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Where is the former Abbot of Ealing hiding?

These days it’s very difficult for someone to simply disappear

By on Friday, 19 October 2012


Readers with long memories may recall the case of Salvatore Riina, the Sicilian mafia boss of all bosses. Mr Riina was on the run from the police for twenty-three years  but was finally arrested in January 1993. I was living in Italy at the time, and the capture of Riina was hailed as a great success in the fight against crime. The fact that he had evaded capture for so long had been emblematic of the Italian state’s helplessness in the face of the Mafia.

Riina’s arrest probably did mark a turning point in the battle against the mafia in Sicily. But questions remain to this day. Riina was not on the run or in hiding in the usual sense of the word. There were no recent photos of him, so no one knew what he looked like, but he was living normally at home in Palermo, not in some mountain hideout, nor moving from place to place. He was, as they say, hiding in plain view. And it has often been assumed that he was able to do this with the connivance of the authorities: in other words, Riina had significant backing from politicians in Rome.

When you think of it, it is pretty hard to hide in the modern world. We can all be traced by our bank accounts, by our travel arrangements, by our internet use. Presumably Riina, like Osama bin Laden in a later case, used an elaborate series of proxies. One assumes too he had no bank account in his own name, and was used to using large amounts of cash. But if you or I were suddenly to disappear, to go underground, it would be practically impossible, without the help of a network of friends. Most of us know this from having watched, for example, the Bourne films. As for setting up a new identity, getting a passport in a false name, that too would be pretty hard. Most of us would not even know how and where to begin.

Salvatore Riina did it, but he was a mafia boss. Thus it is hard to believe that an elderly ex-monk could do what Laurence Soper has done, namely disappear without trace. He is, you may remember, the former Abbot of Ealing who skipped bail and disappeared before he could be charged with serious crimes. He is thought to be hiding in Italy.

There are one or two facts about the Soper case that make you wonder. He was interviewed by police in England, but the police did not photograph him, and they did not confiscate his passport There are no recent photographs of him ( a bit like Salvatore Riina) and there is also confusion about his age: it seems that he is 68, but other sources mention him being in his eighties. If he is living quietly in Italy, this raises important questions. Has he a bank account in his own name? Is he living under an alias, and if so, how did he acquire it? Who is helping him? Or has he been able to disappear relying purely on his own cunning? This seems doubtful: you cannot do anything in Italy without an identity card or passport. You cannot have someone to stay in your house for more than three nights without advising the police of it. There are numerous rules and regulations, all of which were flouted by Riina, but which Soper might find harder to avoid.

Perhaps he is not in Italy at all. But someone must know where he is, surely. And one day he will be caught. We should pray that he hands himself in. Meanwhile, his continuing disappearance raises some pretty awkward questions, not least for the police who let him slip through their grip.

  • Marion Luscombe

    Deleted (with charity) after second thoughts!

  • Jonathan West

    I can definitely confirm he is now 69, his birthday was last month. I don’t know where the original stories of him being in his 80s came from.

    If he is an abuser (and I want to emphasise that the matter hasn’t been tested in court) then anybody who may have any information as to his whereabouts should realise that abusers rarely entirely stop abusing unless caught. We now have accounts of Savile having got at girls until shortly before his death. This means that any children near Soper might be in danger, and deserve to be protected from that danger.

    So I urge anybody who might have any information to contact the police without delay.

  • nytor

    He’s not an ex-monk. He has not been absolved of his vows.

  • Alexander Lucie-Smith

    I read that he had been dismissed from the monastery.

  • nytor

    Apologies, it would appear that you are right:

    “Ealing Abbey has confirmed that: ‘Laurence Soper has been dismissed from the monastery. He is no longer a monk or a member of the community.  By virtue of this, he is canonically suspended from priestly ministry.’”

    But how does this work? Has he in fact been dispensed from monastic vows in some canonical way?

  • Alexander Lucie-Smith

    No, not dispensed, dismissed. It is the equivalent of a dishonourable discharge in the army, what the papers call defrocking. It means he has incurred the loss of the clerical state and all the rights and duties that go with it. He is consequently forbidden to say Mass, call himself Father, and wear clerical dress.

  • nytor

    Ah I see. Is he in consequence dispensed from observing the vows? Can he, say, now marry or own property?

  • Alexander Lucie-Smith

    I suppose he must be able to own property – but woud not be allowed to marry. But I am guessing that.

  • Benedict Carter

    He has been formally and officially involuntarily laicized? 

  • Benedict Carter

    Surely the Police should be visiting every single Benedictine monastery and abbey in Britain and Italy as a first resort? 

  • Dario

    Why should he be in Italy if he is not in England?
    Since you mention things Italian why not write about Sallusti? The editor of a major center right newspaper in Italy has been sentenced to 16 months in prison for having published an article (by someone else) which spoke of a local magistrate as participating in pressuring a young girl against her will to have an abortion. The Italian law which provides for imprisoning journalists (and others) who ‘defame’ public officials was of course a Fascist law which is still on the books and still in use. It’s not that you defame somebody by mentioning their involvement in abortion; it’s that you are not allowed to criticize a judge, magistrate, prosecutor. Altro che shouting ‘plebs’. Bet ya this doesn’t get into the Anglo press.

  • Jack Hughes

     Well the Benedictines are probebly the largest congregation (in terms of raw numbers) and as Abbot of Ealing he probebly made so many contacts that he found a fellow benedictine  willing to turn a blind eye to the law and if so that someone was more than willing to help him find alternative identification.

    As for living below the Radar, if you put your mind to it then its probebly quite easy, if a mafia boss could do it then a man who had to be able to meet the intellectual requirements for ordination would problebly find it a dodlle

  • NewMeena

    Reading Father Alexander’s article I wondered if he was addressing some of his words to readers who might possibly know the location of the former Abbot.

  • Jonathan West

    Because he was living in Italy, at the Benedictine headquarters at Collegio Sant’Anselmo when he disappeared.

  • Jonathan West

    Not yet. He has been suspended from priestly ministry but not laicized. The Abbot of Ealing can suspend him, but only Rome can laicize him. I presume the bureaucratic wheels are turning on that task, though when they will finish is anybody’s guess. It took them just over 2 years after the sentencing of Father David Pearce (also of Ealing Abbey) for 11 child sex abuse crimes committed over 36 years.

  • Jack Hughes

     Does anyone else find it annoying that this angel of hell only trolls around (the CH and other websites/blogs) when/when  there is talk of abuse and doens’t comment on other pages in the CH?  Get a life Johnothan and stop tyring to talk people into your bureaucratic vision of hell where the state must pry into everyone’s private life to examine every fingernail in thier closet

  • Benedict Carter

    My heart tells me involuntary laicization should follow immediately a case has been proven and be complete within a set time. 

    I know there may well be a problem with Canon Law in this regard, whereby the priest’s right to be heard under an ecclesiastical law due process may not run contemporaneously with criminal or civil law, but it seems to me that the process for such a move should be swift and automatic if the case is proven.

    Yet – what if the individual is guilty of one “minor” offence (that didn’t involve buggery or rape for instance) many years ago and since has not relapsed? 

    Thank God I’m no lawyer.

  • Mike Ference

    Here’s one Benedictine Monastery they should be visiting.

  • Benedict Carter

    God help us.

    Archbishop Weakland and his homosexual covens again? 

  • Mike Ference

    The St. Vincent Scandal, when it finally unfolds, will be bigger than Boston. The Archabbott is part of a much larger circle of predators, including Donald “The Lavender Don” Wuerl.

    It will be very interesting. But, worst of all, it will be very sad.

  • JabbaPapa

    Yet – what if the individual is guilty of one “minor” offence (that
    didn’t involve buggery or rape for instance) many years ago and since
    has not relapsed?

    Then it depends on the state of their repentance, and penance done, etc — often in such cases, they are not defrocked, and after whichever civil penalties have been incurred (if any), they are placed where they will have ZERO contact with minors — whether in active ministry or not depends mainly on the nature of their single offence.

    (The Church has some properties that serve as “dumping grounds” for priests who have lost their sanity, committed crimes, and other such social pariahs — where they occupy themselves as in a religious community, and spend most of their time chatting to each other like loonies ; I stayed in one of these one night on pilgrimage to Rome, and they were certainly the most utterly bizarre group of clergy that I’ve ever come across — though the greatly senile ones in the French priests’ retirement home I stayed in once are a close second)

  • JabbaPapa

    Church marriage is typically forbidden for laicised priests, but of course nothing can prevent a civil marriage…

  • Katie

    Those of you who are fed up with English-obsessed-Catholicism (odd for
    catholics who are supposed to be part of a universal church) please see the article
    in today’s Il Giornale by F.D. Remigis which describes the firm stance of the
    French Chief Rabbi against the gay marriage legislation which has (had?) been
    promised by François Hollande. Il Giornale (the main centre right Italian
    newspaper) refers to a ‘Holy Alliance’ (Catholics, Jews, Protestants, Moslems)
    against the French Prime Minister’s gay marriage and adoption legislation and
    its provisions for ‘parent one and parent two’ etc.  Says M Remigis: it is difficult to imagine that
    the announced postponement of this legislation is not due to the work of the coalition
    of churches and synagogues and mosques (credenti ‘believers’ as he puts it
    without dotting the institutional i’s) who are opposed to changes in the marriage
    law. The article also mentions the strong stand taken by the AB of Paris and the
    French Church as a whole. This backing off, perhaps eventually a backing down,
    is occurring despite the French Prime Minister’s large majority in Parliament.

  • Katie

    Then if everyone knows that he is in Italy, this article is a put up job and everyone who knows knows where he is. Why all the stuff about Riina? I’m sure the Italian authorities would be only too happy to help if the English authorities were only to ask them. There are such things as european arrest warrants. Also Italian law is very good on providing for the investagation of criminally inclined clerics and those who conspire with them.  Why are the English police not working on it? Why not work on them rather than making dim allegations about a mafia boss who was protected by someone in Rome. The Pope perhaps??? Or Berlusconi? They are associated in many left wing italian Catholic minds. But this article feeds the Maria Monk English imagination. Get busy with the English prosecutors, boys, and let us know what else is not said behind all this. Don’t be coy. Why not also write to the Italian newspapers? As B16 keeps on reiterating to everyone, we should not be afraid to be open or to speak the truth; it’s the only way that bad actions and conspiracies are defeated!!!! Lest our reverendo padre is allowed to get away with too much it should also be said that Riina was protected by the ‘capillary’ associations of local family and allies, friends etc in his native Sicily. That is known. To insinuate sonething about ‘Rome’ is . . .  not clear. Why not come out and say what you have reason to suppose. Are we now to have the channelling of Zagrabelsky’s Zapaterista Jacobin lunacy in the Catholic Herald as well as the Repubblica, Espresso and the Guardian ( i.e. the root of all evil and corruption in Italy is the ‘Vatican’)? We should, I think, be clear about the distinction between rooting out criminal behaviour by clerics and the long term project of destroying the Church and the current Papacy. The distinction between these two things shoud be clear but, alas, it is useful to some not to make it clear. This is not a crit of our noble reverendo but of conspiracy theories. Why can someone with connections to Malta not get Charles Scicluna on the benedictine job? He was responsible for exactly this question until the other day and no he has not been moved to Malta because he was a ‘nuisance’.

  • Lewispbuckingham

     If he is 69 years old he could be dead, one explanation for a missing person.
    Pedophiles sometimes,if alive,end up in Southeast Asian countries such as Thailand.  

  • Jonathan West

    We know he was living in Italy when he disappeared. We don’t know he is still there now. I’m sure both the English and Italian police are working on it, and a European Arrest Warrant has been issued for him.

  • Jonathan West

    If he’s alive, then I’m sure he will be very pleased if people believe that he is dead.

  • JabbaPapa

    That article is hopelessly optimistic.

    The arrogance of the current Socialist government in France has to be seen to be believed …

    Oh, and the reaction of the French Catholic Church to the project has been and continues to be absolutely pathetic.

    The document provided by the Bishops Conference, whilst technically opposing the measure, is in reality a large box of ammunition for the gay lobby.

    The astonishing thing about this all is that the homosexuals in general were making no demands whatsoever, it’s something that has just been cooked up ex nihilo by these revolting politicians.

  • Benedict Carter

    These appalling devils who have taken the innocence of the little ones are part of the immediate past of the Church.

    Here is a big part of the future:

  • Mightykwin

    Pray for him.

  • daclamat

    The abbot of Ealing. Sounds like an excellent opening line for a limerick.Meanwhile, you have a convicted criminal on your board.  Conrad Black. The disgraced press baron’s complete lack of contrition should debar his re-entry into decent society.  Not to the board CH. He’s also a knight of something or other – one of those Vatican pantomime things that allows him a special kneeler at the high altar in fancy dress. Leave the poor abbot alone, Lucie-Smith, and go for the convicted unrepentant criminals you are happy to work for.

  • nytor

    You are encouraging the police to infringe monastic enclosures? I am shocked.

  • Benedict Carter

    The men are devils, Nytor. “Better that they had never been born …”.

    As to the individual in question, he is a fugitive from the law, deliberately seeking to evade justice. He needs to be found and he must face justice.

  • nytor

    Yes, indeed, they are, but infringing the enclosure of every monastery on the (highly unlikely, especially in the case of the British monasteries) off-chance that he may be there is overkill.