Abuse scandal schools were 'haven for paedophiles'

The chairwoman of the Scottish Child Abuse Inquiry (SCAI) has concluded that children in the care of Benedictine monks at two Catholic schools suffered sexual, physical and emotional abuse.

The abbey school closed in 1993
The abbey school closed in 1993

Inquiry chair Lady Smith’s findings come after evidence was given about children being abused when in the care of monks at both Carlekemp Priory School, North Berwick, and Fort Augustus Abbey School in the Highlands.

The schools were described as “havens for paedophiles”.

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The Inquiry also examined the systems, policies, and procedures in place, how these were applied, and whether systemic failures enabled abuse to happen.

Lady Smith, chair of the Scottish Child Abuse Inquiry. Picture: Nick Mailer

Lady Smith said: “Children were sexually abused at both schools. A number of monks were serial sexual predators and, because of the movement of monks between Fort Augustus and Carlekemp, they were able to target victims at both schools.

“Children were cruelly beaten by sadistic monks at both schools, and some beatings had sexual overtones. Children were humiliated and punished inappropriately and excessively.

“Some children complained to monks in positions of responsibility about being abused. They received either non‑existent or inadequate responses.

“Knowing that they would not be believed, other children refrained from complaining about abuse. Complaints made to devout‑Catholic parents were rejected because they would not accept it was possible that Catholic monks would abuse children.

“The emotional scars caused by the trauma associated with sexual abuse, physical violence, and the denigration of children, were, for some, long‑lasting and debilitating, blighting their adult lives.”

Hearings in the case study took place between June 18, 2019 and October 1, 2019 during which time the Inquiry heard evidence from 43 witnesses.

These findings are the second in a series of three sets of case study findings in relation to the provision of residential care for children by male religious orders in Scotland.

Lady Smith added: “The monks were not trained to look after children on a residential basis. They lacked the capacity and ability to do so. The notion that untrained monks could care for school‑aged children was seriously flawed.”

It continues: “Both schools were havens for paedophiles where they had easy access to their chosen victims. In addition, some monks groomed their victims’ families. There was a range of sexual abuse, including oral sex and sodomy. Chapter 4 of the Rule of St Benedict instructs monks to “[l]ive by God’s commandments every day; treasure chastity”.484 That instruction was blatantly ignored; the sexual abuse by monks was a desecration of their vows. It is striking that monks in positions of responsibility were not only aware of it, but participated in it. The traumatic effects of the sexual abuse suffered by some children were considerable and long‑lasting.”

Lady Smith will take these findings into account when she analyses all the evidence gathered by the Inquiry and decides what recommendations to make in her final report.

Applicants and any other witnesses with relevant evidence to offer about the care provided by the Benedictines should contact the Inquiry; their evidence can still be considered as part of the continuing process.

The findings come after former Fort Augustus Abbey School monk, Denis Alexander, was sentenced last month to four years and five months in prison after admitting sexually abusing two former pupils at the school in the 1970s.

Alexander, 85, who taught history and bagpipe playing at the school and was known as Father Chrysotum, targeted the boys during yoga classes and at his study there.

He left the school in the 1970s and stopped being a practising Benedictine monk but became a priest in Sydney, Australia, where he initially contested a bid to extradite him for his crimes. Efforts to bring him to justice were made after a BBC documentary called Sins of Our Fathers was shown in 2013. His victims found the courage to contact the police.

Alexander was returned to Scotland almost three years after an extradition request was first sent to the Australian authorities in 2016. He had initially not consented to his return to Scotland to face justice.

He admitted two charges of indecent behaviour against the boys at the High Court in Edinburgh in June after being brought into the building in a wheelchair.

During sentencing in July, a judge told Alexander he would be subject to deportation as his sentence was served, having been backdated to January 2017 when he was first taken into custody.

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