9 Nov 2011

Monks lose control of Catholic abuse school

A Catholic school where pupils were sexually abused accepts an inquiry’s recommendation that monks should be stripped of their powers.

St Benedict’s School in Ealing, west London, offered a “heartfelt apology for past failures” as Lord Carlile of Berriew outlined 21 cases of abuse since 1970.

The peer said he hoped his recommendations about governance would be taken up by other Catholic schools. Four other private schools have a similar structure to St Benedict’s, including Ampleforth College in North Yorkshire.

The form of governance of St Benedict’s School is wholly outdated. Lord Carlile of Berriew

Lord Carlile said Ealing Abbey had failed to intervene when allegations of abuse were made. He said: “I have come to the firm conclusion … that the form of governance of St Benedict’s School is wholly outdated and demonstrably unacceptable. The abbot himself has accepted that it is ‘opaque to outsiders’.”

St Benedict's Catholic school, where pupils were sexually abused, has accepted an inquiry's recommendation that monks should lose their control over the institution (Reuters)

Father David Pearce

He said the crimes of Father David Pearce, who was jailed for abusing five boys over a 36-year period, illustrated how “St Benedict’s rule of love and forgiveness appears to have overshadowed responsibility for children’s welfare”.

His report added: “In a school where there has been abuse, mostly – but not exclusively – as a result of the activities of the monastic community, any semblance of a conflict of interest, of lack of independent scrutiny, must be removed.”

Lord Carlile said the abbey’s powers over the school should be removed, with the reforms in place by the start of the next academic year.

Headmaster Chris Cleugh admitted the school, whose former pupils include the comedian Julian Clary and BBC Trust chairman Lord Patten, “could have, and should have, done more” to stop the abuses.

Past abuses at the school have left a terrible legacy on those affected. Chris Cleugh, headmaster, St Benedict’s

He said the school was “totally” committed to implementing the changes,adding: “Past abuses at the school have left a terrible legacy on those affected and have tarnished the reputation of St Benedict’s. On behalf of the school, I offer my heartfelt apology for past failures.”

‘Devil in a dog collar’

Pearce, referred to as the “devil in a dog collar”, was jailed in 2009. Police are also hunting Father Laurence Soper over allegations that he abused children when he was a teacher at St Benedict’s from 1991-2000.

Father Soper, a former abbott at Ealing Abbey, is believed to have been living in a monastery in Rome, was due to return to London to answer bail in March, but failed to turn up.

On Tuesday, the High Court ruled that the Catholic Church could be held liable for the wrongdoing of its priests.

In 2010, Channel 4 News revealed that more than half of Catholic priests, who had been sentenced to more than a year in prison for child abuse in England and Wales since 2001, remained in the priesthood.