A Catholic school attached to a monastery sheltered child sex offenders and tolerated abuse, its former abbot claimed.
Downside Abbey in Somerset is being examined by Independent Inquiry into Child Sexual Abuse after two of its monks were jailed for child sex offences.
Letters from the abbey’s former abbot, Aidan Bellenger, have now revealed his fears that ‘the issue of child abuse was tolerated by all my predecessors as abbot’.
In a letter sent last year, he said of two monks who had been imprisoned over abuse: ‘Neither was penitent. Both were protected (and implicitly) encouraged by their abbots.’
The Independent Inquiry into Child Sexual Abuse is examining abuse at Downside Abbey school in Somerset
He said of two other monks: ‘[They] avoided trial, but their offences (more than allegations) remain on record.’
His letter including a warning that a monk who still lives at Downside had taken part in ‘perverse and criminal’ activities.
Two others he said ‘were open to allegations of “paedophilia”‘, adding: ‘Small fry perhaps but in outside perceptions they would be in trouble.’
He warned: ‘More “historic” cases will emerge’, listing five other names, which have been redacted by the inquiry.
Monk and teacher Richard White was jailed in 2012 for abusing two boys at Downside
Earlier this week, the inquiry heard from a woman who said she was abused by a member of the staff at the school in the 1980s, when she was a wheelchair- bound teenager.
Two monks from the Abbey have previously been jailed for child sex offences.
Monk Richard White, 66, was handed a five-year sentence in 2012 after abusing two boys more than two decades ago, including a 12-year-old he paid 50p to hush up.
His court hearing was told that, instead of contacting the police after allegations were raised, the then abbot of the monastery simply stopped White from teaching younger students.
In 2004, Desmond O’Keefe, another former priest from the abbey, was jailed for downloading 12,000 children sex abuse images.
Dr Bellenger, who was abbot for eight years until 2014, has previously apologised to all former pupils affected by abuse.
The Independent Inquiry into Child Sexual Abuse (IICSA) is currently examining the prevalence of paedophilia among Benedictine monks and failures to protect young people.
It is focusing on offenders who targeted children at two famous Catholic public schools, Ampleforth in North Yorkshire and Downside in Somerset, over many decades.
The Independent Inquiry into Child Sexual Abuse is being led by Professor Alexis Jay
But although numerous inquiries have exposed the problem of child abuse within church institutions and a string of offenders have been convicted, safety concerns are said to remain.
Counsel to the inquiry Riel Karmy-Jones QC told a hearing last month the recorded allegations ‘go back many years… and they continue into the present day’.
She added: ‘In considering the evidence and assessing the extent of abuse, it must be remembered that we have to rely on that which has been reported, and the extent and accuracy with which those reports have been recorded, if at all.
‘In that time we have moved from scant records, little more than a handwritten notes on scraps of paper being kept, to electronic records. So some of the records that remain are old and illegible, some incomplete, some lost or destroyed.’