The Charity Commission has condemned the trustees of a Benedictine monastery and school after a monk with a known history of paedophilia was convicted of abusing boys on its premises.
The Trust of St Benedict's Abbey, Ealing runs a Catholic day school for about 1,000 boys and girls from ages three to 18. An anonymous complainant alleged in 2006 that the charity had used its funds to pay civil damages awarded against one of its monks, known as Father Pearce, for "paedophile activity" with pupils of the school.
The complainant also said that a second unnamed monk, who was also a trustee of the trust, was due to face criminal charges of sexually assaulting a pupil at the school. He was later acquitted.
The trustees, who are all members of the Benedictine Community, assured the commission that neither of the two monks continued to have access to any children within the school or the parish. They said the monk facing criminal charges had resigned from the board when the complaint to the police was made.
The commission's inquiry confirmed that the charity had paid Pearce's legal costs out of its charitable funds. The damages had been covered by the charity's insurance.
The trustees argued that Pearce was a beneficiary of the charity and entitled to its support. They also said it was important to defend priests because their reputation was tied to the reputation and financial fortunes of the charity. The commission concluded that the trustees' stance had been reasonable and decided to take no further action.
However, the trust then informed the commission that Pearce had been arrested amid new allegations of sexual abuse of a child who was working at the monastery. Pearce had left the charity at the request of the trustees after his arrest, but the commission opened an inquiry into how he had come into contact with the child.
The inquiry report says the commission was "extremely critical" of the trustees for failing to live up to repeated assurances during the earlier inquiry that Pearce would have no access to children and young people on the charity's premises.
Pearce pleaded guilty to the indecent assault of five boys and was sentenced to eight years in prison in October.