Church Probes 24 Paedo-Priests

By Pearlie Joubert
Mail & Guardian [South Africa]
July 28, 2006

The Catholic Church in South Africa is currently investigating at least 24 incidents of sexual abuse by priests — 12 cases in Cape Town alone. Some of these are "historical cases" and happened years ago. In most of them, the victims were children when the sexual abuse took place.

Southern African Catholic Bishops Conference (SACBC) general secretary Father Vincent Brennan said this week: "We do recognise that there is a problem. We don't see this as a Catholic problem, though -- it's a problem in our society. As far as I know, 4% of the adult male population internationally abuse children. Our levels of abuse in South Africa are higher. The church is very worried. There is no room in the Catholic priesthood for anyone who abuses the young."

Last Friday a retired Catholic priest, James McCauley (65), was involved in a fatal car accident in Cape Town four days after he appeared in court on charges of sexual abuse and indecent assault of children. McCauley's trial was due to take place at the end of September.

Numerous claims of sexual misconduct had been made against him throughout his career. At one stage the church sent him to the United States for psychological help.

After two years he came back and the church was told that he was "now healed of his affliction". He was put in charge of a parish, but sexually abused children again.

Another Cape priest, Father Patrick Thornton (76), committed his sexual crimes from 1986 until 1994. Last year he pleaded guilty to six counts of indecent assault and confessed to indecently assaulting two young boys more than a decade ago when he was chaplain at Christian Brothers College in Green Point, Cape Town.

He also died in a car accident at the end of last year.

In 2002 allegations of sexual abuse against the church was so numerous that the Pope summoned US cardinals to a crisis meeting in Rome.

But Catholic priests are not the only clergy accused of sexual misconduct: International research has shown that the incidence of sexual abuse of minors by Protestant ministers was even higher than that among Catholics.

In America up to 90% of all child victims of sexual abuse at the hands of priests are male. "It's an anomaly in South Africa -- the majority of sexual abuse happens to teenage of pre-pubescent girls," said Father Chris Townsend, Information officer of the SACBC.

Since 2002 all sexual abuse cases have been reported to the police -- with or without the permission of the complainant.

"When a complaint is laid against a priest, he is taken off all pastoral responsibility until the investigation is complete," said Brennan. "We cannot ban them from praying, but they're not put in any contact with children."

Is the problem that celibacy in the priesthood offers a means by which priests with a predilection for paedophilia can hide those tendencies?

Marcel Londt, lecturer in social work at the University of the Western Cape thinks not: "Sexual abuse with children is not about a sexual act and you can't equate the two. The key ingredients in abuse are power, control and having your emotional and sexual needs met by the other weaker person. Sex offenders are devious and manipulative and the more compulsive they are they more they are able to hide the dangerous parts of their behaviour."


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