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Downside Abbot seeks to reassure parents


THE ABBOT OF DOWNSIDE has written to parents, staff and former pupils after the school was criticised for its handling of child abuse.

Dom Aidan Bellenger OSB issued the letter last Saturday after the school was criticised for the way it dealt with Richard White, a monk who was a housemaster at the school. White, known as Fr Nicholas to pupils and staff when he worked at the school, was convicted earlier this month of gross indecency and indecent assault against a 13-year-old at the school 20 years ago. White had abused another boy at the school but had been allowed to continue working there. It was also disclosed that seven Downside monks had been questioned by police about various offences dating back several decades.

After the school was accused in the press of failing to act on information about White and other abusers, the Abbot said that the case “raises questions about what was done during the period between the abuse and Fr Nicholas’s eventual conviction”, adding: “He received counselling and therapy and conformed entirely with all the restrictions that were imposed on him. However, the standards of supervision and communication with the relevant outside agencies have changed over the years and his case would not be handled in the same way today as it was in the past.”

The Abbot also disclosed that “as part of our response to safeguarding concerns” all the monks’ records dating back 50 years had been made available to the police and the diocesan safeguarding office in 2010 as part of a wider review of historic cases “to help ensure that nothing remained unknown and undealt with”.

Those cases listed were Fr Raphael Appleby, a former headmaster who had accepted a police caution for abuse of a vulnerable person, not a pupil in the school, over a long period in the 1980s, and who has since left. The Abbot could not say whether the abuse began when Fr Appleby was headmaster, from 1975 to 1980, explaining that, like with many of the cases, revealing too much information could help to identify the victim.

turn to ministry from his voluntary suspension.

The Abbot also said: “Another monk was issued with a police warning. This case does not involve a vulnerable adult or a pupil in the school. Two other monks have been subject to investigation and, while the allegations against them, dating from the early 1990s, were founded, no prosecutions were brought. Both have had restrictions imposed on their ministry in order to protect children and are living in the monastery under supervision approved by the outside agencies. This situation is kept under constant review.”

One of those investigated was Fr Dunstan O’Keeffe, who was convicted of possessing indecent images and imprisoned, and who is no longer a priest or a monk. Another monk, who received a police caution for a child abuse offence in the 1960s and subsequently left the country, was identified in the press as Brother Anselm, born Michael Hurt, brother of the actor John Hurt. Although accused of withholding information about Brother Anselm, the Abbot said that the school had in fact passed on the information to the relevant authorities. In a statement issued last July the Abbot of Glenstal in Co Limerick, where Brother Anselm now lives under restriction, reported that “Brother Anselm’s file was reexamined after we learnt of this allegation last February and the search revealed two documents from the British Department of Education and Science dating from the time of the allegation. These documents show that the department was aware of and investigated the case at the time.”

Reassuring parents that Downside was a safe place for children, the Abbot quoted a recent Ofsted report which said that “robust risk assessments are in place to ensure the safety of pupils from adults who should not have unsupervised access to children”, and that Downside met all the required standards of safeguarding.

He wrote: “We can be confident that the children with us are safe and able to flourish. We have the right structures in place, but we have to remain constantly vigilant and I recognise that you will help us to do that.”

Fr Antony Sutch was subject to a police investigation that concluded without any action being taken, and Downside said that an independent investigation and risk assessment saw no reason why he should not re

In October Lord Carlile concluded a report into St Benedict’s in Ealing, west London, by saying that there should be more checks and balances at schools run by religious orders. Will Heaven: Page 12

Baroness Warsi talks to Sister Berchmans, a teacher of Benazir Bhutto, at a convent in Karachi

Nuns in Pakistan inspire peer BY ED WEST

CONSERVATIVE PARTY chairman Baroness Warsi visited Catholic nuns during a trip to Pakistan last week.

The baroness, who is also a minister without portfolio in the Cabinet, visited the Jesus and Mary Convent in Karachi, alma mater of former president Benazir Bhutto.

She told the girls at the Catholic school: “My father came from a very poor family. They couldn’t afford shoes. Sometimes when the ground was very hard his brothers gave him a piggyback to get to the fields.

“Anything is possible. Perhaps a future prime minister is standing among us today.”

She then had breakfast with the Irish nuns who ran the convent school and heard about the increasing danger on Karachi’s streets, the threat of kidnappings and the risk of terrorism.

“Twenty years ago I used to be able to walk along the beach,” said one nun. “I couldn’t do that now.”

Baroness Warsi also travelled to St Patrick’s Cathedral to meet Archbishop Evarist Pinto of Karachi, who is trying to combat a rising tide of hostility to Christianity across Pakistan. The archbishop spoke about the growing persecution of Christians, revealing that Church property had been seized in the Punjab.

Baroness Warsi said it was an honour to meet the archbishop and said that Sister Berchmans, Benazir Bhutto’s former teacher at the Jesus and Mary Convent, was inspiring and an example of how powerful faith can be in changing the world.

The 82-year-old Sister Berchmans was born in Co Clare and has spent 58 years in Pakistan.

The first Jesus and Mary convent in what is now Pakistan opened in 1856 with the aim of educating young women to be “self-reliant, capable of being good wives and mothers and creating happy homes, capable of earning a living by honest work and whose very presence anywhere would exude goodness and touch other lives”.

BY STAFF REPORTER Church safeguarding chief resigns

BARONESS Scotland has resigned as the head of the National Catholic Safeguarding Commission for England and Wales (NCSC) after less than a year in the role.

A statement on the commission’s website said that her resignation came into effect on December 31 2011.

It said: “It is with much regret that the Rt Hon the Baroness Scotland of Asthall QC has decided to tender her resignation as Chair of the National Catholic Safeguarding

Commission for England and Wales. Increasing pressures in other areas of her work have resulted in this decision.

“The baroness is encouraged by the continuing commitment of the Catholic Church and the members of the NCSC in their work to improve the safeguarding of children and adults at risk, and also their work with survivor organisations. She wishes the new chair every success.”

Baroness Scotland, the former Attorney General for England and Wales, was appointed head of the NCSC in March 2011. She replaced

Bill Kilgallon, who had served as chairman since the body’s creation in 2008.

Victims’ groups called for Baroness Scotland’s resignation in August after she was quoted as saying that priests sometimes abused because they were “unsupported emotionally” by lay people.

The NCSC is an independent organisation responsible for overseeing the Church’s safeguarding policies for children and vulnerable adults. It is now seeking a new head and will interview candidates for the post on February 5.

African Palm Crosses The palm crosses are made in a very poor area in Africa, where families earn some money by growing cashew nuts. Money earned by making palm crosses for our use here in Great Britain, enables people to earn some extra money each year. Price: £16.30 per 100 £8.15 per 50 (This price includes VAT and the cost of postage)



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Issue of Scottish independence divides Catholics


THE SCOTTISH government’s plans to hold a referendum in 2014 on independence have sharply divided opinion among leading Scottish Catholics.

A survey by the Scottish Catholic Observer of many of the country’s foremost Catholic voices found that, while most agreed that it was a matter for the Scottish people to decide, there were concerns that an independent Scotland could be even more hostile to Catholics than the status quo of the union.

Last week’s announcement by First Minister Alex Salmond that he intended to hold the referendum in the autumn of 2014 met a hostile reaction from David Cameron, who insisted that any vote should be held within 18 months.

The official position of the Bishops’ Conference of Scotland, expressed by Bishop Philip Tartaglia of Paisley, is that “the constitutional question is a matter solely for the people of Scotland to decide”.

But both Bishop Tartaglia and Cardinal Keith O’Brien have said that the existing independence of the Scottish Church showed broader independence for Scotland was a viable idea.

“It is true that the Catholic Church in Scotland has a distinct and internationally recognised position,” Cardinal

O’Brien said. “So it would be difficult to argue that ecclesiastical independence is acceptable but political independence is not.”

The cardinal also said he believed that the independence movement in Scotland was fuelled by “frustration among the Scots about the say they have over what happens here”.

On the issue of Catholic education Michael McGrath, the director of the Scottish Catholic Education Service, said it was “unlikely” that independence would have a impact in the short term.

Mr McGrath said it was possible that independence could lead to lessening of the “sectarian attitudes which still prevail among some”. But he also expressed fears that it could lead to “greater insularity among Scots, some of whom have traditionally held hostile attitudes towards Catholic education”, adding that he was wary of the issue “distracting politicians from the major economic challenge faced by all of us for some years to come”.

Michael McMahon, the Scottish Labour MSP for Uddingston and Bellshill, said that “while Scotland is by no means too small or too poor to survive as a separate state,” independence would “do nothing to enhance Scotland’s position in the world, or the Catholic community’s position within Scotland”.

Catholic midwives sue NHS board

Diocese asks for views on new school


SCOTLAND’S largest health board is being taken to court by two Catholic midwives who say they were forced to supervise an abortion.

Midwifery sisters Mary Doogan and Teresa Wood claim that their conscientious objections to abortion were ignored.

NHS Greater Glasgow and Clyde, however, argues that they do not have the right to refuse such duties.

The two women had later asked the health board to confirm that they were not required to delegate, supervise or support staff in carrying out abortions, but the board for west central Scotland rejected their request.

Now they have taken the case to a court in Edinburgh seeking to challenge the board’s decision in a judicial review.

They say that the refusal to recognise their right to conscientious objection violates their rights under Article 9 of the European Convention on Human Rights, which guarantees the right to freedom of thought, conscience and religion.

The women’s petition states that “they hold a religious belief that all human life is sacred from the moment of conception and that termination or pregnancy is a grave offence against human life”.


THE DIOCESE of Westminster has launched a consultation on a plan to open new Catholic primary and secondary schools in the borough of Richmond in south-west London.

Richmond is the only London borough without a Catholic secondary school.

Bishop John Sherrington, chairman of the diocesan education commission, said: “Catholic parents have long expressed the need for a Catholic secondary school in the London borough of Richmond. The Diocese of Westminster, together with the Archdiocese of Southwark, have for many years been working hard, in partnership with Richmond Council to make this aspiration become a reality.

“The Diocese of Westminster is sure that a new Catholic primary and secondary school in Richmond would continue the fine tradition of Catholic education which values the uniqueness and contribution of every pupil, aims to enable every child to discover his or her true vocation in life and seeks to provide excellent learning and teaching to provide this,” the bishop said.

The consultation can be accessed via the diocesan website, Two drop-in sessions are planned at St James and St Elizabeth Catholic primary schools in Twickenham and Richmond next month.

NEWSBULLETIN Bishops meet Palestinian leader at Lambeth Palace ANGLICAN and Catholic bishops met Mahmoud Abbas, president of the Palestinian Authority, at Lambeth Palace this week.

Archbishop Patrick Kelly of Liverpool and Auxiliary Bishop William Kenney of Birmingham met Mr Abbas alongside the Archbishop of Canterbury, Dr Rowan Williams, and the Rt Rev David Arnott, moderator of the

General Assembly of the Church of Scotland.

During the meeting they discussed the plight of Christians in the Holy Land.

Archbishop Kelly said that during their visit to the Holy Land last week bishops saw the effects of “occupation and insecurity” and said there was an urgent need for “strong and creative” leadership.

Stephen Fry backs priestʼs petition STEPHEN FRY has given his support to a priest’s campaign to end the “gay panic” legal defence in Queensland, Australia.

The quiz show host publicised Fr Paul Kelly’s petition to his 3.7 million followers on Twitter.

The “gay panic” defence has been invoked by defendants in murder cases trying to downgrade their charge to manslaughter. The reasoning is that the victim had made a homosexual advance on his killer, and they lost control of their actions as a result.

Fr Kelly, who was made aware of the “gay panic” defence after a man was murdered outside his church, said it was unfair and damaging to a trial that the defence can even be raised, even if it is unsuccessful.

He said: “It is intolerable that anyone can rely on a defence that an alleged homosexual advance could somehow mitigate against violence that leads to death.”

Prayer book to go on display AN ILLUMINATED ninthcentury Mercian prayer book known as the Book of Cerne and the second oldest surviving copy of the Ecclesiastical History of the English People by the Venerable Bede are among the treasures being displayed at Cambridge University Library.

The exhibits in “Shelf Lives: Four Centuries of Collectors and their Books” are taken from the library’s permanent store.

Welfare reform draws criticism ARCHBISHOP Peter Smith of Southwark has said that “thousands of families” will be affected by the Government’s welfare reform Bill. In a letter to the Times he called for child benefits to be exempt from a proposed cap to lessen the impact on families and urged the removal of provisions that will leave benefit claimants liable to repay debts accumulated as a result of administrative errors.

Police track down stolen relic A STOLEN RELIC believed to be part of the True Cross has been tracked down by police and returned to the Holy Cross Abbey in Thurles, Co Tipperary.

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