Highlands & Islands

Scottish Child Abuse Inquiry: Bishop knew about monk claims

Fort Augustus School
Image caption Fort Augustus Abbey has now closed and monks are no longer resident

Scotland's most senior bishop said he was aware of a monk being sent to a monastery because of abuse allegations against him.

Bishop of Aberdeen Hugh Gilbert told the Scottish Child Abuse Inquiry he was an abbot and not "of any status" at the time.

Richard White was convicted of sexually abusing two boys in the late 1980s.

The Right Reverend Gilbert was then pictured with him at a celebration in 1997.

He said: "I was aware that he had been sent to Fort Augustus from his home monastery because of allegations against him at that time.

"I think I was possibly informed about Richard White's move but I was not a person of any status - I was a monk at Pluscarden."

'Safe place to send him'

The inquiry is hearing evidence on abuse allegations at Fort Augustus school in Inverness-shire, run by Benedictine monks before its closure in 1993.

Bishop Gilbert, who is president of the Bishops' Conference of Scotland, said "it was said" that "it was not a good idea" for White to be at the school in his own monastery.

He added: "I think he was found guilty and that was lamentable. It must have been thought that this was a safe place to send him because there was not a school."

A former teacher and house master at the school in the 1970s and 80s denied claims he had drawn blood when belting a pupil as punishment and had broken the knuckle of another.

The man in his 80s, who cannot be named, told the inquiry via video link: "No, I never had any complaints. Nobody ever showed me bruising".

The witness also said he was not aware of bullying, abuse, or a "climate of fear" at the school, telling inquiry chairwoman Lady Smith: "No, it was a happy school."

However, he said corporal punishment was "very much part of the regime, but the regime was benign really, it was for the good of the pupils."

'Dreadful things'

The witness was asked to step aside from all public ministry in August 2013 following a meeting with Rev Gilbert, now Bishop of Aberdeen, during which he was said to have disclosed two incidents of inappropriate behaviour with boys in the 1980s.

The meeting at St Mary's Roman Catholic Church in Inverness followed the airing of a BBC Scotland investigation entitled Sins Of Our Fathers.

The bishop subsequently made a statement to the police.

Asked about the disclosures, Bishop Gilbert said the witness told him he had "attempted but failed to elicit a response" from two boys who had medical conditions or were unwell at the time, before adding "a sexual response".

When asked about what was said at the meeting, the witness told the inquiry: "I don't want to comment or to answer questions on this matter."

Asked about his hopes for the inquiry at the end of his evidence, the bishop said: "The hope we all have is that the children of today and in years to come will not have to endure some of the dreadful things that they did endure.

"One hopes that this will help certain survivors, the acknowledgement of what happened to them."

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