THE BENEDICTINES of Ealing Abbey have faced up to the horrific legacy of child abuse at their school and are leading the way for Religious who want to reach out to survivors.
That was the message from the Church’s senior expert on child protection, Fr Hans Zollner SJ (pictured), who was the keynote speaker at a conference organised by the monks at their abbey in west London on 21 October.
“Ealing Abbey has had the courage to own what happened here,” said Fr Zoller at his first public engagement in Britain. “It is the start and it will continue. My hope is that what is happening here will be disseminated to other places. We need to open a space and to find ways of welcoming all who want to be there.”
He was speaking at the conference, “Growing in Con- nectedness: Healing the History of Child Sexual Abuse”, which brought together around 100 people concerned about the safeguarding of children including several survivors.
Fr Zollner is president of the Centre for Child Protection of the Pontifical Gregorian University in Rome and a member of the Pontifical Commission for the Protection of Minors, the advisory group set up by Pope Francis in 2014. He said that sexual abuse is the biggest threat to the safety of children today and that awareness of the crisis has spread beyond the West to the developing world. People were realising that the credibility of the Church was at stake and were no longer afraid to blame church leaders.
“Since #MeToo we have come to another level of criticising and attacking those previously untouchable: bishops, abbots, even the Pope. I was never conscious of this until just a year ago,” he said.
For more than 12 years, Ealing Abbey has faced complaints of physical and sexual abuse made by former pupils of their school, St Benedict’s. Five teachers – two monks and three lay teachers – have been convicted, with the majority of reported cases from the 1970s and 1980s. A former abbot, Laurence Soper, is serving an 18-year prison sentence on 19 charges of rape and other sexual offences against 10 pupils.
The conference was organised by Fr James Leachman OSB, who is arranging psychotherapy and counselling for survivors at Ealing from November.
Opening the conference, Abbot Martin Shipperlee OSB said he felt “awful shame” for what had happened at St Benedict’s, adding: “People I have known, and even admired, have turned out to have done terrible things. We want to know how did that happen, why did we react the way we did and how do we make things better?”
Keith Porteous Wood, executive director of the National Secular Society, commended Ealing Abbey “for tackling this vexed and long-standing problem”. He urged “ all of us” to write to our MPs to call for mandatory reporting of institutional abuse “as is common in other countries”.