Investigation finds sex abuse at Washington National Cathedral schools

Posted at 9:22 PM, Jun 27, 2019
and last updated 2019-06-27 23:22:20-04

An investigation into allegations of sexual misconduct at a group of schools associated with the Washington National Cathedral that was made public Thursday found that 16 adults formerly connected to the schools or the cathedral had committed sexual misconduct against students.

Most of the cases corroborated by the investigation, which was conducted by a private law firm at the request of the religious leadership of the schools, took place between 1950 and the early 1980s, the report says, with the most recent corroborated incident in 2008.

Most of the allegations detailed in the report resulted in forced resignations at the time, but some cases were “handled less decisively” than current school leadership says is standard practice.

The investigation adds the capital’s Episcopal population, and the nationally renowned neo-Gothic cathedral at its center, to the list of communities reckoning with sex abuse scandals.

In a letter sent this week to parents of current students, former students and parents of former students, Rt. Rev. Mariann Edgar Budde, the bishop of the Diocese of Washington, apologized to the victims of the abuse and promised to “make tangible and sustained efforts to continually evaluate and, where appropriate, strengthen the safeguards that, thankfully, are already in place.”

“In our faith tradition, when we welcome children into the community, we promise to cherish them and protect them, a promise we make to them, their families, and before God. For the victims and survivors of past abuse and your families, this promise was broken. I apologize for that failing and ask for your forgiveness,” Budde said in the letter.

The law firm reported adults found to be “credibly accused of sexual misconduct against students” to law enforcement, the school says.

Scrutiny of allegations of sexual misconduct at the private schools — Beauvoir, National Cathedral School and St. Albans School — began in August 2018 when a former teacher from St. Albans was accused of sexual misconduct at a different school, according to the report.

At the time, St. Albans reached out to alumni to ask about any misbehavior by that teacher at the school, the report says. When alumni responded with accounts of sexual misconduct by several former teachers, the school hired the law firm Debevoise & Plimpton to investigate. The other schools in the cathedral system were eventually folded into the probe.

The allegations that were corroborated were made against a number of former teachers as well as people associated with the cathedral, including a chorister and at least one staff member.

In one case, six former students accused a teacher of sexual misconduct perpetrated at a summer camp that he owned and operated, as well as at the school, from 1950 until 1970. Two other former students said a music teacher had engaged in inappropriate behavior with them at his school apartment and in a locker room in the early 1970s.

The most recent allegations corroborated in the report, against former third-grade teacher Eric Toth, describe how he had hidden cameras in a school restroom, where he captured images of students.

Just before that discovery, the school had placed Toth on administrative leave and notified law enforcement after it found a camera in his classroom containing inappropriate photographs of children. Toth “fled the jurisdiction to evade arrest,” the report says, but was taken into custody in 2013 after an investigation by Washington’s Metropolitan Police Department and the FBI. He was sentenced to 25 years in prison for producing child pornography after pleading guilty.

The Debevoise investigation found that in “most” of the corroborated cases, “the accused former faculty and staff members were promptly made to resign” by the school system.

The current policies in place at the schools that were designed to prevent sexual misconduct are in line with best practices, the report said, but the school and church leadership wrote in another community letter released by the church Thursday that they would adopt multiple recommendations from the law firm, including the creation of a new leadership position and committee on student safety.