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Ampleforth abbot launches legal action to be reinstated

Ampleforth Abbey in North Yorkshire (Photo: PA)

Fr Cuthbert Madden OSB, who stepped aside as abbot of Ampleforth Abbey two years ago over sex abuse allegations, is taking legal action to get his job back.

As abbot of Ampleforth Abbey since his election in 2005 Fr Madden was also chairman of the governors of the prestigious Ampleforth College.

In August 2016 he “stepped aside from his responsibilities” while claims that he sexually abused four boys in the early 1990s, when he was a teacher at Ampleforth College, were investigated. Police closed the enquiry after just three months, saying there was no evidence of criminal behaviour – but Fr Madden has not been reinstated.

A spokesman for Fr Madden said today: “Father Cuthbert brings this claim extremely reluctantly. He has been investigated by the police and the church and neither found any evidence to support the allegations made against him. It is regrettable that he has to go to Court in order to be reinstated but an innocent man should not be treated as if he were guilty.”

The spokesman continued: “Fr Madden is seeking a declaration that Fr Christopher Jamison [abbot president of the English Benedictine Congregation] and three other defendants unlawfully prevented him from returning to his role and his home after North Yorkshire police and a church inquiry cleared him of sex abuse allegations, with the church investigation concluding in a unanimous recommendation that Cuthbert Madden be forthwith reinstated as Abbot of Ampleforth.

“When the matter comes to trial, this case will see the safeguarding processes of the Catholic Church – which are intended to both protect accusers and be fair to the accused – undergo close judicial scrutiny, with a number of very senior clerics giving evidence. Fr Madden’s case in the English High Court is being led by one of the world’s pre-eminent ecclesiastical lawyers, Mark Hill QC.”

The Particulars of Claim, filed with the High Court in London, argue that Fr Madden has been wrongly excluded from his office, and he is claiming £10,000 in damages, which would go to charity. The four defendants in the case are Dom Christopher Jamison OSB; the Salford Diocesan Trust; Dawn Lundergan, Safeguarding Coordinator for the Diocese of Salford; and the Catholic Trust for England and Wales, the legal entity for the Catholic Bishops’ Conference of England and Wales.

“It reflects terribly badly on the Catholic Church and its procedures,” Gerald Shamash of Steel & Shamash, the lawyer advising Fr Madden, told the Catholic Herald.

The English Benedictine Congregation said in a statement: “Safeguarding is an absolute priority of the English Benedictine Congregation. The Abbot President has always had safeguarding as a key consideration in addressing this issue, co-operating with all the relevant authorities and taking advice from the Interim Manager nominated by the Charity Commission with responsibility for safeguarding at Ampleforth. As this matter is subject to legal proceedings, he will not be commenting further at this stage.”

A spokesman for the Catholic Trust for England and Wales said: “The Catholic Church has robust national safeguarding policies and procedures in place for the protection of children and the vulnerable and to ensure a fair process for those against whom allegations are made. We are unable to comment on individual cases which are the subject of legal proceedings.”

This story has been updated with a comment from the English Benedictine Congregation