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Child protection and the Church


The knights’ tale The Order of Malta is the most august of the Catholic military orders. But today uncertainty hangs over the future of the institution’s British wing, which has been torn apart by the shortcomings of four senior members over child safety

Defenders of the Holy Land during the Crusades, they have diplomatic relations with 102 countries and enjoy observer status at the United Nations. Yet today the Sovereign Military Order of Malta has been shaken to its core by a scandal in Britain.

The catalyst was the conviction last month on child pornography charges of Vernon Quaintance, who served at the weekly Masses of the British Association of the Order of Malta (BASMOM). The association is split over the behaviour of four senior knights, all members of the Grand Priory, a quasi-monastic, celibate body, who failed properly to follow up safeguarding concerns about Quaintance. One knight has since died, but the remaining three have been excluded from the association’s church in north London. Meanwhile, nine other knights, including the former Chief of the Defence Staff, Lord Guthrie, have resigned from BASMOM’s governing council in protest over the affair; and there has been no BASMOM Mass at the order’s spiritual home for over a year.

Now the order’s worldwide leader, the Grand Master Fra’ Matthew Festing, has sent a senior official, or “magistral delegate”, to Britain to investigate BASMOM. He has suspended the president, Charles Weld, and the governing council and effectively frozen the British association, which will come under the direct control of the magistral delegate, Fra’ Marwan Sehnaoui, for at least the next six months. It is highly embarrassing for Fra’ Matthew – himself a Briton – to see the situation deteriorate enough to necessitate an investigation. Meanwhile, police are examining seven allegations of indecent assault against Quaintance, said to have taken place against multiple victims between 1970 and 2011. Quaintance, 68, of Upper Norwood, south London, is currently on police bail. His conviction – he received a suspended sentence – and the police investigation raise questions about the protection of children in the Church and in particular about the judgement of leading British knights. The Tablet has seen evidence that four Grand Priory members failed to act on concerns about Quaintance.

In 2009 Quaintance began serving as sacristan at BASMOM’s weekly Mass at the Church of the Hospital of St John and St Elizabeth in St John’s Wood, north London. The Order of Malta has a centuries-old connection with the hospital. Quaintance’s job

The Pope exchanges gifts with Fra’ Matthew Festing. Photo: CNS

potentially gave him access to children. Earlier he had been dropped as photographer for the Latin Mass Society (LMS) after it became concerned about his involvement with websites advocating male circumcision that included graphic details.

Quaintance had served at the Knights’ Mass until 2011 and had already been made a Companion of the order – a stepping stone to becoming a knight – when concerns were brought to the attention of Fra’ Richard Berkley-Matthews, BASMOM’s safeguarding representative. He and three other Grand Priory members decided to conduct their own investigation. The Grand Priory is a senior body of knights who have sworn an oath of poverty, chastity and obedience and are led by a grand prior. The Grand Priory of England is one of the world’s oldest – it was founded in the twelfth century, although it was dissolved during the Reformation. It was not until 1993, under Fra’ Matthew, that the Grand Priory was re-established.

Among the investigators of Quaintance was Fra’ Duncan Gallie, a teacher and head of

THERE IS A celebrated photograph of Cardinal Darío Castrillón Hoyos posing regally in the flowing red silk cappa magna atWestminster Cathedral in June 2008, writes Elena Curti. It was one of a series of pictures taken by the Latin Mass Society (LMS) photographer, Vernon Quaintance, when the cardinal came to London to celebrate a Pontifical High Mass in the Extraordinary Rite.

For up to 20 years Quaintance recorded countless scenes of splendour at traditional Masses with biretta-wearing clerics in gold and lace and incense billowing around them. He set up a website as a showcase for his work and offered to take pictures at traditional Catholic events free of charge. He became a fixture at old rite Masses and processions, his work reproduced and praised on traditional Catholic websites.

However, the LMS committee became aware of Quaintance’s involvement with websites promoting male circumcision. Members became concerned about graphic descriptions on the sites and dispensed with his services in September 2008. The LMS told me they alerted other Catholic organisations about their concerns.

Yet rumours concerning Quaintance’s behaviour towards young boys, had, according to one priest,

‘The trouble is that people don’t want to believe been around for 50 years. He trained altar servers at his parish church of St Bartholomew’s, Norbury, south London, in his twenties. Even then he was known for his interest in male circumcision, which, it is claimed, he discussed with the boys. He was also in the habit of taking them for car rides in the country. But sometime in the early 1970s, the then parish priest, Fr James Carolin, ruled that Quaintance could no longer train altar servers.

Fr Michael Jones, himself a former St Bartholomew’s parishioner, returned there as parish priest in 1993. He recalled that Quaintance would help collect and count the collection and had asked his priest if he could become a reader. Fr Jones said that after Quaintance had read at Mass just once he received an anonymous letter stating that Fr Carolin had promised that Quaintance would never serve or hold any church office – and that if he read at Mass again the writer would call the police.

Fr Jones, who is now a parish priest in Bexleyheath, said Quaintance left St Bartholomew’s in 1996 in protest at the decision to re-order the church and remove the altar rails. He then switched to St Bede’s, Clapham Park, which has regular Tridentine Rite Masses.

The parish priest at St Bede’s, Fr Christopher Basden, told me he was warned about Quaintance by parishioners from St Bartholomew’s and barred him from the parish social club. He said he also informed the Southwark Archdiocese safeguarding officer, Helen Sheppard. Fr Basden believes the concerns about Quaintance were well known to Fr Carolin, now deceased, who was at St Bartholomew’s from 1963 to 1993, and also to the local dean in the 1960s and 1970s. The problem, according to Fr Basden, was that there was no firm evidence of any wrongdoing.

“The trouble is that people don’t want to believe something like that,”he said.“They think it is just gossip. It is very difficult to pass on suspicions when you don’t have any evidence. We just have to be careful and alert the diocesan authorities. There is a balance to be struck between being prudent and just ignoring it.”The Archdiocese of Southwark declined to comment.

4 | THE TABLET | 26 May 2012

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