Alleged victims of sexual abuse have reacted coolly to the news of a Vatican investigation into a London abbey, and have called for inquiries into other Roman Catholic institutions where children are claimed to have been mistreated.
The Congregation for the Doctrine of the Faith in Rome has ordered an “apostolic visitation” to uncover the scale of abuse at Ealing abbey, where monks and lay teachers have been accused of mistreating children at a neighbouring school, St Benedict’s, over decades.
It is the first inquiry of its kind into sexual abuse in Britain. Father David Pearce, a priest at Ealing abbey, was jailed in 2009.
Groups supporting alleged victims have questioned the effectiveness and integrity of an internal inquiry, especially given that its findings will remain secret.
The abuse is alleged to have dated from the 1960s to 2009.
Pete Saunders, of the National Association for People Abused in Childhood, said it was a public relations exercise and akin to “putting Dracula in charge of a blood bank”.
Anne Lawrence of Ministry and Clerical Sexual Abuse Survivors, said although the Ealing inquiry showed the Catholic hierarchy was beginning to understand the concept of institutional responsibility, there were other schools and other places that warranted investigation. There were, she alleged, “more than 20 schools where there was systematic abuse and we would like to see inquiries into all of them”.
Relations between the church and survivor groups are already under strain. Earlier this month the Guardian revealed that victim support groups had pulled out of discussions led by the National Catholic Safeguarding Commission (NCSC) and the Catholic Safeguarding Advisory Service (CSAS).
They described them as shambolic, toothless and unlikely to achieve anything by May 2012, when the pope’s deadline for a progress report expires.
The talks were intended to come up with a care package for survivors of clerical sexual abuse.
Graham Wilmer, who heads the Lantern Project and says he was abused by a Catholic priest as a teenager, said: “We were prepared to talk to [the institution] that had harmed us, even though it was uncomfortable … [But] we can’t trust them. What has effectively has happened is nothing.”
The Catholic church in England and Wales has not suffered the same fate as those in Ireland and the US, which have been left reeling by abuse allegations.
It has defended its child protection procedures, describing them as robust, and has apologised for past behaviour. But there is evidence to suggest that for all its commitment to healing and contrition, old attitudes prevail.
Two civil cases show the church continuing to engage in a war of attrition with victims who were abused as children.
It has denied responsibility for the alleged sexual abuse of a Portsmouth woman by one of its priests, saying the cleric was not an employee. Should the church win, it will avoid having to pay compensation to victims in the future.
In another case, involving more than 150 former pupils suing for an estimated £8m for sexual and physical abuse they claim to have suffered at St William’s boys home in Market Weighton, Yorkshire, the diocese of Middlesbrough is contesting a court ruling that it is jointly liable with the De La Salle Brotherhood, a Catholic order of lay teachers, for the alleged abuse. St William’s was owned by the diocese but many of the staff were members of the Brotherhood.
Claims were first launched in 2004 when the home’s former principal, Brother James Carragher, was jailed for 14 years for abusing boys. The appeal will be heard next July in the supreme court.
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