15 August 2018, The Tablet

A gross betrayal of trust: the Benedictine schools scandal

A gross betrayal of trust: the Benedictine schools scandal

Downside Abbey and school
Photo: Photo: Adrian Sherratt


In October 1975 a small item entitled “Bishops’ Move” appeared in the Britain section of The Economist magazine, tipping off readers that the relatively unknown Basil Hume, Abbot of Ampleforth, could well be the next Archbishop of Westminster. The magazine had an inside track: its editor, Andrew Knight, was a former head boy of the monastery’s boarding school, Ampleforth College, while Basil Hume was an already impeccably connected monk.

Hume’s sister, Madeleine, was married to the Cabinet Secretary of the time, Sir John Hunt, and they lived in Wimbledon just round the corner from the papal nuncio, someone whom they knew well. Prominent Catholics, including Miles Norfolk, the seventeenth Duke, joined forces to lobby to get the Abbot of Ampleforth into Archbishop’s House.

Taken together, the fortunes of Knight and Hume indicate how influential and significant a role Ampleforth played, through its monks and former pupils, to create a Catholic ascendancy in public life – once considered impossible given the post-Reformation years out in the cold. This was the moment when, as Hume’s biographer, Anthony Howard, put it, “the patrician, recusant strain in English Catholicism joined forces with the more liberal, intellectual elements within the Church”.

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