Cardinal Basil Hume and a former Downside Abbey headmaster “did nothing at all” after a paraplegic woman informed them that she had been sexually abused by a Benedictine monk from the Abbey over several years, the national inquiry into child abuse has heard.
On the eighth day of a three-week hearing on the English Benedictine Congregation as part of the Independent Inquiry into Child Sexual Abuse (IICSA), the inquiry heard from a witness allegedly abused by a chaplain from Downside Abbey in Somerset.
The witness told the inquiry that she had met the chaplain – referred to as F80 - on a pilgrimage at Lourdes in 1984 when she was 17 years old. She was confined to a wheel-chair and told the inquiry that at that time she felt “suicidal.”
In a statement read to the inquiry, the witness described how, over the following two years, F80 visited her in her parent’s home where he sexually abused her.
“F80 groomed and manipulated me and my emotions and used my fear of others to keep my silence,” she said.
In early 1985, the witness visited Cardinal Basil Hume in Archbishop’s House in London and told him about the alleged abuse.
The witness said Cardinal Hume was “very concerned that I was so distressed” and suggested she talk to the headmaster of Downside Abbey, Father Dom Philip Jebb.
The witness explained to the inquiry that she had told Father Philip who she said was “very sorry and very sympathetic” but that he remained convinced that the alleged abuser should not know that he - Father Philip - knew about the abuse.
The witness said she spoke to Father Philip about the abuse “again and again and again.”
“It was like being passed backwards and forwards between Basil Hume and Philip Jebb,” she told the inquiry.
“I believe that Basil Hume and Father Philip Jebb had a conversation about what was going on,” she added.
Cardinal Hume, a former Abbot of Ampleforth Abbey, visited the alleged abuser at one stage and told him to stop, the witness said. However, after a short period the abuse continued.
The witness told the inquiry she went back to Cardinal Hume and told him the abuse was continuing. Again Cardinal Hume told her to approach the headmaster: “and backwards and forwards I went,” she said.
The witness told the inquiry she continued to see Cardinal Hume about the alleged abuse up until he died in 1999.
In June 2007, the witness approached the then Abbot, Aidan Bellenger, and told him about the abuse. F80 was still teaching at the school. Abbot Aidan confronted F80, but did not take any action, the witness told the inquiry.
Eventually in 2010, Abbot Aidan approached Clifton Diocese’s safeguarding team, after which police became involved in the case, the witness told the inquiry.
On the opening day of the IICSA inquiry, a spokeswoman from Downside Abbey made a statement on behalf of the Abbey expressing regret for past abuses.
Kate Gallafent QC, for the English Benedictine Congregation, said that as the number of children abused had become apparent, there had been a sense of shame and “intense sadness at the anguish caused to so many people”.