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Caldey Abbey admits mistakes in handling child abuse allegations

Mistakes have been acknowledged in the handling of child sex abuse allegations on an island inhabited by monks, the individual responsible for safeguarding there has confessed.

Caldey Abbey, situated on an island off the coast of Tenby, Pembrokeshire, has recently announced an independent review concerning historical child sex abuse allegations.

Maria Battle disclosed that the abbey’s superior, Father Jan Rossey, expressed a desire to assume “responsibility for the past and also to seek the truth”.

Kevin O’Connell, who has advocated for an inquiry into allegations of abuse endured by him and others on Caldey, recently hailed the inquiry as “a start”.

In 2017, it was revealed that monk Thaddeus Kotik had abused several victims during the 1970s and 1980s. He passed away in 1992, and six women he abused received compensation from Caldey Abbey in an out-of-court settlement.

Caldey Abbey enlisted the services of Jan Pickles, a former assistant police and crime commissioner at South Wales Police and an experienced social worker, to conduct a “thorough review” of Mr O’Connell’s claims.

Ms Battle, a former deputy children’s commissioner, is the first individual to openly address the allegations on behalf of the abbey. A committed Catholic, she has been visiting Caldey Island for 35 years and serves as the director of Caldey Island Company Ltd, the island’s commercial entity.

Ms Battle stated that Fr Rossey “is eager to learn from the past and utilise those lessons to enhance the island’s safety for the present and future”. She added, “He believes that listening is integral to this process, and listening is a crucial aspect of healing.”

When queried about past mistakes, she responded, “There is an acknowledgment that mistakes have occurred in the past. Naturally, the review will scrutinise all historical material and its management within Caldey Island, the abbey, and the diocese of Menevia.”

Ms Pickles possesses no formal legal authority, but Ms Battle affirmed that she enjoys “complete cooperation” from Caldey Island and the diocese. “She will have unrestricted access to documents and individuals. She will promptly listen to those who come forward, gather their evidence and perspectives, and, based on their accounts, delve deeper into the available evidence to compile an independent report.”

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Addressing those who have not previously come forward, Ms Battle encouraged them, stating, “The door is open to them, and they will be heard.”

Allegations have surfaced regarding other sex offenders residing on Caldey Island in the past, including an individual who admitted possessing thousands of indecent images of children.

Ms Battle affirmed that all monks and residents undergo criminal record checks, and “every single person on the island” receives up-to-date safeguarding training. “All the monks undergo DBS checks, with the majority of islanders also undergoing the process. For those who haven’t yet, they are currently undergoing it.”

Regarding the resignation of two directors from Caldey Island Company last June, BBC Wales reports indicate they departed due to dissatisfaction with the abbey’s handling of allegations that a staff member used inappropriate language towards a young woman working in the tearooms. Ms Battle declined to comment on this matter, citing “legal reasons,” but assured that “appropriate measures were taken.”

She also declined to confirm whether the former directors signed non-disclosure agreements.

When asked about her expectations for the review, Ms Battle expressed hopes for “a shift towards a different, transparent, caring culture”. “We aspire for illumination, truth-telling, a healing process, and the opportunity to learn lessons, enabling the island to progress in a stronger, more open, honest, and transparent manner.”