I'm not going to comment on the news
about Ampleforth College; but today I am reposting this from January 2012, about Downside.
This weekend the Catholic Herald has published a letter of mine on the subject of 'Child Protection'. It responds to an article by Will Heaven
Will Heaven (Comment, Jan 20th) tells us that monastic schools, like Downside,
where there have been failures of child protection, should be handed over to lay
trustees. By the same logic, I assume he would want the many lay schools plagued
by such failures to be handed over to monks.
We need to look, not at the
clerical or lay status of trustees, but at their attitudes and policies.
Unfortunately the leadership of Catholic schools appears to be following the
example of its secular counterpart, both by imposing explicit sex education on
our children and by an increasing reluctance to expect staff to live in accord
with Church teaching.
The secular model is to promote anarchic sexual
liberalism in schools, balanced by an hysterical concern for the procedures of
child protection. This is not going to solve the problem of the sexual
exploitation of children in the long term. Until the Catholic school sector is
prepared to buck this trend decisively I, like an increasing number of Catholic
parents, will be teaching my children at home.
Two things struck me about Heaven's article. The first was his idea that the problems at Downside would go away if the monks were no longer the trustees. It is reasonable I suppose that a religious order which makes a hash of an apostolate hands it over to someone else, but Heaven's suggestion smacks of anti-clericalism. How, exactly, would having lay control help? Hasn't he noticed all the non-religious, indeed non-Catholic schools which have had child protection issues? It is the attitudes and policies of the individuals in positions of authority which are important, not whether they wear clerical dress. On this, Jonathan West of 'Confessions of a Skeptic
' agrees with me, in his Tablet article this week and his comments under Heaven's article: lay leadership is not a 'silver bullet'. (Tablet link
I have another concern about the attempt to separate monastic schools from the monasteries which founded them. If this happens we will have two institutions sharing a site, but nothing else. It will be entirely reasonable for the monastic community to ask why they are allowing this alien institution to take up so much of their land, rent free. Why not turn it into luxury flats? Hybrid models, in which the Abbot appoints some trustees and some unnamed person others, seem to be a recipe for permanent conflict.
The other thing which struck me was Heaven's jaunty reference to Downside going mixed. He writes:
There is no question about it: Downside School is still flourishing. A
few years ago, I wrote in this newspaper about its “second spring”,
which occurred after 2005 when it allowed girls to join. I noted that
the school was livelier and noisier than before and was at its capacity
of 430 pupils.
Alas, Downside – as a community – is now experiencing an unexpectedly harsh winter.
You might think that the sudden onset of colder weather might make Heaven wonder whether 2005 was spring after all. For why did they they let in girls, to a school which had been single-sex since its foundation a century earlier? Did the monks suddenly feel a special charism to look after the emotional needs of adolescent girls? I don't think so. Letting in girls enabled it to bring number back up to capacity: oh, that's it!
I don't blame the monks of Downside in particular, they were just following the trend. The point is that this is a trend in which the interests of pupils were sacrificed to financial considerations, and to educational fashion. No one was ignorant, by 2005, of the educational benefits to girls of being in a all-girls' school; the subject had been studied to death. Catholic boys' schools, usually with superior brand-recognition and resources, continued to undermine the girls' schools by going mixed because it was in their interests, not in the girls'.
If anyone is interested in the Church's teaching on co-education, they can look at Pius XI on the subject in 1939 (Divine illius magistri
68. False also and harmful to Christian education is the so-called method of
"coeducation." This too, by many of its supporters, is founded upon
naturalism and the denial of original sin; but by all, upon a deplorable
confusion of ideas that mistakes a leveling promiscuity and equality, for the
legitimate association of the sexes.
This is related, by the denial of original sin, to the real elephant in the room, which I mention in my letter, which is the sexualisation of children. The motto of the secular educational establishment is 'Do whatever you are comfortable doing; don't let anyone make you feel guilty about it; don't let anyone do to you what you're not comfortable with'. This places the burden of child protection on the children themselves. Since the only standard of what is abusive is the child's perception, accusations of abuse are justified almost by definition. By the same token, the 'grooming' activities of abusers, in which they attempt to convince their victims that abuse is really ok, have been adopted as school policy: nothing is not ok, children, if you just accept it. This is why we have the extraordinary situation in which schools are deliberately sexualising children, and then crying blue murder at the least plausible accusation.
The Catholic Church has a great opportunity here, because the secular orthodoxy has become so extreme, and so incoherent, that at least some people will give an alternative a hearing. The Natural Law tells us what is abusive, and we have the intellectual resources to create an environment for children in which abuse is less likely to happen. Why not do it, and make a virtue of it?
I see Oona Stanard is stepping down from the Catholic Education Service. Perhaps her replacement can give these matters some serious consideration.
Full disclosure: I am a Fellow of St Benet's Hall, a Hall of Oxford University whose trustees are the Abbot and Council of Ampleforth Abbey.