08 February 2019, The Tablet

Nuncio criticised for 'undermining' Pope on child abuse

Vatican bank knew where paedophile priest Laurence Soper was hiding yet failed to tell British police, inquiry hears 

Nuncio criticised for 'undermining' Pope on child abuse

File pic: Professor Alexis Jay, chair of the Independent Inquiry into Child Sexual Abuse, and IICSA Panel members Ivor Frank and Drusilla Sharpling, give evidence to the Commons Home Affairs Committee
PA/PA Archive/PA Images

The Apostolic Nuncio’s continued failure to provide crucial evidence to the national abuse inquiry undermines Pope Francis’ public claims that he wants to root out the scourge of child abuse, a lawyer has said. 

Riel Karmy-Jones QC, lead council to the Independent Inquiry into Child Sexual Abuse (ICCSA), told inquiry Chair, Professor Alexis Jay, on 6 February that the inquiry had sent its request for information, via the correct diplomatic channels, four times to the Holy See. 

IICSA wanted information on the nuncio’s handling of child abuse at Ealing Abbey and St Benedict’s School.

“It is abundantly clear that the Apostolic Nuncio and, it seems likely, the Holy See, have been in receipt of the inquiry’s requests since early December.

“Chair, we consider that it is relevant to this matter that the Pope has made a number of recent announcements related to the Roman Catholic Church’s handling of allegations of child sexual abuse,” she said.

Richard Scorer, abuse lawyer at the firm Slater and Gordon, who represents seven victims of abuse at St Benedict’s, told the Tablet: “The inquiry have made very plain their dissatisfaction with the lack of cooperation from the Papal Nuncio. We are now told that this lack of cooperation is because the Nuncio is awaiting instructions from the Holy See. The delay by the Holy See in providing instructions to the Nuncio is utterly unacceptable and completely hypocritical given Pope Francis’s public claims to want to root out the cancer of clerical sex abuse. Here he has an opportunity to help do so by assisting this inquiry yet all we see is stalling.”

The inquiry heard earlier this week that the Vatican bank knew of the whereabouts of Laurence Soper – including at one point his address – during the five years that he was in hiding in Kosovo, yet they failed to tell British police. 

Soper, who jumped bail in 2011, had kept in regular contact with the bank, withdrawing £200,000 over five years, the inquiry heard. 

The inquiry was shown a police report on their hunt for Soper, known as “Operation Dzo", which showed that British police officers had submitted formal requests to the Apostolic Nunciature for information on Soper’s bank transactions but had never received a response. 

The police report said: “At every turn, those spoken to within the Catholic Church claimed not to have any actionable information or intelligence about Soper. This was somewhat frustrating... it is clear the information was there to be discovered and disclosed if there had been an appetite to do so.”

The report said that in March 2016, two months before Soper was caught, the monk had sent a letter to the Vatican Bank providing them with his address in Kosovo.

“The information uncovered by the inquiry regarding the behaviour of the Vatican Bank is shocking and appalling,” Mr Scorer said. “It is now clear that the Vatican Bank were facilitating Laurence Soper’s flight from justice and failed to hand over information which would have assisted the police in locating him. Again this behaviour gives the lie to the Pope’s claims to want to root out abusers in the church”. 

In his closing statement to the hearing on Friday, Alan Collins, specialist abuse lawyer from the firm Hugh James, told the inquiry’s chair that “the influence and instruction” of the Holy See cannot be ignored, because it is key to the issue of governance. “In simple terms it comes down to this, which law is supreme that of the British government or that of the Holy See?” he asked. 

He continued: “The inquiry can perhaps arrive at an answer to this question when it considers the arms-length attitude received by police [from the Vatican] in their investigations into Soper”. 

Christopher Jacobs of Howe and Co, who is representing F13 and 18 other core participants, speculated that the inaction from the Vatican is “because the church believes that it is best placed to resolve the issue of child abuse within its ranks”. 

“We say that the inquiry cannot defer to a closed procedure in a foreign sovereign state and this is an important point: the safety of children in this jurisdiction must be determined by legislation in the United Kingdom,” he told the inquiry.  

Chair, Alexis Jay, said on 6 February she is disappointed with a “lack of clarity” from the Holy See. “I hope that they will reflect upon the need to make sure this inquiry has all the information it requires”, she said. 

The inquiry is to meet in October for one further day, to “address this matter” and others, said Professor Jay.

In a letter sent on 4 February and seen by the Tablet David Enright, a solicitor from Howe and Co had called on the Prime Minister to expel Archbishop Edward Adams, Papal Nuncio in the UK, from the country “for obstructing this nationally important investigation into child abuse in England and Wales”.

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