Catholic school in London apologises for abuse by monks

9th November 2011, Comments 0 comments

A Catholic school in London apologised Wednesday for abuse of pupils by monks over 40 years, and accepted recommendations to fundamentally change the way it is run to protect children in the future.

Chris Cleugh, the headmaster of St Benedict's School, expressed his "heartfelt apologies" following an independent British report detailing 21 incidents of abuse by monks dating from the 1970s until last year.

"Past abuses at the school have left a terrible legacy for those affected and have tarnished the reputation of St Benedict's. On behalf of all at the school, I offer my heartfelt apology for past failures," he said.

"The school could have, and should have, done more."

The Vatican has ordered its own investigation into the abuse at Ealing Abbey -- which is associated with the school -- as it seeks to manage another scandal following those that rocked the Church in Ireland, the US, Germany and elsewhere.

The independent report into the abuse recommends that governance of the school be removed from the hands of the Benedictine community of Ealing Abbey.

"I have come to the firm conclusion... that the form of governance of St Benedict's School is wholly outdated and demonstrably unacceptable," said the report, commissioned by the abbey and compiled by leading lawyer Alex Carlile.

He added: "It does not have the appearance of allowing for independent scrutiny of the ongoing relationship between abbey and school."

One former headmaster of St Benedict's -- one of Britain's foremost independent Catholic schools -- who lived at the monastery for more than 25 years, Father David Pearce, was jailed in 2009 for abusing five male pupils.

"In the case of Father Pearce the commitment to trust within the community and to St Benedicts rule of love and forgiveness appears to have overshadowed responsibility for childrens welfare," Carlile said in his report.

According to the report, a lay teacher at the school, John Maestri, has been convicted of abusing three male pupils in the 1970s and early 1980s, while another unnamed teacher is awaiting trial.

Meanwhile Father Laurence Soper, a former abbot of Ealing Abbey, is on the run after skipping police bail. He faces accusations of abusing five pupils, and is believed to be abroad.

Despite his recommendations about governance, Carlile says the school has learned its lessons and is these days "an excellent place for boys and girls to be educated in safety".

© 2011 AFP

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