UNITED KINGDOM INDEPENDENT INQUIRING INTO CHILD SEXUAL ABUSE
TRANSCRIPT OF PROCEEDINGS ON 28TH NOVEMBER 2017
QUESTIONS AND ANSWERS BETWEEN COUNSEL MR SAM STEIN AND DOM RICHARD YEO, FORMER ABBOT PRESIDENT OF THE
ENGLISH BENEDICTINE CONGREGATION
MR STEIN: Dom Richard, may I just ask you a question about monks that are part of the English Benedictine Congregation that have abused. What steps have been taken by the English Benedictine Congregation to institute a fund or redress scheme for survivors of sexual abuse by English Benedictine Congregation monks?
A. Again, the answer is that this is the responsibility of the individual monastery. The only qualification I would make about that is that we have, sadly, both actual victims and people who have made allegations of abuse at Fort Augustus, and since that monastery has now closed, the English Benedictine Congregation wishes to see what it can do.
Q. My question was, what actual steps have been taken by the English Benedictine Congregation to institute a fund or redress scheme for survivors of abuse by English Benedictine Congregation monks? Can you help us, please?
A. Yes. As regards Fort Augustus monks – sorry, as regards survivors of abuse at Fort Augustus, we recognise a moral responsibility and because we hold some money which was gifted to us by the trustees of Fort Augustus Abbey when it closed, we are asking the Charity Commission to allow us to use that money for compensation to victims of abuse at Fort Augustus. Now, that decision was taken when I was Abbot President. Since then, I understand the Charity Commission is still looking at that. So that’s a partial answer to your question. The other answer to your question is, for those who were — or for those who were abused at other monasteries, I repeat what I said before, that is the responsibility of the individual monastery.
Q. So you have dealt with Fort Augustus and there’s a sum of money that arose through the closing down of that monastery and that’s what you are considering with the Charity Commission. Is that correct?
Q. Let’s move on to Downside and Ampleforth and the survivors of abuse at those institutions. What has the EBC, the English Benedictine Congregation, done to set up some sort of fund or redress scheme for those? If the answer is “Nothing”, then say “Nothing”?
A. I will say “Nothing”, and I have given you the reason: because it is the responsibility of the monastery.
Q. So nothing has been done to set up fund or redress scheme in relation to the survivors of sexual abuse at those two schools; is that
Q. I am going to ask you some questions about the Rule of St Benedict and that has been set out in those issues that have been granted. I have asked the evidence handler to put up on the screen the Rule of St Benedict. Can we please go to rule or chapter 23 which our evidence handler will find at page 18 of the Rule of St Benedict. Dom Richard, have you got the Rule of St Benedict coming up on your screen?
A. I do, yes.
Q. I’m grateful. Help us, please, understand this. The Rule of St Benedict is the basic rule of life — is that a fair way of putting it? — that is followed by Benedictine monks?
Q. In particular, it is the rule of life followed by English Benedictine monks within the congregation; is that correct?
Q. We are going to be looking at the particular rules that are set out first of all, page 18, chapter 23. The first one sets out the question of excommunication for faults if a brother is found to be stubborn or disobedient or proud. It goes on to talk about that monk if he grumbles or in any way despises the Holy Rule and defies the orders of his seniors. It then sets out, as we understand the disciplinary procedure, he should be warned twice privately by the seniors. Would a senior in a monastery be a dean?
A. It means one of the senior — one of the older monks.
Q. So he should be warned twice privately by a senior in the way you describe in accord with Our Lord’s injunction and there is then a biblical reference. Is that correct?
Q. “If he does not amend, he must be rebuked publicly in the presence of everyone. But if, even then, he does not reform, let him be excommunicated, provided that he understands the nature of this punishment. If, however, he lacks understanding, let him undergo corporal punishment.” Is that still a current rule of the Rule of St Benedict?
A. The Rule of St Benedict was written in the 6th century, so it is still part of the rule.
A. But it doesn’t follow that the precise material prescriptions of the rule are followed today.
Q. We are going to deal in a minute with the question of what is applied or not. I’m just going to go through some rules. Can I take you then to chapter 29, page 20 of the rule. This deals with readmission of brothers who leave the monastery, and it says: “If a brother, following his own evil ways, leaves the monastery but then wishes to return, he must first promise to make full amends for leaving.” Then it says: “Let him be received back …” I think the maximum number of times he can be received back, it looks like four times, “no more than three”; is that correct?
Q. Help us, please, understand that. Would that apply as an example to a child abuser monk?
Q. Help us, please, where it says that within these rules?
A. Because this belongs to a section, 23 to 30, which we normally call “The disciplinary code”. That section of Page 144 the rule contains wise spiritual advice, particularly, I would say, on excommunication, which is a different idea to modern ideas of excommunication, and also mercy, which you will find, above all, in chapter 27. Chapter 27 is a very valuable guidance for an abbot, how to deal with a brother who is misbehaving. So the spirit of the rule applies, but in the 21st century a lot of the material prescriptions which are suitable for the 6th century are clearly inapplicable.
Q. Help us, please, a little bit further with page 20, chapter 30. This particular chapter 30 refers to the manner of reproving boys. In relation to, it seems, some misdeed of a boy, the rule states that “they should be subjected to severe fasts or checked with sharp strokes so that they may be healed”. Help us, please, in relation to the applicability of that particular rule, as an example, being got rid of from the rules?
A. Again, you cannot get rid of it in the sense that you cannot amend the text which has been written in the 6th century, but that is one of the provisions which was presumably suitable for the 6th century and totally inappropriate for the 21st century, so it is not applied.
Q. Chapter 45, “Mistakes in the oratory”. This particular one sets out mistakes in the oratory: “Should anyone make a mistake in a psalm, responsory, refrain or reading, he must make satisfaction there before all.” Then it goes on to talk about the question of, “If he does not use this occasion to humble himself, he will be subjected to more severe punishment for failing to correct by humility the wrong committed through negligence. Children, however, are to be whipped for such a fault.” Are you going to tell us that that is again a matter for the 16th century and not to be applied now. Is that what you are going to say?
A. 6th century, yes.
Q. And not applied now?
Q. Help us with these references to corporal punishment in relation to monks, first of all. Within the monastery of which you were part, was corporal punishment still used in relation to monks?
A. It wasn’t, and it hasn’t been used for several hundred years.
Q. What about other monasteries?
A. I have a pretty wide knowledge of monasteries throughout the world, and I think I can be quite certain in saying that it is not applied anywhere.
Q. In relation to children, corporal punishment, when did that stop?
A. In this country, it has been illegal now for something like 20/30 years. I think — I couldn’t say for certain when it finished in each individual school, but it finished well before it became unlawful.
Q. Right. So you’re saying the 6th century rules are no longer followed; in particular, the disciplinary system is to be regarded as a part of old rules not to be applied. Is that what you are saying?
A. I didn’t say the disciplinary system. I said that these material applications. I’m saying the spirit of the rule is still important. The concept of excommunication, which is depriving a person of community life, and the concept of the abbot as a wise physician who knows how to cure spiritual ills, that is something which is very valuable, but I am saying that the material — the provisions about corporal punishment, which you mentioned, are clearly inappropriate for today.
Q. Where are the modern rules that deal with the current disciplinary system in relation to monks? Where are they set out?
A. Above all, they would be in the customary of the monastery.
Q. So each of the customary of the monasteries, is this correct, contains a modern-day, up-to-date, as far as it can be done, disciplinary system for monks? Is that what you are saying?
A. I’m saying that — for example, at the end you mentioned chapter 45 of the rule, what happens if you come late. I think must customaries will say, and if the customary doesn’t say, the custom, the unwritten custom of the monastery does say what way a monk should do penance for arriving late.
Q. Arriving late for what?
A. For the oratory.
Q. For a reading; is that correct?
A. For a service in the church.
Q. What about more serious infractions of any particular rule, so a monk abusing children, as an example? Where is the disciplinary system set out in any rule that we can find, read, graph, talk to you about? Where is it set out?
A. That would be superseded by the law of the land.
Q. So is the answer to my question that there is no disciplinary system set out within a coherent written text for monks today? Is that the answer?
A. I think, as I have tried to say before, we find value in elements of chapters 23 to 30. I gave a series of talks about this to a group of nuns a couple of years ago, and was able to, I think, talk for about — give at least three talks on the subject. There is a lot of spiritual value there. But if you are talking about a modern code of discipline, that’s not the way a monastery today works.
Q. Is your answer that there is no written code of discipline that is applicable to EBC monks?
A. I’m saying that each individual monastery may have its customary and it may — it will say some things about discipline, but it won’t be a systematic disciplinary code in the way that you might have in civil legislation.
Q. When you were the Abbot President, did you enquire into these customaries, these disciplinary rules, to consider whether they were adequate?
A. We issued, in 2009, some guidance for the writing of a customary. Whether it spoke specifically of disciplinary matters, I cannot remember. But, again, it will have been the responsibility of each monastery to compose its own customary after considering the model which the congregation had given.
Q. So is, again, the answer that you, as Abbot President, did not look into the question of individual disciplinary codes written into the customaries within monasteries?
A. I encouraged monasteries to write customaries. Customaries were often given to me at the time of visitations and I occasionally made a comment on them.
MR STEIN: You have answered questions about the presence or non-presence of a disciplinary code. You seem to describe the Rule of St Benedict to be genius. That’s in your statement at paragraph 29, page 8. You describe the rule to be genius, or a genius rule.
A. I think what I said is I spoke of the genius of the rule, which is a slightly different thing from saying the rule is genius.
Q. I will read it out: “Inevitably, much of this detail suited to life in the 6th century is outdated today. But part of its genius is its flexibility which has enabled monks and nuns of different cultures, as well as different 17 centuries, to use it as a guide to monastic living.” Do you stand by that?
Q. You also say that monks spend a good deal of time studying the rule and that we, yourself included as a monk, have all been formed by the rule? That’s within your statement at paragraph 30; is that correct?
Q. Help us, please, understand the situation with a monk: where is it set out for a monk which chapters, which rules, within the Rule of St Benedict should be followed or not be followed?
A. It isn’t, because we don’t talk about not following rules — not following individual chapters. We are talking about chapters which are — where the material provisions are outdated and not applied, but, nevertheless the context and the spiritual value is still there.
Q. You have worked — “worked” may be the wrong description, but you have been the Abbot President of the EBC; is that correct?
Q. You have served on the Cumberlege Commission; is that also correct?
Q. You are currently a representative of the Catholic Council, the body that’s designed to support this inquiry; is that correct?
Q. You have worked as an adviser to the Conference of the Religious; is that also right?
Q. In relation to your senior roles within those organisations, what steps have you taken to advise, as an example, the NCSC, of deficiencies in the Rule of St Benedict?
A. I don’t believe there are deficiencies in the Rule of St Benedict, so I haven’t taken any advice – any steps to inform the NCSC about them.
Q. You have mentioned in your evidence this afternoon that there is guidance that’s been given to monasteries in relation to disciplinary matters. You said that already. Have you discussed that with the NCSC, as an example?
Q. Did you discuss that with the Nolan Commission?
Q. The Cumberlege Commission?
A. No. Mr Stein, maybe I can help you by reminding you of what I said in answer to one of Ms Karmy-Jones’ questions, that the constitution to the congregation consists of two parts. The first part is the declarations on the rule which complement the rule and which, in many cases, describe the way in which the monastic life is lived today. Therefore, areas where the rule is clearly anachronistic will be complemented by what is written in the declarations.
Q. Is our understanding correct that there was a re-approval by the Holy See of the English Benedictine Congregation’s constitutions in 2013?
Q. Was there, first of all, a discussion about the disciplinary procedures in relation to monks’ miss-behaviour when the Holy See revisited the EBC constitutions in 2013?
A. Yes, because there was discussion of the way in which we should incorporate safeguarding into the constitutions and, following the discussion, matters about safeguarding were introduced into the constitutions.
Q. That’s safeguarding. What about the disciplinary measures for monks who may, as an example, have abused children? What discussion was conducted with the Holy See about the disciplinary measures that relate to those monks in the 2013 re-approval of the constitution?
A. That would not come into the constitutions. As I said before, that is largely superseded by national policies and procedures on safeguarding, and also by the rules set out by the CDF as regards the punishment of abusers.
Q. Do you accept that the English Benedictine Congregation bears a moral responsibility to those people that have been abused by its monks?
A. I accept that the monasteries of the English Benedictine Congregation have a responsibility which is both moral and in many cases may be legal. The Congregation as a whole, as I have said, regrets, is sorry for and is ashamed of abuse which has been committed in any monastery.
Q. Why don’t you say that the EBC has a moral responsibility for the survivors of abuse? Why do you give an answer which says that, “Well, we are very sorry, but don’t accept moral responsibility”?
A. Because I think that the primary responsibility must be with the individual monastery, and survivors must go to, in the first — well, I would advise survivors to go to the abbot of their monastery, of the monastery where they were abused. Now, as Ms Gallafent said yesterday, the Abbot President is very willing to hear any complainants who come to him. He has invited them to come to him. And I am sure he would express his sorrow at any abuse. But I think he would probably refer the matter eventually to the individual monastery where the abuse was suffered. I’m not certain that saying the EBC accepts moral responsibility — I’m not certain what that means.
A. You, Abbot President ex of the EBC, are saying that you don’t understand what the words “moral responsibility” mean? Are you saying that?
A. I’m saying that I’m not certain what the EBC accepting moral responsibility implies.