Fort Augustus abuse support line launched

A DEDICATED helpline for victims of alleged sexual and physical abuse at two boarding schools in Scotland run by the Catholic Church is being launched today.

Children 1st, the charity that campaigns for children’s rights, set up the helpline following allegations of abuse at the Benedictine-run Fort Augustus Abbey School in the Highlands and its prep school Carlekemp in East Lothian.

The move follows the former headteacher at the boarding school stepping aside from his current position at an Oxford hall for student monks. Father Francis Davidson faces allegations that he failed to act on reports of sexual abuse that were made during his time at Fort Augustus in the 1970s.

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It also follows a BBC Scotland investigation broadcast last month that featured five men who claimed they had been raped or sexually assaulted by two Australian monks Father Aidan Duggan and Father Chrysostom Alexander. Father Fabian Duggan, Father Aidan Duggan’s brother has also been accused of abuse.

About 50 alleged victims at the two schools have spoken about events over nearly three decades. A total of ten monks face allegations of physical abuse; four monks and a lay teacher are accused of sexual abuse, including rape. Police Scotland is investigating the allegations.

Details of the helpline, run by trained volunteers who will offer confidential support and advice, will be passed on to victims interviewed by police as part their investigation. The service is also available to others who have been affected by publicity over the claims. Anyone contacting the helpline will also be offered arrangements for on-going support.

Anne Houston, the charity’s chief executive, said: “Our focus is always on what’s best for children and adults who have been abused and what will make a real difference for them now and in the future.

“Some of the adult survivors we have worked with say being heard helps them ‘see the light at the end of the tunnel’.”

“Being listened to increases confidence and self-worth and making connections about things helps take a lot of weight off their shoulders. By providing confidential space, our support line offers help to anyone who believes they were abused at Fort Augustus or Carlekemp schools.

“We know the police are investigating allegations, taking the time to listen sensitively to what is told to them. Our abuse support line aims to assist those investigations, providing a resource police can pass on to victims who come forward.”

Last night Graeme Pearson, MSP, Scottish Labour justice spokesman, welcomed the help­line but reiterated his call for the Scottish Government to set up an independent inquiry into the allegations.

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Pearson said: “The helpline will be useful for victims who haven’t come forward in the past but now have the opportunity to make contact. It will also give the opportunity to gauge the scale of the problem.

“But we need a full public inquiry to allow us to examine the key issues and find out why this was allowed to happen. We need to find a way of putting in place powerful gatekeepers – the right people in the right place with the right powers – to find out what goes wrong when warning signs are not reported, or ignored by the authorities when they are.”

Scotland on Sunday revealed this month that the Bishop of Aberdeen, Bishop Hugh Gilbert, was to apologise for the abuse to parishioners in Fort August, making clear his “horror and shame” about the disclosures. Yesterday, the Diocese of York said it will open files on deceased clergy dating back more than six decades as part of an investigation into alleged child abuse.

The Archbishop of York, Dr John Sentamu, said: “The damage done by the sexual abuse of children is immense and the passage of time does not in itself bring healing.

The Catholic Church in Scotland said it intends to publish annual audits that will detail, for the first time, sex abuse allegations against the clergy in each of Scotland’s eight dioceses. The Abuse Support line 0800 345 7457 is open Monday to Friday 9am to 10pm and weekends noon to 8pm.

Twitter: @ScotsmanShanR