by David Nussman  •  •  December 7, 2017

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

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, somewhat near to Albania and Macedonia. He lived in Kosovo for six years, having fled there with £182,000 (U.K.). He was brought back by police to face charges in 2016.

The priest claimed he was innocent and fled out of fear. He said in 2016, “If you want to destroy a priest, vicar, anybody, all you have to do is make an accusation up against them.”

Soper is one of a string of school officials from St. Benedict’s who 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 of England.

In the 1530s, the king broke off from the pope because he wanted to divorce and remarry, but the pope would not allow it. In breaking off from the Catholic Church, the king began centuries of systematic persecution of faithful Catholics. One aspect of this persecution was the suppression of the monasteries from 1536–1541. At that time, the English government robbed religious orders of all their monastery lands and other properties.

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Henry VIII of England

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Henry VIII
Workshop of Hans Holbein the Younger - Portrait of Henry VIII - Google Art Project.jpg

Portrait by Hans Holbein the Younger, 1537-1547
King of England; Lord/King of Ireland (more…)
Reign 21 April 1509 – 28 January 1547
Coronation 24 June 1509
Predecessor Henry VII
Successor Edward VI
Born 28 June 1491
Greenwich Palace, Greenwich, Kent
Died 28 January 1547 (aged 55)
Palace of Whitehall, London
Burial 1547[1]
St George’s Chapel, Windsor Castle, Berkshire
Among others
House Tudor
Father Henry VII of England
Mother Elizabeth of York
Religion Anglican
prev. Roman Catholic
Signature Henry VIII's signature

Henry VIII (28 June 1491 – 28 January 1547) was King of England from 21 April 1509 until his death. Henry was the second Tudor monarch, succeeding his father, Henry VII.

Henry is best known for his six marriages and, in particular, his efforts to have his first marriage, to Catherine of Aragon, annulled. His disagreement with the Pope on the question of such an annulment led Henry to initiate the English Reformation, separating the Church of England from papal authority and appointing himself the Supreme Head of the Church of England. Despite his resulting excommunication, Henry remained a believer in core Catholic theological teachings.[2]

Domestically, Henry is known for his radical changes to the English Constitution, ushering in the theory of the divine right of kings to England. Besides asserting the sovereign’s supremacy over the Church of England, he greatly expanded royal power during his reign. Charges of treason and heresy were commonly used to quash dissent, and those accused were often executed without a formal trial, by means of bills of attainder. He achieved many of his political aims through the work of his chief ministers, some of whom were banished or executed when they fell out of his favour. Thomas Wolsey, Thomas More, Thomas Cromwell, Richard Rich, and Thomas Cranmer all figured prominently in Henry’s administration. He was an extravagant spender and used the proceeds from the Dissolution of the Monasteries and acts of the Reformation Parliament to convert into royal revenue the money that was formerly paid to Rome. Despite the influx of money from these sources, Henry was continually on the verge of financial ruin due to his personal extravagance as well as his numerous costly continental wars, particularly with Francis I of France and the Holy Roman Emperor Charles V, as he sought to enforce his claim to the Kingdom of France. At home, he oversaw the legal union of England and Wales with the Laws in Wales Acts 1535 and 1542 and following the Crown of Ireland Act 1542 he was the first English monarch to rule as King of Ireland.

His contemporaries considered Henry in his prime to be an attractive, educated and accomplished king. He has been described as “one of the most charismatic rulers to sit on the English throne”.[3] He was an author and composer. As he aged, Henry became severely obese and his health suffered, contributing to his death in 1547. He is frequently characterised in his later life as a lustful, egotistical, harsh, and insecure king.[4] He was succeeded by his son