily 30 of us in my year alone, and there may well be other monks or teachers whose actions need to be examined.

    Jonathan, I apologise if I seem to be misusing the hospitality of this blog by posting the links, but I found out about this only recently, after a random search for 'Fort Augustus Abbey' led to this page, among others, and it's the only one offering anonymity to respondents.

    Thank you.

    1. I allow anonymous commenting specifically because I realise that victims may need anonymity as they dip their toes in the water when bringing themselves to disclose the abuse they have suffered.

      It can take a very great deal of courage to come forward to the police, and I understand how difficult it can be. But if you have suffered abuse, then when you are ready to report it, you may find that it is a critical first step in claiming your life back from your abuser. That is what several victims have told me of their own experiences.

    2. Again, thank you.

      I personally am not affected, but given how scattered across the www information is, it made sense to collate the links.

      As far as I'm concerned, I went to yet another rough, badly run school during the time that corporal punishment was permitted, and I think that sending children to boarding schools is a wrong and irresponsible choice for supposedly caring parents to make, especially when said schools are run by those who have willingly chosen to abrogate parenthood.

      Nonetheless, I was shocked by the film, and by further findings as I researched the story. Apparently, up to 50 former pupils have come forward, and 10 monks and 1 lay teacher have been implicated.

      Although I have no doubt that it will be a drawn out process, given investigations, due legal process, burdens of proof, etc.,
      I sincerely hope that justice be done, and that whatever case may arise has/will not been prejudiced by either the actions of the press, or by law firms advertising their interest in the case.

  8. “All guests who arrive should be received as Christ, for he himself will say, I was a stranger and you took me in.” The Rule of Saint Benedict 53.1

  9. Hello Jonathan & Others
    I was at Carlekemp and my bother at both both North Berwick and Fort Augustus. Yes of course we suppress such disgraceful incidents and crimes and try to get on with our lives as best we can. I am a survivor of abuse at Carlekemp of all categories including the public birch from 1969 to 1974. I have made a full and frank statement to Police Scotland to a very considerate WPC and in my case both perpetrators are dead so I can at least now put this behind me once and for all and spare my girlfriend, daughter and family the gory details. I believe I have managed to help many victims of torture and human rights abuses in Burma through my life and suffering in silence is in a way to consent and allow evil to prevail. i am not convinced by the so called contrition of the Benedictines at all, I just hope my statement and that of my brother will help to corroborate others who may be suffering a blighted life. I am not going to carry this weight around forever because I owe myself and the people around me happiness and wish to be productive. Do good things for peeps and yourself and the anger and outrage will abate. OSB shame on you. Ok must dash have a garden to dig.