A week before bishops gather in Rome for a three-day meeting to discuss the issue of clerical child abuse, an inquiry into such abuse at Ealing Abbey and its associated St Benedict’s school has once more exposed many of the deeply troubling dynamics that underly the crisis
The last time I saw then Abbot Laurence Soper was in Rome, just a year before he went on the run. Unbeknown to me, and almost everybody outside his Benedictine monastery of Ealing Abbey, Soper was on police bail while working in Rome, after having being questioned by the Metropolitan Police over allegations of child abuse.
On a visit to Rome as editor of The Tablet, I heard Soper, who had little command of Italian, airily announce over a drink: “All you need to get anywhere in the world is to know the right words to ask: A beer, please; Where’s the toilet? and, Have you a room for the night?” Perhaps he was already plotting his flight to Kosovo, where he was to remain for six years before finally being arrested and brought back to Britain to stand trial on charges of buggery and other indecent assaults.
Soper kept his police bail and his plans for escape secret. Last week, the part that such secrets and lies played in this dreadful saga became apparent as Ealing Abbey and its associated St Benedict’s school came under scrutiny at a five-day hearing of the Independent Inquiry into Child Sex Abuse (IICSA) – as part of its wider investigation into the Catholic Church as a whole. Soper and the other abusers at Ealing, including his fellow monk, David Pearce, frequently told their child victims: “This is our secret.”