Report: Portsmouth Abbey monks abused students

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PORTSMOUTH, R.I. — The Portsmouth Abbey, a coeducational, Catholic Benedictine boarding and day school for students in grades 9-12, has released a letter and report to the community, detailing “credible allegations” of sexual abuse by two former Portsmouth Abbey monks.

The known instances of abuse took place between 1959 and the early 1980s.

“Our hearts break for these victims and their families. Their trust and faith in the sacred mission of Portsmouth was violated,” wrote W. Christopher Behnke ’81, Chair of the Board of Regents; Abbot Matthew on behalf of the Monks of Portsmouth Abbey; and Daniel McDonough, Headmaster, in a letter to the Portsmouth Abbey community on Wednesday, Aug. 23.

In May 2016, the Portsmouth Abbey hired the law firm of Debevoise & Plimpton, LLP to conduct an independent investigation of all allegations of sexual abuse.

While initial findings were first reports in August 2016, the school urged members of the community to come forward if they had any additional information or concerns about any incident of sexual abuse or sexual misconduct at the school.

According to the letter, the Debevoise & Plimpton law firm has created a new report with “additional credible allegations of sexual abuse by two former members of the Monastery: Father Bede Gorman and Father Geoffrey Chase ’48.”

According to the letter, “Fr. Bede died in 1985, and Fr. Geoffrey is in his late eighties and quite ill; he has not resided at the School since 2002.”

According to the report, “…we have found that, in total, one of these monks sexually abused four minors. For the other, we have found three credible reports of sexual abuse of a minor and one other direct allegation that we were unable to investigate fully.”

The letter is published verbatim below and can also be found here

Dear Members of the Portsmouth Abbey Community,

This is our third letter to the Community about student safety at Portsmouth Abbey School. As we indicated in our first letter of May 2016, the outside law firm, Debevoise & Plimpton, LLP, was hired to conduct an independent investigation of all allegations of sexual abuse by an adult in the School’s history. We reported on the law firm’s initial findings in August of last year and urged members of the School Community to come forward if they had any additional information or concerns about any incident of sexual abuse or sexual misconduct at the School. That letter prompted a number of people, both victims and witnesses, to contact members of the Board, Administration or Mary Beth Hogan, the Debevoise lawyer leading the investigation.

Debevoise & Plimpton has now prepared a report (the “Report”), which has been provided to the Board and can be found here. It contains shameful news of additional credible allegations of sexual abuse by two former members of the Monastery: Father Bede Gorman and Father Geoffrey Chase ’48. Fr. Bede died in 1985, and Fr. Geoffrey is in his late eighties and quite ill; he has not resided at the School since 2002. The known instances of abuse by these men took place thirty-five to fifty-eight years ago; that is, between 1959 and the early 1980s.

Our hearts break for these victims and their families. Their trust and faith in the sacred mission of Portsmouth was violated. On behalf of the Portsmouth Abbey School and Monastery, we apologize. And we honor and thank the survivors of sexual abuse who came forward. By sharing your stories, you have helped ensure that the past will not be repeated; the Portsmouth community is deeply in your debt.

The Report also chronicles instances of corporal punishment in the 1960s and 1970s. While not uncommon at the time, this form of discipline is entirely unacceptable today and would not be tolerated. We recognize that some alumni still carry emotional scars from these punishments. To them and to others who came forward and shared difficult experiences, we also offer the School and Monastery’s sincere apology.

Portsmouth is a unique and caring community, where many of us have built lifelong and important relationships. Indeed, our mission—to help young men and women grow in knowledge and grace—includes a responsibility for the shared experience of community life. We stand by those who were wronged, and are committed to helping past victims, providing therapy for them as needed. We encourage anyone who has had an experience at PAS that should be addressed in this manner to contact our school psychologists (Dr. Anne Davidge at 401-624-9972 or Dr. Norman Weitzberg at 401-864-1943) for clinical referrals and other assistance as appropriate. We continue to focus on the safety of our current and future students. Building on the work done by the Freeh Group—engaged by the Board of Regents to review our safety protocols in 2015—a Special Committee of the Board of Regents, working with our Headmaster, has reviewed and will continue to oversee the School’s policies, protocols and training programs to ensure that they are robust and up-to-date.

In addition, the Board has ordered removed from any school honorarium the name of either Father Bede or Father Geoffrey. As it happens, this implicates Father Bede only, who had athletic fields, the squash center, and two annual prizes named in his honor. Though Father Bede was an influential figure, admired by many, we cannot continue to honor him in this way.

The Monks of Portsmouth Abbey—many of whom as Board members were instrumental in calling for this review—are deeply burdened by its findings. The Monks join in this apology for the transgressions committed decades ago; they feel deep sorrow and a special obligation to those who suffered betrayal and abuse. As indicated above, they are committed to helping victims by funding therapy as needed. Moreover, they commit to regular prayer and to masses offered for the victims, their families, and others affected by this abuse. They will also pray for the healing of the PAS community.

If you have not previously come forward and have information about sexual abuse at the School, please contact either Ms. Hogan at (212) 909-6996 (or mbhogan@debevoise.com) or Headmaster Dan McDonough at (401) 643-1240 (or mcd@portsmouthabbey.org).

We hope that through this investigation and its revelations about very sad portions of our past, we can come together again, stronger than before, and in support of those who have suffered. We are a community that values each of its members—past and present—and we seek to serve the Lord and each other. We pledge ourselves to that task with renewed devotion.

Yours in Christ and St. Benedict,

W. Christopher Behnke ’81, Chair of the Board of Regents

Abbot Matthew on behalf of the Monks of Portsmouth Abbey

Daniel McDonough, Headmaster

 

 

Father Bede Gorman

“Father Bede was to some at Portsmouth a beloved and talented athlete, artist and teacher,” according to the report. “Over the course of this investigation, it has become clear that Father Bede also sexually abused some children under his care.”

Father Bede joined the Portsmouth Priory in 1939. He was even featured in the book, Real Lace Revisited: Inside the Hidden World of America’s Irish Aristocracy, by James P. MacGuire, highlighting the monastery’s growth in the 1940s.

“The monastery had grown, and by the early 1940s had included a brilliant second generation of buildings, including…star athlete and coach Dom Bede Gorman…,” wrote MacGuire.

Father Bede took his vows in 1940 and was ordained to the priesthood in 1945, according to a death notice published in The New York Times on May 9, 1985.

Prior to joining the Abbey, he was a star basketball player. He “acted in various roles at the school, including as a teacher, coach, athletic director and Housemaster of a dormitory called The Barn, a former barn and then art studio that was renovated in 1944 to include a dormitory upstairs,” according to the report.

“Father Bede became the Housemaster of The Barn two years later, in 1946, and stayed in that role until 1972, when The Barn stopped housing students. Before that, during the late 1950s and through the 1960s, the boys who lived in The Barn were mostly in the second form, or eighth grade, though The Barn also housed summer school students and some third form, or ninth grade, students.

“Father Bede also served as the School’s Athletic Director for thirty years before stepping down from that position in 1973.”

From 1981 to 1982, he taught several subjects, including Christian Doctrine, Classics and Calligraphy.

“Following Father Bede’s death in 1985, the school’s 1985 Fall Bulletin contained five pages of essays by former students honoring Father Bede and extolling the positive contributions he had made to their lives,” according to the report.

“Some of the school’s athletic fields, the squash facility and, until 2016, two of its senior prizes, have all been named in honor of Father Bede.”

A link found Friday on the Portsmouth Abbey website continues to offer a T-shirt, which can be ordered, called “Father Bede’s T-Shirt.”

According to the report, “in addition to one incident reported in the August 2016 Letter, we have since learned of three additional allegations, for a total of four direct allegations of sexual abuse of minors by Father Bede (the “Direct Allegations”).

“Significantly, one of the Direct Allegations (number four below) came to light while Father Bede was still alive and, according to Abbot Matthew, when confronted, Father Bede admitted that he had been inappropriate with a student in The Barn.

“All four Direct Allegations involved minors living in The Barn.” 

 

Father Geoffrey Chase

“Father Geoffrey started at Portsmouth as a student in 1946 and graduated in 1948,” according to the report.

“After four years of college, he entered the Monastery as a novice in 1952. He was ordained in 1959 and finished his studies at Catholic University. He returned to Portsmouth in 1960 and served as Housemaster of the Red for several years in the mid- 1960s.

“He taught Mathematics and later, when the School acquired a computer, he also taught Computer Science until he was sent away from the School and Monastery in 2002. Father Geoffrey is now in his late 80s and critically ill.” 

Father Geoffrey also served as trustee for the high school’s radio station, WJHD (90.7 FM), from the 1970s to 1990s. As mentioned above, he was sent away from the school in 2002. 

According to the report, “Prior to the August 2016 Letter, we (the law firm of Debevoise & Plimpton) learned that in 2002, then-Abbot Serna received a complaint that Father Geoffrey had, decades earlier, sexually abused a minor at Portsmouth.

“This is one of the three past incidents of sexual abuse that was disclosed in the August 2016 Letter, though that letter did not include Father Geoffrey’s name. We include it now because we learned from records provided to us after the August 2016 Letter that Father Geoffrey had admitted at or around this same time (2002) to abusing
three other minors.

“Three of the four incidents occurred between approximately the early 1970s and the early 1980s. We were not able to determine, from the available information, the date of the fourth incident or the identity of that victim.” 

 

If you have information about abuse 

The Portsmouth Abbey is looking for anyone with more information about sexual abuse at the school. 

“If you have not previously come forward and have information about sexual abuse at the school, please contact either Ms. Hogan at (212) 909-6996 (or mbhogan@debevoise.com) or Headmaster Dan McDonough at (401) 643-1240 (or mcd@portsmouthabbey.org).” 

 

The entire report can be read below.

Report to the Board of Regents of the Portsmouth Abbey School

Final_Report_of_Portsmouth_Abbey_School--Debevoise_Plimpton_LLP (1)

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