The Department for Education (DfE) has launched enforcement action against one of England’s most respected Catholic boarding schools, Ampleforth College by preventing it admitting new pupils as a result of “very serious” failings.

The reputation of the 200 year private school in North Yorkshire has been tarred in recent years following the publication of an Independent Inquiry into Child Sexual Abuse (IICSA) critical report in August 2018 that said “appalling sexual abuse [was] inflicted over decades on children as young as seven”.

The Abbot of Ampleforth Abbey, Cuthbert Madden, stepped down from his post in 2016 following allegations that he indecently assaulted pupils. Madden has denied the claims.

The Abbey sits at the heart of the monastic community and the school, is staffed by monks and lay teachers.

At the school, Deirdre Rowe, stood down as acting head in 2019 after 10 months in the role after a highly critical inspection report found that the school did not meet standards for safeguarding, leadership, behaviour, combating bullying and complaints handling.

The government intervened after ruling the institution had failed to meet safeguarding and leadership standards following an emergency Ofsted inspection.

Ampleforth has said it will appeal against the ruling because, it argues, the order is “unjustified and based on incorrect information”.

The letter, which was recently published by the DfE, highlighted concerns from a number of inspection reports from January 2016 onwards.

“The Secretary of State, Gavin Williamson also had regard to the fact that the school is failing to meet the ISS [Independent School Standards], including standards relating to safeguarding and leadership and management, and in his view, these failings are considered to be very serious,” it said.

The letter acknowledged that the school had shown “some willingness” to improve since 2018, but Williamson ruled the school’s progress had been “too slow” and “insufficient”.

The letter added: “The St Laurence Education Trust, the proprietor of Ampleforth college, is required to cease to admit any new students.” In its final review of the church, the IICSA found that between 1970 and 2015, the Catholic church in England and Wales received more than 900 complaints involving more than 3,000 instances of child sexual abuse, made against more than 900 individuals, including priests, monks and volunteers.

When complaints were made, the church invariably failed to support victims and survivors but took action to protect alleged perpetrators by moving them to a different parish. “Child sexual abuse,” the report said, “was swept under the carpet.”

Pope Francis asked Cardinal Vincent Nichols, the leader of the Catholic Church in England and Wales, to stay in his post, despite a damning report that criticised his leadership and concluded that the church repeatedly prioritised its reputation over the welfare of child sex abuse victims.

The 162-page report said “the Church’s neglect of the physical, emotional and spiritual wellbeing of children and young people in favour of protecting its reputation was in conflict with its mission of love and care for the innocent and vulnerable.”

Calls for Nichols’s resignation grew in the wake of the publication of the report last month. An anonymous survivor who gave evidence to the Independent Inquiry stated: “Cardinal Nichols is the moral leader of the Catholic church in England and Wales, he has lost all moral authority and must go … This report once again demonstrates that the Catholic church is not a safe place for children.”

David Enright, solicitor who represented 20 of the victims during the Inquiry, said: “The church has had many, many chances to reform and root out child abuse. It has failed. It is with heavy hearts that my clients, many of them devout Catholics, conclude that the only safe course of action is to take safeguarding of children out of the hands of the Catholic church and into the hands of accountable lay professionals.”

A spokesperson for Ampleforth college stated “Given the very considerable steps forward that have been taken by the school to learn from the mistakes of the past and to put in place a robust safeguarding regime, a new senior leadership team, and a new governance structure that has effectively separated the abbey from the college, we cannot understand why this decision has been taken, and we cannot understand why it has been published, given the appeals process is still open to us.”

Here at Farleys, we have acted on numerous cases involving organisations such as the Church of England, the Catholic Church and the Jehovah’s Witnesses. In this type of abuse, priests are in a position of trust, similar to sports coaches, scout leaders and teachers.

If you or someone you know is a survivor of sexual abuse at the hands of a member of a religious institution, we are available to help and assist. Our dedicated team tirelessly supports hundreds of survivors throughout the process, treating every case with the sensitivity, confidentiality and integrity that each deserves.  Contact us on 0845 287 0939 or send us an email and we will call you back.