Sex abuse inquiry: Leading Catholic schools 'put their own reputations over protection of children'

Abuse carried out at leading Roman Catholic schools over several decades was covered up because they 'prioritised monks and their own reputations over the protection of children', according to a new report from the Independent Inquiry into Child Sexual Abuse (IICSA) published today.

DownsideAbuse at Downside School has been outlined in the IICSA report.

While 10 individuals, including monks, were convicted or cautioned at Downside School in Somerset and Ampleforth in North Yorkshire over 40 years, IICSA said the extent of the abuse was likely to be 'considerably higher'.

It says pupils were often abused in front of each other, and that: 'The blatant openness of the activities demonstrates there was a culture of acceptance of abusive behaviour.'

IICSA chair Prof Alexis Jay said: 'For decades Ampleforth and Downside tried to avoid giving any information about child sexual abuse to police and social services.

'Instead, monks in both institutions were very often secretive, evasive and suspicious of anyone outside the English Benedictine Congregation.

'Safeguarding children was less important than the reputation of the Church and the wellbeing of the abusive monks.'

She added: 'Even after new procedures were introduced in 2001, when monks gave the appearance of co-operation and trust, their approach could be summarised as a "tell them nothing" attitude.'

The report gives graphic details about the abuse to which children were submitted ­– as young as seven at Ampleforth and 11 at Downside.

One survivor described his abuser at Ampleforth as 'an out-and-out sadist'.

The report said Ampleforth's headmaster Timothy Wright 'clung to outdated beliefs about "paedophilia" and had an immovable attitude of always knowing best'. It said records had been destroyed by both schools.

Ampleforth issued a statement saying it was 'in the process of developing our first ever Safeguarding Charter', adding: 'It is our goal that this charter is shared with other organisations and becomes recognised as best practice for safeguarding in education.

'We would also like to once again offer our heartfelt apology to anyone who suffered abuse while in the care of our schools, parishes or other ministries. '

It has provided contact details for anyone wanting to report abuse.