The leader of the Benedictines in England has again expressed regret over clerical sex abuse scandals in the Catholic Church.
Fr Christopher Jamison, the Abbot President of the English Benedictine Congregation, told worshippers at Buckfast Abbey, Devon, that the sexual abuse of children was “so bad and so wicked that words fail us”.
His remarks came just weeks after a report by the Independent Inquiry into Child Sex Abuse was severely critical of monks from two other Benedictine abbeys – Ampleforth Abbey in North Yorkshire and Downside Abbey in Somerset – for the abuse of children and for failing to deal adequately with the perpetrators.
“At this time in the Church we are deeply conscious of the imperfections of the Catholic Church throughout the world and that terrible abuse inflicted on young people of which we are so ashamed, especially the clergy,” Fr Jamison said in his homily.
“We recognise that sometimes imperfection is so bad and so wicked that words fail us and we have to rely even more on the perfection of God.”
In addition, the Conference of Religious of England and Wales (CoR) has expressed “profound shock and sadness” over sexual abuse perpetrated by clergy and people in positions of responsibility in Catholic institutions.
“Church authorities must take action to end a culture of silence, hold abusers accountable, and provide support to those abused,” said CoR.
The statement continued: “In recent weeks we have been confronted by cases of the abuse of power against vulnerable adults and children in America, Catholic Sisters in different parts of the world, and closer to home with the reports generated by the Independent Inquiry into child abuse (IICSA) that has been looking at educational institutions run by the Benedictines.
“We agree with Pope Francis that looking back to the past, no effort to beg pardon and to seek to repair the harm done will ever be sufficient. Looking ahead to the future, no effort must be spared to create a culture able to prevent such situations from happening, but also to prevent the possibility of their being covered up and perpetuated.
“Despite the work done in recent decades to create a safe environment within our church institutions, our members are horrified by the accounts that have been reported and we stand in agreement with all those demanding the end of a culture both within the church and in wider society that ignores or tolerates sexual abuse of any other adult or minor perpetrated by those in positions of trust. We are concerned that a desire to protect the Church has at times erroneously limited the ‘Church’ to mean the power and status enjoyed by the hierarchy. In reality, this leads to the perpetuation of the suffering of the Church - manifest in the victims of abuse, who in reality are themselves the Church - the body of Christ - in need of our protection.
“We thank all those members of the Church throughout the world, who, at great risk, have spoken publicly about the abuse they have experienced within Church institutions. We stand with all those countless priests, sisters and brothers who, while horrified by the actions of this significant minority of their companions, continue to faithfully strive to build God’s Kingdom, treating those they work with, with respect and justice.”
Fr Jamison made his own remarks in the context of preaching at a Mass in celebration of the Feast of the Dedication of Buckfast Abbey.
The abbey was founded in 1018 but was dissolved during the Reformation, only to become the only monastery church in the country to be rebuilt on its same site about a century ago. The work was carried out by the monks over 30 years and the abbey was dedicated on August 25th 1932.
The re-establishment of Buckfast means the abbey this year is celebrating the millennium of its foundation, and over the last decade extensive improvements have been carried out ahead of the event.
“The story of the monks building this with their own hands over a period of 30 years is one which inspires today,” Fr Jamison said.
“But what inspired them to undertake this heroic task?,” he asked. “What they wanted to do was to illustrate the holiness of God in stone and in art. They wanted to enable people to know God’s perfection when they enter this beautiful church … they would have wanted us to see it as divine perfection made present through human art.”
“Like Jesus Christ, the true cornerstone, this church is both human and divine,” he added.
In his homily, Fr Jamison also thanked the abbot, Fr David Charlesworth, and the monks for their work in enhancing the abbey.
“Its beauty is now sublime and it is indeed a sanctuary which raises the heart and mind to the perfection of God,” he said.
“We give thanks today for the foundation of monastic life in this place 1,000 years ago, we give thanks for the dedication of this rebuilt abbey church 86 years ago, we give thanks for the new work undertaken to enhance the abbey church for this millennium year,” said Fr Jamison.
In his welcoming remarks Fr Charlesworth gave God thanks for the monks who founded and rebuilt the abbey church and invited the congregation to show their appreciation by donating to hospices in Devon through the abbey’s Millennium Fund.
“For Christians, thanksgiving means praising God and loving our neighbour and we do this especially by caring for those in need,” he said.
The event was attended by a Buckfast oblate whose parents, Hilda and Crawford Cooke, were at the dedication in 1932. Her mother was two months pregnant with her at the time.
It was also attended by Angela Snape and Frances Nieduszynska, descendants of Sir Robert Harvey, a prominent local politician who supported the rebuilding of the abbey and donated its first bells, one of which was named Alida after his late wife.
Mrs Nieduszynska, the great grand niece of Sir Robert, said she found it “spine-tingling” to be in the church knowing that their descendants attended the original Mass of dedication.
“It was very special. I found it overwhelming,” she said. “It makes the link back to Sir Robert Harvey very immediate.”
The Mass was also attended by 60 pilgrims from the Diocese of Arundel and Brighton who walked 194 miles from Salisbury to Buckfast, visiting shrines and places of religious interest along the way during their two-week journey.
Fr Tony Milner, parish priest in Dorking and chaplain to the group, said the group chose Buckfast for its annual ecumenical walking pilgrimage because of the millennium year. Walkers, he said, were also joined this year by pilgrims from New Zealand, Canada and the United States.
Among the walkers were New Forest couple Susan and Michael McCabe who started dating following a walking pilgrimage to Buckfast in 1982 and who married two years later.
Bob Beard, an 88-year-old local man, recalled afterwards how as a child he watched monks clambering up dangerous makeshift ladders to work on the roof of the church.