Vatican financial intelligence led to conviction of UK abuser priest

Vatican financial intelligence led to conviction of UK abuser priest

Vatican financial intelligence led to conviction of UK abuser priest

Andrew Soper, a former Benedictine abbot convicted in 2017 in the UK on 19 charges of assault against 10 pupils. His crimes included sadistic beatings and rape. He was sentenced to 18 years in prison. (Credit: Associated Press.)

Although the Vatican has been criticized for failing to cooperate with a public probe in the UK of a clerical abuse case, it was information provided by the Vatican that led to the conviction of the abuser priest at the heart of the story.

ROME – Although the Vatican has come under fire in the UK for its alleged lack of cooperation in a public sex abuse probe, sources have told Crux it was actually Vatican financial intelligence that led to the arrest and conviction of the abuser priest at the heart of the inquiry.

“This is an important fact,” one source told Crux. “It’s a game-changer, because it shows that the new legislation [adopted by Pope Francis] on reporting duties is working.”

In fact, the story captures an intersection of reform efforts on the two most persistent sources of scandal for the Vatican in recent decades – sexual abuse and money.

The sources spoke to Crux on background.

At present, a public inquiry in the UK is examining the case of the Benedictine monastery of Ealing Abbey in West London, where a former abbot, Andrew Soper, and a former deputy head teacher of its junior school, David Pearce, both have been jailed for abuse of children.

David Enright, a prominent lawyer representing victims of abuse in Catholic schools, has written to British Prime Minister Theresa May, urging her to expel the pope’s ambassador in the country, American Archbishop Edward Adams, for refusing to hand over documents requested by the probe.

Accusing Adams of a “flagrant disregard” for the inquiry, Enright said: “The penalty for failing to comply with a notice from the chair [of the inquiry] is up to 51 weeks imprisonment. The papal nuncio needs to know that he has only three options: offer up the evidence, face criminal prosecutions or face expulsion from the UK.”

Yet Soper’s conviction, according to the sources who spoke to Crux, actually would not have happened without Vatican cooperation.

After being questioned by police over abuse charges in 2011, Soper relocated to Rome and then fled to Kosovo to evade prosecution. He was captured six years later, and in 2017 he was convicted in the UK on 19 charges of assault against 10 pupils. His crimes included sadistic beatings and rape. He was sentenced to 18 years in prison.

During his time in Kosovo, Soper supported himself in part by drawing on an account at the Institute for the Works of Religion, the so-called “Vatican bank,” which reportedly contained around $400,000.

Sources told Crux it was the activity in that account, which had previously laid dormant, which triggered a report to competent Vatican authorities, which in turn led to an Interpol arrest warrant and Soper’s extradition back to the UK to stand trial.

Under new procedures adopted at the Vatican bank under Pope emeritus Benedict XVI, and strengthened under Pope Francis, all suspect transactions are to be reported to the Vatican’s Financial Information Authority, which can then make inquiries and relay the information to the relevant authorities in other nations.

One way for a transaction to be flagged as “suspicious,” sources explained, is for an individual whose name appears on an international watch list to attempt to transfer funds in or out of a Vatican bank account.

In this case, sources said, the Vatican bank noticed the activity in Soper’s account and reported the transaction, including the destination of the funds, in line with its legal obligations to the Vatican’s Financial Information Authority. Just days after that information was relayed to competent authorities in the UK, the source said, Soper was arrested in Kosovo.

A sanitized version of the incident, shorn of names and specifics, appears in the 2018 annual report of the Vatican’s Financial Information Authority.

Presented as an “example case,” the account reads: “A customer of a reporting subject, a foreign citizen, was indicted for non-financial crimes in his country and the police issued an international arrest warrant.  The customer requested the execution of a wire transfer via a telefax from a third country. The reporting subject filed an SAR [“suspicious activity report”] to AIF [the Financial Information Authority]. AIF suspended the execution of the transaction and filed a Report to the Corps of the Gendarmerie. The Corps of the Gendarmerie informed the police of the country of the customer and the police of the country where the customer ordered the wire transfer, via Interpol. The customer was then detected and arrested.”

Although the sources who spoke to Crux said that the reporting incident does not bear on the broader question of the Vatican’s cooperation with the civil inquiry presently underway in the UK, it does illustrate that reforms intended to combat financial corruption can also prove useful in prosecuting other sorts of crimes, including clerical sexual abuse.

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