LEICESTER, United Kingdom — There was a culture of acceptance of abusive behavior and the prioritization of monks and their reputations over the protection of children at two Catholic boarding schools in England, according to a new report.
The schools were located at Benedictine abbeys in Ampleforth in North Yorkshire and Downside in Somerset, and the Independent Inquiry into Child Sexual Abuse (IICSA) found that students suffered “appalling” abuse over the past four decades.
The inquiry was established by the British Home Office – which oversees similar areas as the U.S. Departments of Justice and Homeland Security – in 2014. It is independent and does not answer to the government.
It is currently investigating allegations of abuse in the Catholic Church, among other institutions in England and Wales.
The report into the boarding schools – elite institutions educating the children of some of the most important families in the country and around the world – had a “culture of acceptance of abusive behavior” and detailed a “wide spectrum of physical abuse, much of which had sadistic and sexual overtones.”
The report said the authorities at both schools tried to “avoid contact with the local authority or the police at all costs,” even if they knew serious abuse had happened on the campus.
“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,” said Alexis Jay, the chair of the inquiry.
“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 summarized as a ‘tell them nothing’ attitude.”
The report said both schools “prioritized the monks and their own reputations over the protection of children, maneuvering monks away from the schools in order to avoid scandal.”
The inquiry said 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 Abbey and School fully acknowledges the serious failings and mistakes made in both protecting those within our care and responding to safeguarding concerns,” a Downside spokesman told the BBC.
“We have reflected deeply and will continue to listen with the ear of the heart going forward to ensure that the mistakes of the past are never repeated,” he said.
Ampleforth also issued a statement noting it accepted responsibility for “past failings” and that the school “has never been afraid to learn difficult lessons.”
“We remain completely focused on the safety and wellbeing of those entrusted to our care and our commitment to implement meaningful change,” the statement said.
The Catholic Bishops’ Conference of England and Wales published a statement noting it stands “wholeheartedly by the expressions of regret and the apologies that have already been made on behalf of the Catholic Church in England and Wales to the victims and survivors of sexual abuse.”
“All sexual abuse of children and vulnerable adults is both criminal and harmful. The Church condemns without reservation any such crimes and the perpetrators of these crimes must be brought to justice,” the statement said.