The Catholic Church must provide a statement to the national inquiry into child sexual abuse as to whether it is sufficiently organised to provide safeguarding for children, abuse lawyers have told a hearing.
Christopher Jacobs of the firm Howe and Co, acting on behalf of a group sexual abuse survivors, told the Independent Inquiry into Child Sexual Abuse (IICSA): “The Catholic Church is comprised of scores of separate organisations with no cohesive management structure, and the effect of that is that safeguarding mechanisms are not in place to protect children from abuse.”
Mr Jacobs, along with other lawyers representing victims of sexual abuse, was making a submission on behalf of his clients to the IICSA panel at a preliminary hearing into the English Benedictine Congregation (EBC), which is due to consider evidence relating to Ealing Abbey and St Benedict’s School in Ealing from 4 to 8 February 2019.
“We say the Catholic Church has failed to put in place a one church [safeguarding] policy”, he told the Inquiry’s chair, Professor Alexis Jay. He said his firm is making an application for a statement from the Church during the February hearings.
He said: “It’s a basic question: can the Catholic Church implement minimum child protection as a result of its structure?”
Kate Gallafent QC, for the English Benedictine Congregation (EBC), said the Catholic Church’s position had been made clear in a previous hearing. She anticipated there will be position statements from relevant institutions (such as the EBC) being given at the February hearing.
IICSA will consider Ealing Abbey and St Benedict’s School in the second part of its investigation into the EBC. The Inquiry previously heard evidence relating to Ampleforth and Downside in December last year.
Since the early 2000’s, several clergy associated with Ealing Abbey have faced allegations of historical offences against boys at St Benedict’s School in Ealing. Among them are two former monks Andrew Soper, previously known as Laurence Soper, who was convicted last December of 19 charges of rape and other sexual abuses against 10 boys at the school, and David Pearce, was jailed in 2009 after he admitted 11 charges of indecent assault dating back to 1972.
Setting out details of the February hearing, counsel to the inquiry, Riel Karmy-Jones QC, said the Inquiry will consider how abuse by David Pearce and Laurence Soper continued for so long and why, if it was known about within the school, nothing was effective done. It will also also consider why restrictions placed on Pearce in 2005 were not effective (he went on to abuse again) and why he was not charged until 2009.
She said the inquiry will focus on “witness evidence”.
Martin Shipperlee, the current Abbot of Ealing and Abbot Christopher Jamison, head of the EBC, will be among those giving statements, as will representatives for the Metropolitan Police, the Independent Schools Inspectorate and the Department for Education.
Imran Khan QC, from the firm Imran Khan and partners, urged the inquiry to call a Government minister to give evidence at the upcoming hearing. He said the department must not provide an “underling” to give evidence, but rather someone who can take accountability for its actions and failures.
Almost all of the lawyers representing victims of abuse told the chair that a five-day hearing into Ealing Abbey and St Benedict’s school was an insufficient length of time given the amount evidence.
IICSA was set up in 2015 to investigate whether a number of public bodies and non-state institutions in England and Wales "have taken seriously their responsibility to protect children from sexual abuse".