We knew that our world was surrounded with sin in the most surprising, embarrassing and horrifying places. So when my wife and I decided to send two sons to Downside I told them what they should do if confronted by an obvious evil: go first to your housemaster. If you are not satisfied with the result go to the headmaster; and if still unsatisfied go the abbot. If the matter is still unresolved… well, I didn’t think that far.

Whatever complaints we had, our boys experienced no sexual violation, and the same had been true when I was in the school during the early 1960s. I did not know that much about the life of the monastery. But we were happy to entrust them to the care of monks dedicated to the service of Almighty God who had 1,500 years’ teaching experience behind them.

Alas, this did not work in several ways. I remember being shocked on hearing of one monk who told a mother he would counsel her son who was having difficulty with his faith but failed to speak to the boy. It must be said that monks teaching in the school had an increasingly heavy workload, and their confidence shaken by not having gone through the training demanded by our bureaucratised education establishment.

It seemed they were not listening to mothers, increasingly a key factor in the highly expensive bargain between school and parents. And mothers are suspicious of bullying.

Corporal punishment was already being reduced when I left, but it continued long afterwards.

With our parents’ and grandparents’ memories of the two world wars and the looming possibility of another, fighting between boys seemed to instill some useful toughness and could be rather enjoyable in a dayroom on a wet afternoon. The damage this did to a few boys who were not robust was little noticed; the presence of Christ in every child seemed to be forgotten.

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