Fort Augustus Abbey in the Highland of Scotland. Senior figures in the Benedictine religious order plan an internal inquiry into allegations of sexual and physical abuse by monks at the school.
Senior figures plan own investigation into allegations that monks abused boys at Fort Augustus and Carlekemp Priory schools
Police in Scotland have launched an investigation into disclosures by former pupils at attended Fort Augustus in the Highlands and Carlekemp Priory school near Edinburgh that monks subjected them to systematic violence and sexual assaults, including claims that one now deceased monk raped five boys.
Dom Richard Yeo, the head of the UK’s largest Benedictine group of congregations, said he had already been contacted by detectives from Police Scotland over the allegations, detailed in a BBC Scotland documentary on Monday evening.
In May, the Observer revealed that a police investigation had begun into Fort Augustus after one pupil, Andrew Lavery, accused monks there of “systematic, brutal, awful torture”, which included being locked alone for days at a time in a room.
That included sexual assaults by monks, while other ex-pupils spoke of repeated bullying and sexually predatory behaviour.
Yeo said he was also liaising with senior figures in the Scottish Catholic safeguarding office, an agency of the church which oversees child protection policy within the church. Once the police inquiry was complete, he said, the Benedictines were likely to conduct their own investigation.
Yeo told the Guardian on Tuesday he was “horrified” by the allegations, adding: “I’m very sorry for any abuse that happened.”
He confirmed that he had been aware of a few cases of alleged abuses at Fort Augustus made by some individuals over the last three years. “But the BBC are saying it’s more than a few cases, that it’s a significant number of cases, so that’s new to me,” he said, adding: “They’re talking about a culture of abuse.”
The BBC programme, Sins of the Fathers, alleged that nine monks at the schools repeatedly beat, sexually assaulted and, in one case, raped boys in their care over several decades. Victims of the abuse complained but their testimony was ignored. One priest allegedly involved, now living in Sydney, Australia, has been suspended by the Australian church after the BBC tracked him down.
Yeo, who is bbot president of the English Congregation of Benedictines, to which the two schools were affiliated and includes famous schools such as Ampleforth in Yorkshire and Buckfast abbey in Devon, said he was still mulling over what form its inquiry might take. The Police Scotland investigation must take priority, he said.
The schools are now closed: Carlekemp Priory school stopped operating in the 1970s, while Fort Augustus closed in the 1990s. They were also independent and effectively autonomous, run by the monks and abbot in charge, so his order had no direct control over its affairs then.
“Because the place is shut down, and so many people [involved] are dead, it’s going to be difficult, I imagine, to find out exactly what happened. I was told by the BBC that the people who were abused said that they would like some sort of an inquiry. My reply to that is the correct thing to do is that I can’t anticipate things before the police make their decisions [on what to do],” he said.
Yeo added that he was involved because as head of the Benedictines (there is a small separate Scottish order uninvolved in this scandal), there was no one else for complainants to turn to and the former school was an autonomous body. His predecessor did not control its affairs.
“I have been ready to talk to people who have come to speak to me, because there’s really nobody else and I was happy to talk to the BBC because there was nobody else,” he said. “I don’t really know what to do. I’m certainly open to doing some sort of inquiry but I don’t know what at this stage.
“I would say we have a collective concern [as Benedictines]; you can only exercise responsibility if you exercise some sort of control and we didn’t exercise some sort of control over Fort Augustus; it was an independent monastery.
A spokesman for the Scottish Catholic church said he too was horrified by the allegations. But he insisted neither the former archbishop of Aberdeen, Mario Conti, who was in place during the latter years of the school’s operation, nor the current bishop of Aberdeen, Hugh Gilbert, had had any knowledge at all of the allegations.
He and other church sources said the Benedictines were entirely self-governing and were not under the control or oversight of the Scottish church. The spokesman said: “If they had known, it would have been handed immediately to the diocesian safeguarding team and to the police.
“We have only discovered through the media that these allegations have emerged and that Police Scotland are now dealing with this.”
by Severin Carrell