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IICSA Independent Inquiry into Child Sexual Abuse

The Roman Catholic Church (EBC) Case Study: Ealing Abbey and St Benedict’s School Investigation Report

E.4: Holy See

The Apostolic Visitation

23. The primary response of the Holy See in respect of events at Ealing Abbey was the request for an Apostolic Visitation in 2011. This would appear to have been authorised in response to a lengthy letter of 18 June 2011, sent by Jonathan West, a member of the public and campaigner, to the Apostolic Nuncio:

I request that there be an intervention from the highest levels within the Church. It seems to me that an Apostolic Visitation might be an appropriate response to the situation, to ensure the safety of the children of the schools and of the parish.[1]

24. The Apostolic Visitation was undertaken by Bishop Arnold and, initially, Abbot President Yeo. The recommendations of the final report in 2012 were that:

  • Abbot Shipperlee should not be removed from office;
  • the CDF should accept the relevant recommendations made in the Carlile report;
  • the EBC should make a further canonical visitation of Ealing Abbey; and
  • the healing of those who have been abused was of paramount importance.[2]

25. A shortened version of the report was subsequently published, in which the CDF endorsed the recommendations that healing was of paramount importance and that there should be a further canonical Visitation in 2013. However, no mention was made of Abbot Shipperlee, or of accepting the recommendations of the Carlile report. Abbot President Yeo emailed Bishop Arnold in August 2012:

As regards the press release, just remember that the one thing you are not allowed to say is that Rome endorsed Carlile![3]

This statement, that Lord Carlile’s report was not to be officially endorsed, was based on instructions from the Holy See.[4] In answering questions in our inquiry, Dom Yeo could not explain it.[5] He did offer two suggestions: first, that there was no need for Rome’s endorsement, as Abbot Shipperlee had already endorsed Lord Carlile’s report, and second, that the CDF did not want to make a statement in respect of schools.[6] The reason for the apparent reluctance of the Holy See to approve publicly Lord Carlile’s recommendations therefore remains an open question. In practice, the Holy See did approve the changes recommended by Lord Carlile, including the giving of part of Ealing Abbey’s property to St Benedict’s School, when it became independent of the Abbey.[7]

Laurence Soper

26. In 2002, Laurence Soper went to Sant’Anselmo, the international Benedictine college in Rome, to take up a post as Treasurer of the Confederation. The Abbot Primate of Sant’Anselmo was Abbot Primate Notker Wolf, and the Prior was Father Elias Lorenzo.

27. Despite the complaints against Soper made by RC-A420 in 2001 and RC-A622 in 2004 (both of which involved allegations of rape, when RC-A420 was an inmate at Feltham Young Offender Institution and when RC-A622 was a pupil at St Benedict’s), it seems that neither Abbot Shipperlee nor Abbot President Yeo informed Abbot Primate Wolf or Father Lorenzo of the allegations. It was not until some time after the Metropolitan Police had interviewed Soper for the second time in June 2009 (following further allegations made by RC-A11) that those with oversight of Soper in Rome were told.[8] That was in 2010, and thereafter Soper was put under restrictions at Sant’Anselmo.[9] By that stage he had lived there without any restrictions for nearly eight years.

28. Later that year, Soper was again interviewed by the police in London, and again released on bail pending further police investigation. He was due to return to Heathrow police station to answer that bail and for further interview on 8 March 2011, but he failed to attend.[10] It was subsequently discovered that, although he had left Sant’Anselmo on 4 March on the pretext of returning to the UK for that purpose,[11] he had in fact absconded.

29. It was not until 2016 that Soper was traced to Kosovo, then detained and extradited to the UK to face trial. It appears that during his time in hiding he supported himself with substantial private funds that he had received on the death of his parents in 2009.[12] He kept this money in a private bank account at the Vatican Bank (also known as the Institute of Works of Religion (IOR)) and on 8 March 2011, having arrived in Kosovo, he cashed a cheque for 200,000 Euros drawn from that account.[13] He made nine further transfers from his Vatican Bank account between March 2011 and February 2015.[14] Papers taken from him on his arrest show that on at least the last two occasions, 12 May 2014 and 2 February 2015, he transferred the money by faxing a payment order to the Vatican Bank, giving his address in Kosovo.[15] However, later attempts by Soper to transfer money in 2016 failed, causing him on 28 March 2016 to write a letter to the IOR asking for the address on the account to be changed, and transfer to be made.[16]

30. In November 2015, Detective Sergeant (DS) Chris Sloan of the Metropolitan Police was tasked to assist with undertaking financial enquiries in relation to Soper.[17] In November and December 2015, DS Sloan asked for two intelligence requests to be made of the Holy See through the National Crime Agency (NCA), which was the gateway for such international enquiries.[18] According to Commander Neil Jerome, it appears that although DS Sloan did not himself receive any response, the NCA was provided with information originating from the Holy See that led to Soper’s eventual arrest in Kosovo in May 2016.[19]

31. We do not know what the Holy See knew, whether any steps were taken after Soper’s disappearance to discover whether he had an account at the Vatican Bank, or whether they had any information that might have assisted in locating him earlier.

32. Prior to the hearing we sought a witness statement from the Holy See in relation to these, and other, matters. The Chair’s powers to compel evidence are limited to the United Kingdom and as a result the request to the Holy See has been to provide information on a voluntary basis. The request was initially made to the Apostolic Nuncio to the United Kingdom, the Holy See’s diplomatic representative in the UK. He is covered by diplomatic immunity and therefore cannot be compelled to give evidence.

33. Our request asked a number of questions in respect of a series of factual issues. The Holy See has confirmed that it does not intend to provide a witness statement. As a result, the Inquiry is unable to fully understand and assess the role that the Holy See may have played. We continue to pursue this matter with the Holy See, with the assistance of the Foreign and Commonwealth Office, and have recently received some documentation which is being reviewed and may be considered further, if necessary, during the hearings we are holding in October and November 2019.

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