Church Says Sorry for Sex Abuse
Catholic Cardinal Unveils Range of Measures to Expose Dirty Priests
By Jocelyn Maker and Andre Jurgens
Sunday Times [South Africa]
Downloaded June 29, 2003
The leadership of the Catholic Church in Southern Africa has apologised to all victims of sexual abuse committed by its priests, nuns, brothers and lay workers.
Cardinal Wilfrid Napier, president of the Southern African Catholic Bishops' Conference, said sexual abuse, especially when committed by church personnel, was to be condemned as morally evil and treated as a reprehensible crime.
In a statement released to the Sunday Times, Napier said: "We admit that acts of sexual misconduct have been committed by clergy, consecrated men and women, and lay Church workers.
"Aware of the enormous damage that such behaviour causes to the innocent, particularly to loving and trusting girls and boys, we the Catholic Church in South Africa apologise sincerely to the victims, to their families and to their parishes and communities."
His statement comes after the Sunday Times exposed how the church conducted its own investigation into the case of a Sudanese refugee, Adam Okot, who claimed he was raped by Father James McCauley.
Napier said the church was taking steps to deal with alleged abuse within its ranks. These included:
Working with provincial commissioners of police to find efficient ways for victims to report abuse;
Promising to report child abuse if the parents or guardians did not do so;
Reporting child abuse cases to the commissioners of child welfare at local magistrate's courts; and
Stopping clergy guilty of sexual abuse from being sent from one diocese to another without anyone being alerted.
The church's professional conduct committee has now been instructed to compile a list of sex offenders in the church.
Napier said: "We will do everything in our power to ensure that those who have been abused will not be condemned to suffer in silence the guilt and shame that the abuse has inflicted upon them."
Okot alleged that he was raped in the rectory of the Church of the Redeemer in Rustenburg, North West, in February 2000.
The church held its investigation behind closed doors - excluding police and largely ignoring the victim - and McCauley was "acquitted".
But McCauley was ordered to retire abruptly just a week after the Sunday Times revealed that he had a history of treatment for "sexuality problems" and that other young men had also accused him of inappropriate sexual behaviour.
Napier said the church would accept its moral obligation to do everything in its power to continue providing victims with the necessary psychological and spiritual support.
"We intend to make sure that those who have committed a grave sexual offence, in the case of child abuse, may never again be allowed to exercise a ministry in the Church that will give them access to potential victims," said Napier.
The church, he added, considered it its duty to advise victims of alleged misconduct, or the parents or guardians of minors, to report such crimes to the civil authorities.
"We know from experience that it is not always easy to convince a victim of sexual abuse to report a case when he or she does not wish to do so. Quite often it is the parent who refuses to report, fearing that it will expose his or her son or daughter to another painful experience after having gone through the trauma of the abuse," he said.
Napier added the church's internal disciplinary procedure would be suspended when the state started prosecutions. Once the criminal justice process had been completed, however, the church would continue to follow its own protocol.
After people found guilty of sexual offences had served their sentences , the church had a duty to decide whether and under what conditions an abuser might be safely reassigned to church work, Napier said.
The same internal disciplinary procedures would be applied in cases where there was evidence, sufficient for administrative purposes, that a person was guilty of sexual misconduct even if acquitted by the justice system.
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