A “sadistic and predatory” atmosphere allowed priests to “act like the mafia” in covering up the sexual abuse of dozens of young boys at a West London school over 50 years, an independent inquiry has found.
St Benedict’s School, which is operated by Ealing Abbey, was described as a “grim and beastly place” with a “mafia-like” environment, according to the Independent Inquiry Into Child Sexual Abuse (IICSA).
Four members of staff, including a former abbot, have been convicted since 2003 of multiple offences, but the report adds: “The total scale of abuse can never be known, but it is likely to be much greater.”
“The atmosphere was sadistic and predatory and we heard that for many children coming to school was terrible,” the report says. “There was a culture of excessive corporal punishment.”
“Physical abuse in many cases was used as a platform for sexual gratification and a means by which to instigate sexual abuse. Corporal punishment was also used to punish boys who sought to protect themselves and others from sexual abuse.”
Former abbot Andrew Soper, who was known at the abbey as Fr Laurence, was jailed for 18 years in 2017 on 19 charges of rape and other sexual offences. He had spent five years on the run in Kosovo after skipping bail.
One survivor who was abused by Fr Soper told the inquiry: “I feel like I am still in a black hole and just can’t climb out of it.
“I don’t think I can ever put down in words fully what he has done to me. He has damaged me for life, and I am afraid that that damage will never go away.”
The report added that many staff at the school and abbey were aware of the abuse but were afraid they would lose their jobs if they spoke out. There was a culture that “generally closed, defensive and resistant to external involvement,” the report says.
The report also criticised another former abbot, Martin Shipperlee, who resigned suddenly on the final day of the IICSA hearing earlier this year. His response to the allegations was “frequently inadequate, ineffective and ill-judged”, the report said.
Alexis Jay, the inquiry chairwoman, said: “For years, a culture of cover-up and denial meant children at Ealing Abbey and St Benedict’s School suffered appalling sexual and physical abuse.
“A reluctance to respond properly to safeguarding concerns meant significant opportunities to stop abusers were missed. When action was taken, the responses of senior staff, headmasters and external institutions were often poorly judged or flawed. As a result, children were left at risk of abuse which could have been stopped decades earlier.”
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