Vatican orders inquiry into Ealing sex abuse claims

The Vatican has ordered an inquiry into historic sex offences at a London abbey.

St Benedict's School, a private independent Catholic school that is part of Ealing Abbey in west London, has been the focus of allegations of abuse.

The apostolic visitation, as the inquiry is known, is reported to be the first of its kind in Britain.

It will be conducted by Bishop John Arnold, an auxiliary Bishop of Westminster, and Father Richard Yeo, president of the English Benedictine Congregation.

A spokesman for the Diocese of Westminster said its representative had visited Ealing Abbey to meet members of the community as part of the inquiry.

In October 2009, a Catholic priest was jailed for eight years for sexually abusing boys at St Benedict's. Father David Pearce was jailed at Isleworth Crown Court after pleading guilty to a series of indecent assaults and sex attacks on five boys, four of whom were under 14, over a period of 36 years. After the case, one of his victims described him as the "devil in a dog collar". Pearce admitted 10 counts of indecent assault and one count of sexual assault on five victims between 1972 and 2008.

St Benedict's abbot Martin Shipperlee commissioned an independent review by Lord Carlile of Berriew QC into the case and a review of safeguarding arrangements, policies and procedures is on the abbey's website, with a range of recommendations. Meanwhile, earlier this month, police said they were hunting a Catholic cleric wanted over allegations of child abuse said to date back to when he taught at St Benedict's.

Father Laurence Soper, who was Abbot of Ealing Abbey from 1991 to 2000, failed to return to a police station for questioning.

He was believed to have been living in a monastery in Rome and was due to return to London in March to answer bail. Police are considering issuing a European Arrest Warrant for him.

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