Catholics to Act on Sexual Abuse

News 24 [South Africa]
May 25, 2003

Pretoria - The Catholic Church has promised to take harsh action against priests accused of sexual misconduct and says it will dismiss members of the clergy who are found guilty of abuse.

The Southern African Catholic Bishops Conference (SACBC) said that it would also help victims prosecute abusive priests and pursue administrative action against alleged perpetrators whether or not they were prosecuted.

The Conference issued this statement shortly before the Sunday Times published a story about how the church exonerated a North West priest after examining a claim by a Sudanese refugee that the priest had raped him.

The newspaper reported that a church tribunal initially ruled that Father James McCauley should be sent out of the country. It later overturned this decision on appeal.

The alleged victim, Adam Okot, said the church never informed him about how they had dealt with the priest.

The church excluded the police from its investigation, the newspaper said.

The SACBC, however, promised greater openness.

Archbishop Buti Tlhagale said: "The Catholic Church in South Africa has instituted a code of conduct for church personnel which rejects as unacceptable both criminal actions and immoral sexual misconduct and takes steps to impose proper conduct and monitor misconduct".

The Archbishop said the church had a moral duty to advise the victims of misconduct that they are entitled to report and prosecute a crime perpetrated against them.

Church officials would help them make the initial report to the police and, in the case of a minor, the Church itself would make a report to the Commissioner of Child Welfare, Tlhagale said.

The Archbishop said: "Whether a victim lays a charge or not, or whether the case is brought to court or not, or whether the accused is found guilty or not, the Church will pursue the matter at an administrative level in accordance with moral imperatives and in terms of its own laws."

"This process may precede, follow upon or run concurrently with a court action and the Church may go beyond what the courts might otherwise be able to impose."


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