Bishop says sorry for sex abuse horror

ONE of Scotland’s most senior Catholics will apologise today on behalf of the Church for almost three decades of abuse of pupils at a boarding school.

Gilbert: broken trust and integrity. Picture: Derek Ironside
Gilbert: broken trust and integrity. Picture: Derek Ironside
Gilbert: broken trust and integrity. Picture: Derek Ironside

Hugh Gilbert, the Bishop of Aberdeen, will tell parishioners at Fort Augustus church in the Highlands of his “horror and shame” over the revelations that monks raped and sexually abused children at the school in the village.

In a further attempt to repair a reputation tarnished by a series of scandals, the Church is also planning to publish for the first time annual audits dealing with sex abuse allegations against the clergy in each of Scotland’s eight dioceses.

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Publication of the audits – compiled by its National Office of Child Safety – this autumn are intended to show that the Church takes all allegations against priests seriously and details will be provided back to 2006, when co-ordinated procedures were first put in place across the whole country. The exercise will then be repeated annually.

The Church is also preparing a more detailed report for publication next year that deals with all historical cases stretching across all dioceses in Scotland in an attempt to end the stream of damaging revelations, many of them dating back to the 1950s.

Bishop Gilbert told Scotland on Sunday the “sins and failures” of the Catholic Church in Scotland have to be acknowledged before the damage can be repaired.

His comments follow scandal surrounding the resignation of Cardinal Keith O’Brien and last week’s revelations of historical clerical sexual abuse by Benedictine monks at Fort Augustus Abbey school and its preparatory school, Carlekemp in East Lothian.

A BBC investigation broadcast on Monday uncovered evidence of physical violence and sexual assault, including rape, by monks at the fee-paying schools, which have since closed. The cases of abuse are now being investigated by Police Scotland.

Today, Bishop Gilbert, whose Aberdeen diocese covers most of northern Scotland, will celebrate mass at Fort Augustus parish church and address the congregation on the crimes.

He said: “I share the horror and shame. I’m afraid that people do terrible things. These things do happen, and unfortunately have, and it is a terrible tale of broken trust and integrity.”

He added: “I will be going there [Fort Augustus] in order to speak with the parishioners and to say how distressed we have all been by the allegations that came out in the recent programme … and just to say sorry for the hurt caused to the victims.

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“We are truly distressed to have learned that these things have happened and I want to articulate that for the parishioners there. Some of the older ones will remember that community and many of them will have positive memories of it and the work of the monks, but sadly there appear to have been these terrible breaches of right conduct.”

Addressing the wider issue of the recent crisis in the Catholic Church in Scotland triggered by the resignation of Cardinal O’Brien this year after admitting “inappropriate behaviour” with priests and seminarians, Gilbert said: “The sins and failures have to be clearly acknow­ledged and all that can reasonably be done is done to prevent the recurrence of this kind of thing, but there is the more fundamental and all-pervasive need for a spiritual renewal within the whole Catholic body.”

As part of its investigation, BBC Scotland spoke to 50 former pupils about their experiences at the schools over a 30-year-period.

Five men said they were raped or sexually assaulted by Father Aidan Duggan, an Australian monk who taught at Carlekemp and Fort Augustus between 1953 and 1974 before returning to Australia, where he continued to abuse young boys.

He died in 2004. Another priest was also accused of repeatedly sexually abusing a pupil in 1977. After his parents complained, the monk was sent back to Australia with no warnings about his offences.

New guidelines on reporting and investigating allegations were first drawn up in 1996 after the conviction of Fr Desmond Lynagh for the sexual abuse of Michael X, a student at Blairs junior seminary in Aberdeen between 1973 and 1975.

A Church spokesman said: “In the late autumn, we are intending to publish the annual audits on how the national office of child safety works.

“What we have is from 2006 to the present; then each year afterwards we will publish a safeguarding report. It is not just about allegations against priests, it is about all the work of the safeguarding office.

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“We will explain how these cases were handled and we are planning how to release this information without breaching people’s confidentiality.”