The Benedictine monks of Downside Abbey have announced they are to leave their Somerset monastery after 200 years.
The decision comes soon after the abbey and its monastic community completely separated from Downside School, a move that followed a 2018 investigation by the Independent Inquiry into Child Sexual Abuse (IICSA) into abuse at both Downside and Ampleforth. At Downside IICSA found a “culture of acceptance of abusive behaviour” that prioritised monks’ reputations over the safety of children.
In September 2019 the Charity Commission approved the creation of a new charity to run Downside School, while the abbey was to continue as Downside Abbey General Trust. No monk from the Community was allowed to have a role in the charity that ran the school.
A spokesperson said today that the separation of the abbey and the school had enabled the Monastic Community to concentrate on discerning their future. “They have now unanimously decided to make a new start and to seek a new place to live.”
In a statement the Community said that the shrinking monastic community and “changing circumstances” mean that the current monastery buildings are no longer suitable.
The decision comes shortly after the community elected Dom Nicholas Wetz as their new Abbot.
“The last six years have given the Downside Community time to reflect with sorrow on failures in the care for children entrusted to them and to discern the Community’s future. With smaller numbers and changing circumstances, the current monastery buildings are no longer suitable,” today's statement reads.
“Abbot Nicholas and the Community recognise the importance of taking some time to find a new place and to formulate a plan with regard to this move. They will listen to the interests of the parishioners, employees, tenants, oblates and volunteers associated with the monastery whilst securing the future care of Downside’s Abbey Church, Library and Archives. The now independent Downside School will continue to grow and establish itself at Stratton-on-the-Fosse.
“The Benedictine Community currently located at Downside Abbey, Somerset, was founded in 1606 in Douai in the Spanish Netherlands. Following the French Revolution the monks moved to Acton Burnell in Shropshire and then to its current site in 1814.
The monks now ask the prayers and support of the faithful as they seek afresh the will of God for their continuing Benedictine life and mission and embark on this third move in their history.”