Fugitive Catholic priest urged to turn himself in

Arrest warrant issued for former abbot of Ealing Abbey as report into child abuse scandal at school run by monks is published

Guardian News Service, UK/November 9, 2011

A fugitive priest wanted in connection with child sex abuse allegations has been urged to turn himself in by one of the country's top lawyers, who said his absence caused difficulties to a damning review of decades of paedophile activity at a top Catholic school.

Laurence Soper, the former abbot of Ealing Abbey – which has been the subject of an inquiry from Lord Carlile QC and an internal Vatican investigation following disclosures of alleged and proven abuse at neighbouring St Benedict's– skipped bail last month and is thought to be living in an Italian monastery.

Carlile, who published his findings on Wednesday, said: "I would encourage Laurence Soper to surrender himself to the police. He may feel he owes a personal and ethical duty to answer whatever questions are put to him. I regret the difficulties Laurence Soper has caused to the [inquiry] process.

"What I hope is that everybody who has, and has had, contact with Laurence Soper should inveigh upon him very strongly to surrender himself to the British authorities."

He added that an international arrest warrant was being issued.

Soper appeared in Carlile's report as one of five clergy tried or wanted for questioning in relation to paedophile activity involving pupils.

The report's key recommendation was that Ealing Abbey monks lose control of St Benedict's. It listed 21 abuse cases since 1970 and Carlile said the form of governance was "wholly outdated and demonstrably unacceptable".

The report said: "In a school where there has been abuse, mostly – but not exclusively – as a result of the activities of the monastic community, any semblance of a conflict of interest, of lack of independent scrutiny, must be removed."

"Primary fault lies with the abusers, in the abject failure of personal responsibility, in breach of their sacred vows … and in breach of all professional standards and of the criminal law.

"Secondary fault can be shared by the monastic community, in its lengthy and culpable failure to deal with what at times must have been evident behaviour placing children at risk; and what at all times was a failure to recognise the sinful temptations that might attract some with monastic vocations."

Historic fault also lay with the trustees and the school for their failure to understand and prepare for the possibility of abuse with training and solid procedures for "unpalatable eventualities".

In his criticism of school governance, Carlile wrote that the existing structure lacked "independence, transparency, accountability and diversity, and is drawn from too narrow a group of people".

He added: "The abbot himself has accepted that it is 'opaque to outsiders'."

The inquiry began last year after a former head, Father David Pearce, was convicted of abusing five boys. He was jailed for eight years in 2009 for the abuse over a period of 36 years. Four of the victims were under 14.

The report says two trusts should be set up to remove "all power from the abbey" while maintaining the Benedictine connection for the parents and the new governing body must create a clear accountability between management, governors and trustees.

The current St Benedict's headmaster, Christopher Cluegh, attended a press conference for the report launch.

He said: "I would like to begin by expressing my severe regret for the trauma and suffering that so many people have experienced. All I can do is apologise. If we can help them in any way to find closure we will help them to do so."

There were no representatives from Ealing Abbey at the press conference.

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