St Benet’s monastic superior quits after child abuse scandal

Father Francis Davidson, responsible for the welfare of student monks at St Benet’s, is the only surviving headmaster of Fort Augustus Abbey School, the subject of a recent BBC Scotland investigation for the programme Sins of Our Fathers.

The programme, broadcast on 29 July, revealed claims of physical and sexual abuse spanning from 1950s to 1990s.  Fr Davidson is one of three headmasters accused of covering up the scandal; ten Fort Augustus monks have been accused of physical abuse, and four monks and one lay teacher of sexual abuse, including rape.  The programme contains further allegations that the school was a “dumping ground” for clergy with a history of abusing children.

Over 50 ex-pupils have spoken to the BBC about their experiences at fee-paying Fort Augustus School in the Scottish Highlands, which shut in 1993, and its feeder preparatory school, Carlekemp, shut in 1977.

One former pupil, Hugh Kennedy, who attended Fort Augustus in the 1970s, recalls being sexually abused by two teachers. One of the abusers was his housemaster Fr Chrysostum Alexander.  He told the BBC, “He would play with me, masturbate me and would make me do certain things to him, oral sex, things along those lines… I did tell Fr Davidson, who was the headmaster.”

Despite claiming that he had personally alerted Fr Davidson, Mr Kennedy says the police were never involved in this “sustained and protracted” experience, and that Fr Chrysostum visited his home to convince his family of his innocence, where “he [Chrysostum] had convinced her [Kennedy’s stepmother] this was a non story and… I was sent back to Fort Augustus to be subjected to further abuse by Chrysostom.”

After allegations were reportedly made by a second victim in 1977, then headmaster Davidson failed to alert the police, instead sending Fr Chrysostum back to Australia, with no warnings about his offending.

Earlier this week, Fr Davidson told the BBC that he did not remember Kennedy’s allegations. “I would like to offer my profound sympathies to former pupils of Fort Augustus Abbey School and their families for any historic abuse committed by Fr Chrysostom Alexander including to Hugh Kennedy.

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“I was shocked and saddened to hear of Mr Kennedy’s allegations and of those against Bill Owen relating to Fort Augustus in the 1970s. I do not recall them being reported to me during my time as headmaster of Fort Augustus Abbey School.

“Subsequent allegations of abuse made to the Abbot, who is now dead, resulted in an internal investigation by the Abbot and Fr Chrysostom’s immediate removal from the school.”

There is currently an ongoing police investigation into the abuse, but leading children’s charities, including the NSPCC, are calling for full, independent inquiries.

These revelations come eight years after an Oxford student made a formal complaint of harassment against St Benet’s Hall tutor, Bernard Green.  Fr Bernard had previously pled guilty in 1996 to indecently assaulting a 13 year old whilst housemaster at Catholic public school, Ampleforth College.

St Benet’s Hall released the following statement to Cherwell: “We would like to offer our heartfelt sympathies to former pupils of  Fort Augustus Abbey School and their families.

“As investigations into matters at Fort Augustus Abbey School and Carlekemp Priory school are ongoing, we can confirm that Fr Francis Davidson has stepped aside from his role of religious superior of St. Benet’s Hall.”