Church in Moral Crisis, Says New Archbishop

By Jonathan Ancer
The Mercury [South Africa]
June 30, 2003

Johannesburg - Sexual abuse by Roman Catholic clergy has placed the church in a moral crisis, Johannesburg's first black bishop has declared.

"One reported case of sexual abuse is one case too many," Archbishop Buti Joseph Tlhagale said yesterday.

About 10 000 faithful of the Rainbow Diocese flocked to the Ellis Park rugby stadium to celebrate the installation of Tlhagale, whose appointment as bishop of the country's most populous diocese comes a year after the death of the previous incumbent, Bishop Reginald Orsmond.

Delivering his homily, Tlhagale, 55, acknowledged that the Catholic Church was in a moral crisis because of revelations of sexual abuse committed by some of its clergy.

"We dare not underestimate, even for a moment, the sensitivity around sexual abuse, especially by men who claim

to be the moral guardians of society, by men who claim to be speaking in the name of Jesus Christ."

In a statement released at the weekend, the Catholic Church apologised to victims of sexual abuse committed by its priests, nuns, brothers and lay workers.

Tlhagale said newspaper headlines like "the church of shame" and the "brotherhood of silence" showed the public's revulsion of the sex abuse scandal and the perceived cover up by the church.

"Our reluctance - or refusal - to report such cases to the justice system will only perpetuate the perception of being more concerned about scandal," he said.

"Allegations of sexual misconduct by clergy compromises the integrity of the priests . . . confidence is undermined, suspicion and doubt promoted among the faithful and our moral integrity compromised as we seek to promote a culture imbued with moral values," Tlhagale said.

He said that because of South Africa's "human rights culture", the church faced new spiritual and political challenges.

Pointing to gay unions, the legalisation of abortion and encouraging the use of condoms, Tlhagale said the con

stitutional rights of citizens clearly went against the church's own teaching.

"It is this moral battlefield that challenges the clergy and the laity. Enlisting the support of the Catholic laity . . . is imperative if the excesses of the human rights culture and the pervasive influence of secularism is to be confronted headlong."

Born in Randfontein on the West Rand, Tlhagale worked in Soweto, serving as parish priest of Dube, Emdeni and Orlando East between 1979 and 1999 before moving to Bloemfontein to head the archdiocese. He is vice-president of the South African Catholic Bishops' Conference and chancellor of St Augustine College, the Catholic university in Johannesburg.

"I will work together with the people of the church. My leadership will be consultative because there are skills and talent in the church. I will combine these and we will go far," Tlhagale said.

In a bid to focus on the youth - "attacking Aids at its roots" - he reportedly aligned himself to the Aids awareness campaign loveLife, a step some in the church viewed as controversial.


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