A monk wanted by police over child abuse allegations at a leading Catholic school secretly visited Rome to empty his Vatican bank account while on the run.
Father Laurence Soper, a former teacher at St Benedict’s, West London, disappeared in March and failed to answer his police bail.
The school is attached to the Benedictine monastery Ealing Abbey and old boys include comedian Julian Clary and BBC chairman Lord Patten.
It has been at the centre of a scandal since claims surfaced last year that pupils had suffered decades of sex abuse from monks, prompting a high-level Vatican inquiry.
Fr Laurence, known as ‘St Benedict’s banker’ because of his financial acumen, had gone on to be treasurer at St Anselmo in Rome, the headquarters of the Benedictine Order, but as the investigation closed in on him he vanished.
However, The Mail on Sunday has been told that after hiding in Montenegro on the Adriatic coast – where the European Arrest Warrant is not valid – he secretly returned to the Vatican to empty his account.
Fr Laurence, 68, who worked at Barclays Bank between 1960 and 1964 before becoming a monk, is said to have several thousand pounds in investment portfolios and also a ‘large inheritance’ from his parents.
He was quizzed after a former monk at Ealing Abbey, Fr David Pearce, was jailed for eight years in 2009 after being charged with indecent assaults against youngsters dating back to 1972.
Fr Laurence, who taught at the school between 1972 and 1984 and was Abbot at the abbey until 2000 before moving to St Anselmo, was questioned in London in September 2010.
He was arrested on suspicion of historic sexual assault and bailed, but was allowed to keep his passport to return to Rome. He should have returned to a West London police station in March but failed to do so.
A Catholic Church source in Rome said: ‘He emptied his account at the Vatican Bank some time over the summer. One thing that everyone did notice in the run-up to his disappearance was that he was drinking heavily.’
Ealing Abbey has been the subject of an inquiry by Lord Carlile QC and an internal Vatican investigation following disclosures of abuse at St Benedict’s.
Lord Carlile named Fr Laurence as one of five clergy who have been tried or are wanted for questioning in relation to abuse at the Abbey involving pupils.
Yesterday, Father Elias Lorenzo, a prior at St Anselmo, said: ‘We have no idea where Laurence is.’ Italian police said: ‘We are continuing to investigate the disappearance of Soper.’