Abbot Laurence Soper has gone missing.
He is wanted by police in respect of allegations of child sex abuse. He was due earlier this year to return to the UK for a police bail appointment. He did not make that appointment. According to The Times (article behind paywall) prosecutors are preparing a European Arrest Warrant for him.
So we have a monk on the run. Where's Robbie Coltrane when you need him?
The Times article is full of quotes from eminent churchmen, all saying that they don't know where Soper is, and that they are giving all possible assistance to the police. But consider this: Soper is in his 80s. He has been a monk for most of his adult life, he hasn't lived independently for at least 40 years. He's going to need help, and he's going to need an income. The only possible place that help could be coming from is within the Catholic Church. So somebody in the church knows where he is. Somebody, somewhere, is protecting him. Somebody within the church is knowingly shielding a fugitive from justice. Somebody in the church is putting the welfare of an abusing priest ahead of his abused victims.
The police are certainly of the opinion that he is an abuser. You don't go to the trouble of issuing European arrest warrants without a pretty good case. This is far more serious than Father David Pearce. Soper was Abbot of Ealing from 1991 to 2000. It is one thing for there to have been a paedophile monk at the Abbey, it is quite another for there to have been a paedophile Abbot running the place.
It is inconceivable that there would have been no rumours at all within the monastery concerning Soper when he was a teacher at the school, inconceivable (if the evidence in the hands of the police is strong enough to justify a European arrest warrant) that there were no complaints at all from parents or pupils at the time. And yet, even though there almost certainly were these rumours, the monks elected him in 1991 to be their Abbot. What on earth were they thinking?
As Abbot, Soper was in a position to shield other abusers. He was Abbot when David Pearce "retired" as Junior School Headmaster in 1993 as a result of complaints about abuse, Pearce being appointed Bursar instead. Soper was also Bursar when John Maestri quietly departed the school in 1984, ostensibly on grounds of ill health, but in fact because of complaints of abuse. It's not conceivable that he didn't know the real reason for Maestri's departure. Maestri was Soper's deputy when Soper was Master of the Middle School.
There is a name for a group of two or more paedophiles who know of each other's activities and protect each other. That name is a paedophile ring. It looks increasingly as if there has been a paedophile ring in operation at Ealing Abbey for many years.
Things are still not right at the school. I have had a detailed look at the latest version of the school's safeguarding policy, which came into effect in September this year. I shall be blogging about it over the next few weeks, going through it paragraph by paragraph, as I did the May 2010 version. It has been tweaked here and there, but it is not the comprehensive start-all-over-again rewrite that is necessary. It still contains weasel words concerning whether and how abuse will be reported to the authorities.
Over the last 18 months or so, the school has had fairly unremitting publicity and official attention on its safeguarding, both in terms of its past failures and its present procedures. And yet, they still haven't managed to come up with a written policy that actually makes it clear how allegations and incidents will be reported. In the circumstances, I have to say that there could still be abusers at the school or the Abbey, with the abuse going unreported. I don't know whether there is any abuse happening now or not - if I knew there was abuse going on, I wouldn't be blogging about it, I would be telling the police, without delay.
Mr Cleugh has written to all parents, pointing out that in his prizegiving day speech he had said that "it was likely that further allegations would be forthcoming about historical safeguarding matters here at St Benedict’s", knowing that Soper had missed a police bail appointment. You might care to recall that at the same time last year, Mr. Cleugh in his prizegiving speech had this to say about the publicity surrounding the scandal.
Recent media and blog coverage seem hell-bent on trying to discredit the School and, at the same time, destroy the excellent relationship between School and Monastery. Is this part of an anti-Catholic movement linked to the papal visit? I do not know, but it feels very much as if we are being targeted.I think Mr. Cleugh owes me an apology. I'm not going to hold my breath waiting for it though.