The Pope has been criticised by the government-ordered child sex abuse inquiry after the Vatican refused to provide cruicial evidence.
The Independent Inquiry into Child Sexual Abuse (IICSA) has repeatedly asked the Holy See about whether officials in Rome assisted convicted paedophile Laurence Soper while he was fugitive monk wanted in Britain for child abuse offences.
The Inquiry has asked the Holy See three times about how Soper was able to make regular withdrawals from his private Vatican Bank account without the British authorities – who had issued an international arrest warrant – being notified.
Last week The Telegraph reported that the inquiry said it was “regrettable” and “disappointing” that the Vatican had rejected repeated requests for a witness to explain its role in the case of Laurence Soper.
The Pope’s representative in Britain, the Apostolic Nuncio, has declined to give crucial evidence – and is not required to be summoned because he is covered by diplomatic immunity.
However today Brian Altman QC, counsel to the Inquiry told the hearing into the wider Catholic church that the Vatican’s response to child sexual abuse was at odds with that of Pope Francis.
He told the hearing: “The Holy See’s refusal to provide the Inquiry with all the evidence it has sought is very disappointing. In his introduction to the recent Motu Proprio, ‘Vos estis lux mundi’, Pope Francis acknowledged the “physical, psychological and spiritual damage” done to the victims of child sexual abuse, and added that “a continuous and profound conversion of hearts is needed, attested by concrete and effective actions that involve everyone in the Church”.
“Chair, you may consider that it is difficult to reconcile the Pope’s own words with the Holy See’s response to the requests properly made to it by this Inquiry.”
The IICSA report, investigating the Roman Catholic Church with the English Benedictine Congregation as a case study, said that there was a “sadistic and predatory” culture marked by “excessive corporal punishment” at the school in the 1970s when some of the abuse began.
Soper, a former abbot of the Roman Catholic Ealing Abbey and head of St Benedict’s School, where fees are £17,500 per year, was described in the report as a “prolific abuser” of boys at the school and was a senior figure at both the school and the Abbey.
Since 2003, four monks or teachers have been jailed for multiple child abuse offences against more than 20 children. The inquiry has heard of further allegations against eight other fomer staff, and in 2016 a teacher was jailed for child abuse imagery offences.
Soper was among those convicted. He took a senior role as a general treasurer for the Benedictine order in Rome when was wanted in Britain for child abuse offences. However he absconded from police bail and went on the run in 2011.
A European Arrest Warrant was issued and some five years later he was located in Kosovo and extradited. In 2017, he was sentenced to 18 years’ imprisonment – more than 40 years after his began preying on young boys.
The Catholic Bishops’ Conference of England and Wales has been contacted for comment.