Of the 13 strands of the Independent Inquiry into Child Sex Abuse (IICSA), the English Benedictine Congregation and other Roman Catholic religious orders make up a single strand.
It was revealed in April 2017 that Ampleforth College, in Yorkshire, would provide a case study for investigations into other institutions, but what happened at the college?
Peter Garsden, President of the Association of Child Abuse Lawyers, explains the on-going investigation into allegations of child sex abuse at the college.
What Happened At Ampleforth College?
In 2004, an ex-pupil of Ampleforth College, Yorkshire, accused Father Jeremy Sierla of sexually abusing him when he was a child and a student at the college. As a result, police investigations ensued.
The police interviewed more than a dozen ex-pupils who had attended during the early nineties when Sierla had been housemaster. As well as the allegations brought against Sierla by ex-pupils, evidence was also found suggesting he had posed as a teenage girl online in order to speak with young boys.
Sierla was never charged, as prosecutors claimed there was not enough evidence to suggest the allegations were true and the Crown Prosecution Service have said since that his case file was destroyed years ago.
Despite being clear of any charges, police were so concerned about what their investigations had uncovered, they wrote to the Department for Education (DfE) explaining what they had learned. In their letter they wrote that Father Jeremy Sierla, should not be “allowed anywhere near a school.”
A group of Safeguarding professionals met in both 2004 and 2007 to discuss the allegations made against Sierla. It took a further 5 years for the DfE to tell Ampleforth College that he should not be allowed on school grounds. Sierla left of his own accord.
Sierla has always denied the allegations and now resides in a closed religious order a distance away from the college.
Other Offenders At Ampleforth College
Dara de Cogan worked at Ampleforth College from 2004 as a violin teacher. More than ten years after being abused by de Cogan, a woman in her 20s came forward with allegations of abuse against the music teacher that occurred when she was just 13. De Cogan admitted to ten counts of sexual activity with a child whilst in a position of trust and was jailed in March 2017 for 28 months. He will also remain on the sex offenders register for ten years.
David Lowe was a retired teacher who had previously worked at Ampleforth College. Former students then accused him of abusing them whilst they had attended the school in the 70s to the mid-80s.
Victims came forward from two schools the teacher had worked at, including Westminster Cathedral Choir School. He is reported to have targeted 10 boys between the ages of 8 and 13. Allegations revealed that Lowe had taken the boys to his own flat, as well as taken advantage of them whilst they slept on school premises. Lowe was given a 10 year jail sentence in 2015.
Ampleforth College As A Case Study
The Independent Inquiry into Child Sex Abuse is investigating “the extent of any institutional failures to protect children from sexual abuse within the Roman Catholic Church.” Ampleforth College is one of several prestigious private boarding schools around the country that are run by the English Benedictine Congregation.
The Inquiry has chosen Ampleforth as a case study due to the numerous allegations of child sexual abuse. It is hoped that the IICSA will develop an understanding of whether “the failings identified within the Benedictine Congregation in safeguarding are a representative of wider failings within the Catholic Church.“
Public hearings will be held in December 2017, where it is hoped that victims’ stories will be heard and lessons will be learned.
“There have quite clearly been a series of safeguarding failings happening in this institution.”
“It is upsettingly common that on a victim’s first attempt to come forward with allegations, they are ignored or worse, covered up.”
“There are additional issues surrounding the confessional, duty of confidence between religious person and confessor, as well as the concept of forgiveness of sins, which colour the way in which abuse is dealt with by religious organisations.”
“The Church in the past deemed that it would be wrong to punish an alleged abuser if he/she has sought forgiveness for his sins, which flew in the face of good safeguarding practice.”
“It was also thought that even if a survivor makes an allegation of abuse during a confession, it could not be used outside of that environment even if a criminal offence was alleged to have taken place.”
“Many years later, the church has recognised that historical practice and procedure is wrong, and should be changed. It still does, however, cause controversy and ethical debate.”