The Independent Inquiry into Child Sexual Abuse (IICSA) has today (9 August) published its report into Ampleforth College and Downside School as part of its investigation into the Roman Catholic Church.
Evidence heard by the Inquiry highlighted appalling sexual abuse which was inflicted over decades on children as young as seven years old.
The inquiry heard how boys were made to strip naked and were beaten. Some were forced to give and receive oral sex, both privately and in front of other pupils. Alleged abuse included digital penetration of the anus and children being compelled to perform sex acts on each other.
Physical abuse had sadistic and sexual overtones, said the report, with one survivor describing his abuser at Ampleforth as “an out-and-out sadist”.
“Many perpetrators did not hide their sexual interests from the children … The blatant openness of these activities demonstrates there was a culture of acceptance of abusive behaviour,”
the report said.
Both schools are attached to abbeys of the English Benedictine Congregation and are regarded as leading Catholic independent schools. Ampleforth describes itself as ‘the world’s leading co-educational Catholic boarding and day school’ on its website.
Ampleforth in North Yorkshire and Downside in Somerset “prioritised the monks and their own reputations over the protection of children … in order to avoid scandal”, said the report, which was published by IICSA on 9th August after hearings last year.
Ten people, mostly monks, connected to the two schools have been convicted or cautioned in relation to offences involving sexual activity with a large number of children or pornography.
The report concludes that there was a culture of acceptance of abusive behaviour and the prioritisation of monks and their reputations over the protection of children.
Professor Alexis Jay, Chair of the Inquiry, said: “For decades Ampleforth and Downside tried to avoid giving any information about child sexual abuse to police and social services. Instead, monks in both institutions were very often secretive, evasive and suspicious of anyone outside the English Benedictine Congregation. Safeguarding children was less important than the reputation of the Church and the wellbeing of the abusive monks. Even after new procedures were introduced in 2001, when monks gave the appearance of co-operation and trust, their approach could be summarised as a ‘tell them nothing’ attitude.”
In 2001, the Nolan report made recommendations on the safeguarding of children in the Catholic church, including that incidents or allegations of sexual abuse should be referred to the statutory authorities. The IICSA report concluded that the schools did no more than “pay lip service” to the Nolan report and that a view was taken that its implementation was “neither obligatory nor desirable”.
“At Ampleforth and Downside, a number of allegations were never referred to the police but were handled internally,”
said the report.
“On occasion abbots saw fit to set up their own procedures … despite the fact they lacked expertise in child protection and risk assessment.”
It said the abbot of Ampleforth, Timothy Wright, “clung to outdated beliefs about ‘paedophilia’ and had an immovable attitude of always knowing best”.
Abbots at both schools would confine suspected perpetrators to the abbey or transfer them elsewhere.
The Inquiry also heard that significant efforts had been made to destroy records and evidence. One former headmaster of Downside “made several trips with a wheelbarrow with files to the edge of the estate and made a bonfire of them”.
Acknowledging that some steps had been taken, the report found that neither school had formally established a comprehensive redress system and no public apology had been made.
In April, the Charities Commission stripped the charitable bodies that run Ampleforth of their safeguarding oversight and appointed an interim manager.
IICSA will hold a further public hearing into another Benedictine abbey and school, Ealing and St Benedict’s, early next year.
If you have been affected by this article and would like advice about pursuing a civil claim for compensation please contact the Child Abuse team at Jordans Solicitors. We can be contacted free on 033 0300 1103 or you can request a call back. We can advise you on the available options of pursuing a civil damages claim. Jordans successfully represent and secure compensation for numerous victims of abuse and are experts in overcoming the particular challenges that arise in these sensitive cases.