Monks at two leading Roman Catholic schools did not hide their sexual interest from young boys as young as seven, an inquiry has found.
The Independent Inquiry into Child Sexual Abuse (IICSA), led by professor Alexis Jay, has investigated whether Ampleforth in North Yorkshire and Downside in Somerset failed to protect pupils from predators.
Lawyers representing former students allege the schools turned a blind eye to offending over many years.
Victims were as young as 11 at Downside and seven at Ampleforth.
One alleged offender at Ampleforth is said to have abused at least 11 children aged between eight and 12 over a “sustained period of time”, but died before police could investigate.
The inquiry’s findings have been published after evidence hearings last year, which lasted weeks.
Ten people, mostly monks, connected to Ampleforth and Downside have been convicted or cautioned in relation to offences involving sexual activity with a large number of children, or pornography.
The inquiry found that many perpetrators did not hide their sexual interests from the boys.
At Ampleforth, this included communal activities, both outdoors and indoors, involving fondling of children, mutual and group masturbation.
The inquiry added that the true scale of sexual abuse of children in the schools over 40 years was likely to be considerably higher than is reflected in the number of perpetrators convicted.
It added: “Both Ampleforth and Downside prioritised the monks and their own reputations over the protection of children, manoeuvring monks away from the schools in order to avoid scandal.
“Those who received them would sometimes not be adequately informed of the risk.
“Downside in particular tried to pave the way for the return of abusive monks after the boys who might have known them had left.”
The inquiry also said that after the Nolan Report in 2001 – which investigated clerical child abuse and put measures in place to end it – the wider Catholic church seemed to not challenge Ampleforth and Downside when it failed to implement the measures.
The inquiry said: “There was hostility to Nolan in both institutions [Ampleforth and Downside] for some years after its adoption. They seemed to take a view that its implementation was neither obligatory nor desirable. And this view seemed to go unchallenged by the wider Catholic Church.”
Allegations stretching back to the 1960s encompassed “a wide spectrum of physical abuse, much of which had sadistic and sexual overtones”, according to the report.
Child protection issues were not limited to the distant past, the report found.
In 2016 and 2017, former abbot of Downside Aidan Bellenger sent two letters to Father Leo Maidlow Davis, highlighting how four suspected paedophiles remained at Downside.
This information was not passed on to the local authority safeguarding lead.
Father Davis eventually apologised, but the report said: “The whole incident, having occurred so recently, gives no cause for confidence that the attitudes at Downside had changed enough to put children first over threat to reputation and embarrassment to senior members of the monastic order.”
The inquiry suggested that a “strict separation” between the abbeys and schools was needed to ensure school safeguarding was free from the “often-conflicting priorities of the abbeys”.
Ampleforth took seven years to do this, but Downside still has not.
Professor Alexis Jay 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 a statement, Ampleforth offered a “heartfelt apology to anyone who suffered abuse while in the care of our schools, parishes or other ministries”.
It said the school is “committed to providing the highest possible standards when it comes to looking after those entrusted to our care and have welcomed the opportunity to work with IICSA on this wide-ranging inquiry into the best ways to protect children”.
It added that the school has “publicly accepted responsibility for past failings on many occasions”, and “the Ampleforth of today has never been afraid to learn difficult lessons”.
The Catholic church is one of 13 strands of public life being investigated for child protection failings by the IICSA.
The NSPCC says safeguarding measures are vital in all institutions to “prevent reputations being prioritised above the victims of abuse”.
From – SkyNews