Most senior Catholic priest to be convicted of sex crimes in the UK found guilty on 19 charges
By Oliver Harvey
December 11, 2017
|Andrew Soper, 74, has been found guilty of serially abusing schoolboys during the ’70s and ’80s |
|St Benedict’s Junior School in Ealing, West London, has been the subject of one of the country’s largest Catholic Church sex abuse scandals |
|After allegations of abuse from another institution surfaced in 2000, the Church transferred Soper to Italy, where he spent the next decade |
|The Catholic Church only opened a formal inquiry in St Benedict’s in 2011 |
|The police first started investigating Father David Pearce in 2001, but he remained at Ealing Abbey, abusing boys, for seven more years|
|John Maestri, a layman and former teacher at St Benedict’s, was found guilty on three charges of indecently assaulting children in the ’70s and ’80s|
Andrew Soper, 74, a former Abbot of Ealing Abbey who abused boys during the '70s and '80s, is the fifth person related to St Benedict's School to be convicted of sex crimes
THE implements on Father Laurence Soper’s desk looked like something from a medieval torture chamber rather than a master’s study at a leading Catholic school.
Led to his office on trumped- up misdemeanors, schoolboys blanched in horror at the sight of the “sadistic” monk’s cat-o’-nine-tails whip, canes and a leather strap.
Outwardly pious, Soper “cunningly” used corporal punishment as an excuse to pull down the boys’ trousers and sexually abuse them.
He even hoisted up his priestly robes to rape a 12-year-old boy over his desk at West London’s £5,368-a-term St Benedict’s School — then run by monks from Ealing Abbey.
Justice finally caught up with Andrew Soper, 74, formerly Father Laurence Soper, last week.
He was found guilty of 19 charges of indecent assault and serious sexual assaults involving ten boys in the ’70s and ’80s. The perverted priest will be sentenced next Tuesday. He will likely die behind bars.
But the case is a hollow victory for Soper’s victims, whose lives have been destroyed by their abuser.
One traumatised man told The Sun: “He’s a cruel bastard. He touched my backside when I was 11 then caned me weekly for two years. He got a sexual thrill out of it.
“We were made to feel responsible for what was happening to us.”
Depraved Soper is thought to be the most senior Catholic priest to be convicted of sex crimes in the UK.
Soper’s conviction is the latest shocking chapter in the worldwide clergy abuse scandal that stretches all the way to the Vatican itself.
Thousands of victims in a dozen countries have spoken out about priests molesting children as the church hierarchy turned a blind eye.
As Abbot of Ealing Abbey, he was one of the most powerful figures in the Benedictine order.
In 2000, after allegations were made about his conduct as the visiting Chaplain of Feltham Young Offenders Institution, he transferred to Rome to be bursar at S’Anselmo, the Vatican’s Benedictine University.
Over the next decade abuse allegations continued to surface as Soper enjoyed his monastic life in Italy, looked after by his superiors.
A spokesman for Ealing Abbey’s Abbot told The Sun: “When the allegations were made it was decided the safest option was to keep him in that role at the university in Rome.
“Restrictions were placed on him to ensure he did not come into contact with children.”
But the net was closing in. Soper was questioned several times by police but allowed to return to Rome on bail. In March 2011, fearing he would be charged, he fled to Kosovo, where he remained hidden for five and a half years before his arrest.
Last night a victims’ group slammed the Vatican for not doing enough to “root out abusers”.
David Greenwood, an executive member of Minister & Clergy Sexual Abuse Survivors, said: “The Catholic Church has helped to harbour abusers and has helped them evade justice.”
In October, Pope Francis himself conceded that the church had “arrived late” to the crisis. Only in 2011 did the Vatican order a top-level inquiry into abuse at St Benedict’s.
That scandal is one of the most serious to engulf the Catholic Church in Britain.
The school was accused during Soper’s Old Bailey trial of a “serial cover-up” of his abuse between 1975 and 1983.
A former bank worker, Soper joined the Ealing Abbey monastery in 1964 and taught at St Benedict’s from 1973, first as a maths teacher, then as head master of the middle school and as bursar.
One ex-pupil says he never saw “tall and stern” Soper “smile once”.
Shockingly, he is the FIFTH master convicted of sexual offences involving children at St Benedict’s.
In 2009, Fr David Pearce was jailed for eight years for indecently assaulting five boys.
One ten-year-old victim had tried to hang himself from a stairwell after being fondled by the master.
Police had investigated Pearce in 2001 and again in 2004 but no charges were brought. Then, in 2006, one of his victims sued Pearce and the school in the High Court, and was awarded £43,000.
Yet Pearce remained a priest and remained at Ealing Abbey. He continued to groom and assault young boys until his arrest in January 2008.
One victim said: “This man made me think I was a bad person for 30 years. I thought about him every day, wanted to kill him every day.”
Another abuser was lay teacher and “master of discipline” John Maestri, 78, who was jailed after admitting three indecent assaults against children in the 1970s and 1980s. He made one 11-year-old sit on his lap, kissed and fondled him and told him he “loved” him. The victim recalled: “So my first kiss wasn’t with a pretty girl, like everyone else, it was with some old man.”
Another victim, subjected to frequent beatings by Maestri and a monk who cannot be named for legal reasons, said: “It was sexual abuse that masqueraded as discipline.
“He beat me for fun. I can’t put it down to anything more than his personal entertainment.
“It has hung around my neck for decades. It has ruined my life.
“Even now I have a ritual when I’m going to bed. I have a GPMG — general purpose machine gun — and imagine that I’m lining up the sights on the monk’s bedroom window.
“That’s the only way I can get to sleep. Every night.”
Another pupil who was at St Benedict’s in the 1960s spoke of how he was abused by Father Kevin Horsey, head of the middle school.
Horsey, who died in 2006, would invite boys to sit next to him in PE and fondle them.
The ex-pupil says: “When I left I put the floggings, the sexual abuse, the mental abuse to one side. But it never quite leaves you.
“It was an amoral and perverted place. Everybody sort of knew it was going on but did nothing. I’m angry with the parents who didn’t listen, and angry with the hierarchy of the Catholic Church who let it happen.”
In 2011 a court heard St Benedict’s dealt with a complaint about a sexual assault by teacher Stephen Skelton, 69, by writing him a good reference and asking him to “go quietly”. Ten years on, Skelton was found guilty of two indecent assaults on another boy.
In May 2016, deputy head Peter Allott, 38, was jailed for 33 months after admitting he was addicted to child pornography, even keeping some on a hard drive in his office.
Today St Benedict’s is an elite co-ed school that promotes “the Christian values of integrity, fairness and generosity”. It is no longer governed by Ealing Abbey’s monks and was found to be fully compliant in child protection following two recent inspections by the Independent Schools Inspectorate.
High-flying old boys include comedian Julian Clary, Star Wars actor Andy Serkis and Tory grandee Lord Patten. There is no suggestion they were caught up in the abuse scandal.
The school believes it has moved on from its paedophile past. In a statement by Lord Carlile QC last week, the school apologised unreservedly for the “serious wrongs” and said “the tough lessons of the past have been learned”.
Yet it is too little too late for the victims of its paedophile priests.
Soper’s victim at 11 said: “I’m glad I’ve been believed. But the school’s apology just made me sick.”