Admission of child sex abuse errors at monk island

Father Thaddeus Kotik
Father Thaddeus Kotik died in 1992 without facing any criminal charges into claims he abused children between 1977 and 1982 [BBC]

Mistakes were made over the handling of child sex abuse allegations at an island inhabited by monks, the woman in charge of safeguarding a new investigation has admitted.

Caldey Abbey, which sits on an island off the coast of Tenby, Pembrokeshire, recently announced an independent review into historical child sex abuse claims.

Maria Battle said the abbey's superior, Father Jan Rossey, wanted to take "responsibility for the past and also seek the truth".

Kevin O'Connell, who has campaigned for an inquiry into allegations he and others were abused on Caldey, recently called the inquiry "a start".

In 2017, it emerged that monk Thaddeus Kotik had abused a number of victims during the 1970s and 1980s.

He died in 1992 and six women he abused were paid compensation by Caldey Abbey in an out-of-court settlement.

Caldey Abbey commissioned former assistant police and crime commissioner at South Wales Police and experienced social worker Jan Pickles to conduct a "thorough review" of claims by Mr O'Connell.

Ms Battle, a former deputy children's commissioner, is the first person to be speak openly on behalf of the abbey about the allegations.

She is a committed Catholic, has visited Caldey Island for 35 years and is the director of Caldey Island Company Ltd, the commercial arm of the island.

Ms Battle said Fr Rossey "wants to learn from the past and from those lessons make the island even safer for now and the future".

She added: "He believes that listening is part of that, and listening is a part of healing."

When pressed on whether mistakes had been made in the past, she replied: "There is a recognition that mistakes have been made in the past.

"Obviously, the review will consider all the material of the past and how it was managed both within Caldey Island, the abbey and the diocese of Menevia."

Ms Pickles has no formal legal powers, but Ms Battle said she had "full co-operation" from Caldey Island and the diocese.

She added: "She will have full access to the documents and the people. She will be listening at pace of those people who come forward and gathering their evidence and their views.

"Based on what they say, she will go even further to look at what evidence exists and put together an independent report.

"I would say to those people who haven't come forward before, that the door is open to them and they will be listened to."

It has been alleged that other sex offenders have lived on Caldey Island in the past, including a man who admitted having thousands of indecent images of children.

Maria Battle
As well as being in charge of safeguarding for the review, Maria Battle is the director of Caldey Island Company Ltd [BBC]

Ms Battle said all monks and residents were now checked for criminal convictions and "every single person on the island" had up-to-date safeguarding training.

She added: "All the monks are DBS checked, and the majority of islanders and the few that aren’t are going through the process.

"I’ve reviewed the safeguarding policy and consulted with Mrs Pickles. We’ve got posters all over the island so people can know where they need to go to should they need."

Two Caldey Island Company directors resigned last June.

BBC Wales has been told they left because they were unhappy with how the abbey dealt with allegations that a staff member used inappropriate language when speaking to a young woman who worked in the tearooms.

Caldey Island
There have been monks on Caldey Island since the 6th Century [Getty Images]

Ms Battle would not answer questions about that, citing "legal reasons" but did say "things were dealt with appropriately".

She also refused to say whether the two former directors signed non-disclosure agreements.

When asked what she hoped the review would achieve, Ms Battle said it was an "indicator of a different, transparent, caring culture".

"What we hope is a light is shone, the truth will come out and there will be a healing process and that lessons can be learnt and the island can move forward in a stronger, more open and honest and transparent way."