Letter to the Portsmouth Abbey Community
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 firstname.lastname@example.org) or Headmaster Dan McDonough at (401) 643-1240 (or email@example.com).
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
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