PRIESTS AT AMPLEFORTH PHYSICALLY AND
SEXUALLY ABUSED CHILDREN AS YOUNG AS SIX
A News Article dated, 30 November 2017, by Rose Gamble
‘I think it’s very sad that something like this could have happened, because there was so much focus on bureaucracy that the real issues were missed’
Priests at Ampleforth College physically and sexually abused children as young as six, the national inquiry into child abuse has heard.
On the third day of a three-week hearing on the English Benedictine Congregation as part of the Independent Inquiry into Child Sexual Abuse (IICSA), former pupils at the fee-paying Catholic school and its junior school in North Yorkshire gave evidence, and written statements by other former pupils were read. Allegations were made against a priest referred to as RCF4 but most focused on Father Piers Grant-Ferris who was jailed for two years in 2006 for 20 counts of indecent assault on boys in his care.
One witness, who attended Ampleforth between 1965 and 1967, said he believed that Basil Hume, who was abbot of Ampleforth Abbey for 13 years until appointed archbishop of Westminster in 1976, had been aware of abuse at the schools. “I have no doubt he knew exactly what was going on at the time,” the witness told the inquiry. The witness described Fr Grant Ferris as “a nasty, cruel, physically violent man.”
From the age of seven, the witness said he was physically and psychologically abused by the priest. He said punishments became progressively more severe. The witness said he was beaten in “bizarre rituals” including being stripped naked and beaten in the confessional of the chapel. The witness said the experiences had left him with post-traumatic stress disorder, complex depression and severe anxiety.
Another witness, who attended Ampleforth’s junior school Gilling Castle from the age of six, described how a teacher would swim with them naked. “We were all in our trunks and he swam with us naked, which, again, I think is not correct,” he told the inquiry. The same teacher once put his hand down the boy’s trousers “to check my breathing” during a choir audition.
The inquiry also heard from a female former pupil at Ampleforth College, who left the school in 2010. She said that a music teacher, Dara De-Cogan, had sexually abused her over a period of years, beginning when she was 14 years old. De-Cogan was jailed for 28 months earlier this year pleading guilty to 10 charges of engaging in sexual activity while in a position of trust.
The witness said his abuse resulted in her self-harming. When questioned by Riel Karmy-Jones QC, counsel to the inquiry, on Ampleforth’s approach to child protection the witness said it was “very poor”. She described the focus as almost entirely on box ticking, filling out forms and getting the paperwork done, “the bureaucracy”. “Therefore, everything on the surface looked fine if everything was written down and properly presented. But it meant that nobody ever looked beneath the surface,” the inquiry was told. “I think it’s very sad that something like this could have happened, because there was so much focus on bureaucracy the real issues were really missed and they shouldn’t have been missed so easily,” she added.
The Independent Inquiry into Child Sexual Abuse (IICSA) was set up in 2015 to investigate whether public bodies and other non-state institutions in England and Wales “have taken seriously their responsibility to protect children from sexual abuse”. On the first day of the hearing, Matthias Kelly QC, made a statement on behalf of Ampleforth expressing regret for past abuses. “We wish to apologise for the hurt, distress and damage done to those who suffered abuse when in our care. We will do everything we can to ensure that there is no repetition,” he told the inquiry. The Inquiry chose the English Benedictine Congregation as one of the Catholic Church’s case studies; its first public hearing in this phase is scheduled to run to 15 December when witnesses and core participants will provide evidence and face questioning.
(There is a “live stream” of the proceeding on the IICSA internet site for those who wish to watch the proceedings).