Woman Allegedly Raped by Priest Will Not Have Her Day in Court
By Tania Broughton
August 2, 2006
A woman who claimed a Durban Roman Catholic priest raped her when she was a child will never have her day in court after the state withdrew the charges against the now elderly cleric yesterday on "humanitarian grounds".
His alleged victim, who is 38 and lives abroad, told The Mercury: "I need some time to digest this."
She had been preparing to come to South Africa to give evidence in the trial which should have begun in the Durban Regional Court yesterday, with the priest pleading to the charges.
But the priest, who is now 75, did not appear in court. Instead his doctor told Magistrate Trevor Levitt that he was very ill, suffering from dementia and could not appear, let alone defend himself against the charges. When the priest, who cannot be named for legal reasons, was first arrested in 2004, he appeared fit and healthy.
But with each court appearance - including a protracted application for a permanent stay of prosecution - the deterioration in his physical condition was evident. At his last appearance last October, when Levitt ruled that he should stand trial, he was visibly frail. He was charged with raping the woman between 1976 and 1979, when she was aged between eight and 11.
During the permanent stay application, the court heard that the man had been her parish priest, her school chaplain and had been having an affair with her mother.
The woman testified that she had not told anybody about the rapes because she had been frightened she would get into trouble and had not wanted to attract attention to her mother's affair.
Many years later, she had reported the matter to the church, which had eventually agreed to pay for her to see a psychologist, Johan Ferreira, who also testified during the application.
Ferreira said the woman had had 54 therapy sessions with him and presented a classic case of an adult who had been subjected to prolonged sexual abuse as a child.
She had only reported the matter to police after attending these sessions.
Evidence during the application showed the woman had written to the priest, vowing to get revenge and pronouncing "may your soul rot in hell". There were also claims that the priest had written to the woman, asking for forgiveness.
It emerged during that application, and again yesterday, that the priest had been sent abroad to attend a psychological-sexual programme after the woman had reported the matter to the church.
Cardinal Wilfred Napier had been subpoenaed by the state to give evidence about this at the trial.
Yesterday, the priest's doctor, Entabeni Hospital-based Charles Roberts, said that while he had treated the priest for several years, he had not been aware of the criminal case against him.
In the past two years, the priest had undergone major back and heart surgery. He was also diabetic, depressed, demented, becoming senile and relied on a "cocktail of medication".
Prosecutor Val Lotan handed in a report compiled by a district surgeon who had visited the priest this week. His finding was that the priest could not attend his trial nor defend himself against the charges.
Lotan said that the state would withdraw the charges on humanitarian grounds in light of the two doctors' reports.
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