Accounts of serious physical and sexual abuse at one of Scotland’s most prestigious Catholic boarding schools are to be broadcast in a BBC documentary.
‘Sins of Our Fathers’ will reveal that some pupils were abused at the now closed Fort Augustus Abbey School in the Highlands, and Carlekemp Preparatory School in East Lothian, over a period spanning three decades.
Two of the school’s headmasters, Francis Davidson and Augustine Green, have been accused of covering up the abuse.
The BBC has spoken to 50 former pupils about their experiences at the schools, which were run by Benedictine monks. Many said they had nothing but good memories of the place, but others had a very different experience. Here is some of that testimony.
Donald arrived at Fort Augustus from Sydney in Australia as a 14-year-old, in the early 1960s.
He was struck by the remoteness of the school, situated on the banks of Loch Ness, and felt lonely “being stuck way out in the middle of nowhere”.
“I don’t suppose you could be sent much further away,” he said.
The new entrant was befriended by Fr Aidan Duggan, an Australian monk who lived at the abbey and taught at the attached school.
“He offered to give me some rudimentary help with the piano,” he said.
“We’d be very close together and when I was playing he’d put his hand on my knee and stuff like that, which at the time I thought was rather nice, being friendly.”
Donald developed an interest in photography, after he had been given a Box Brownie for his birthday.
“Fr Aidan offered to help me develop a film, which I thought was wonderful of him,” he said.
“He knew about developing and we got the film and then he asked me to pick up a bottle of some sort of fluid for developing, I forget what it was.
“It was under the bench and I was bending down and he was behind me. He pulled my trousers down and then it was quite horrible … it was painful.”
Donald later told his parents about the attack and was summoned by the school’s headmaster, Augustine Green.
“He said he’d heard that I’d been telling my parents about Father Aidan, and that I shouldn’t tell these lies and that it’s a mortal sin to lie about things like that,” he recalled.
“And if you commit mortal sin you go to hell, I remember him saying that.
“He warned me that if I talked about things like that, I’d be in trouble.”
Carlekemp Preparatory School in North Berwick was the feeder primary for Fort Augustus, and was staffed mostly by the same monks.
David and his brother Christopher were educated there in the 1950s and both said their experiences remain with them to this day.
“A monk called Edward Delepine was physically very abusive – he used to hit you with his fist on the head,” David said.
“He used to come down round the dormitories with a cane, and thrashed entire dormitories in their pyjamas.
“He crept around, listening outside dormitories to hear if people were speaking, and then suddenly the door would open as soon as somebody whispered. And the whole dormitory got thrashed.”
David said he found it more terrifying “seeing other kids getting thrashed than being thrashed myself”.
He too came across Aidan Duggan. “He was the first person that my brother Christopher and I met at Carlekemp,” David said.
“The first day in class I remember being completely humiliated by Aidan Duggan, and the repercussions of that was that I was bullied pretty consistently for the first year anyway, maybe the first couple of years.
“He specialised in making a fool of me in front of the class. Looking back on it now, it was calculated to make me unhappy. That’s what I feel now.”
David said the nature of Fr Duggan’s attention changed and now believes he was being groomed for sexual abuse.
“When I was 11, it was almost the first time I’d served Mass, I got a great big hug and a cuddle and I was on my knees, getting the blessing.
“Fr Duggan gave me the blessing and then cuddled me against himself. He used to push my head against his groin.
“Why would somebody treat you horrendously and then for no reason, all of a sudden, start cuddling you and kissing you?
“At the same time, it was a relief that you weren’t on the receiving end of unpleasantness. Because that all stopped; the beatings stopped, the sarcasm and the making a fool of you in public and so on, that all stopped once the cuddling started. And you definitely felt this kind of sense of gratitude, almost.”
The 67-year-old said he is still tormented by blank spots in his memory.
“I used to play the recorder, and he asked me up to his room to practise a duet and made me sit on the bed,” he said.
“He sat on the bed beside me. And he never picked up his recorder. I have a blank about what happened. All I remember is running down the corridor, in a terrible state, in tears, and to this day I just can’t remember what happened.
“All my life there’s been some sort of trigger that takes me back to that feeling of terrible panic, but I can’t say anything happened. I don’t know what happened. I just feel completely haunted by that.
“My feeling when it was all over and we were taken away from the place was just one of immense relief.”
“The monks all had their own different style of delivering corporal punishment,” said David’s younger brother, Christopher.
“With Gregory Brusey, it was the edge of a ruler, which drew blood.”
Like David, Christopher also endured almost daily beatings from Fr Duggan.
He said: “We had Fr Aidan Duggan for Religious Knowledge at Carlekemp, and I can remember the first time he beat me.
“It was in the first form and he just advanced on me with his stick, he whacked me with it on my shoulders, my upper arms, my legs, my buttocks. There were numerous blue bruises, all over me. I was seven or eight at the time.
“I was just stunned. I’d never seen a grown-up behaving like this.”
Christopher said the violence was so common that he can recall feeling anxious when he wasn’t beaten in class, because he was beset by worry about when it would come.
And like his brother, David, he thought that the beatings dealt out to the younger boys by Fr Duggan seemed to have a sinister purpose.
He said: “David and I used to serve his Mass together sometimes. And at the end of Mass, the priest gives the altar boy a blessing. He used to put his hand on your head and jam your face into his groin.
“It didn’t connect with anything sinister for me. All I was concerned about was he wasn’t hitting me.
“In the confessional, he put his hands down the back of my trousers and was feeling round my naked bum. And then round the front and feeling around my willy.
“I thought ‘this is really odd’ and I was shocked by that. And it wasn’t until later that it fell into place, and that’s when I twigged that that was what it was all about – all the beatings and all that was about this.”
The physical abuse continued on for two-and-a-half years.
The 66-year-old said: “I don’t know what I thought about the beatings. I certainly didn’t think he was saving me from Hell. In fact, don’t talk to me about Hell – I’ve been there, it’s Carlekemp.”
Brendan, not his real name, was 13 when he went to Fort Augustus and he said homesickness kicked in almost immediately.
“I used to cry at night, when we were saying our prayers,” he told the BBC.
“And at one point I was told that Fr Chrysostom, the House Master, was going to send me home because I was so homesick.”
Just months after starting at the school, the person who had identified Brendan’s distress over being away from home, began to abuse him.
Fr Chrysostom Alexander was another Australian monk, who repeatedly sexually abused Brendan for months.
“I felt sick, physically sick, I was scared, numb and quite frightened,” his victim said.
The abuse continued until Brendan told his parents, who complained to the school.
But the headmaster at the time, Fr Francis Davidson, failed to alert police to the allegation and Fr Chrysostom was sent back to Australia – with no warnings about his offending.
Fr Davidson declined to be interviewed for the BBC programme, but in a statement said: “On behalf of the former monastic community and of the school of Fort Augustus Abbey, I wish to offer the most sincere and profound apology to the victim and his family for any abuse committed by Fr Chrysostom Alexander.”
BBC Scotland Investigates: Sins of Our Fathers – WATCH ON PITVONLINE!