First Abbot Criminally Charged Since Days of Henry VIII

News: World News
by David Nussman  •  •  December 7, 2017   

First abbot to face criminal convictions in England since reign of Henry VIII

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LONDON ( - A former abbot who used to run a boys' school in London has been found guilty of 19 charges of sexual assault.

The priest, Fr. Laurence Soper, taught for decades at St. Benedict's, an independent school in Ealing, West London.

Allegedly, the physical discipline Soper used in punishing students verged on eroticism, the British judge ruled. The infractions for which the corporal punishments were doled out, according to the prosecuting attorney, were often "fake reasons."

Father Soper left his monastic post as abbot in 2000 and moved to Rome. In 2010, he was arrested in Great Britain but skipped bail and fled to Kosovo, a small, impoverished nation in the Balkans near Albania and Macedonia. He lived in Kosovo for six years, having fled there with £182,000. He was brought back by police to face charges in 2016.

The priest claimed he was innocent and fled out of fear. "If you want to destroy a priest, vicar, anybody, all you have to do is make an accusation up against them," he said at the time.

Soper is one of a string of school officials from St. Benedict's that have been found guilty of perpetrating sexual abuse against students. As with Soper's, all of the abuse allegations date back to the 1970s and 1980s.

This could be the first time in centuries an abbot was prosecuted in a British court. The last time it happened, it was during the persecution of faithful Catholics under the reign of King Henry VIII.

In the 1530s, the king broke off from the pope because he wanted to divorce and remarry, but the pope would not recognizes his remarriage as valid. In breaking off from the Catholic Church, the king kickstarted centuries of systematic persecution of faithful Catholics. One aspect of this persecution was the dissolution of the monasteries from 1536–41. At that time, the English government stole, plundered and destroyed nearly a thousand convents and monasteries and their property.

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