Paedophile Priests' Victims Slam Napier

By Pearlie Joubert
Mail & Guardian
August 11, 2006

The president of the Southern African Catholic Bishops Conference, Cardinal Wilfred Napier, offered to pay for psychological therapy for a woman allegedly raped by a Catholic priest when she was a child. There was a sting in the tail, however. If she accepted, she would forfeit her right to make any future claims against the church.

"The offer is in full and final settlement of all or any claims that you may consider you may have against the Archidiocese. Your signed, written acceptance of these conditions, unconditionally, must be received in this office," Napier wrote. The Mail & Guardian has a copy of the letter.

Sam (not her real name) said a church "protocol committee" was formed in 1997 to handle her case, but "I am still waiting for them to advise me of their findings".

Cardinal Wilfred Napier
photo by The AP

Napier said this week that the priest in question was "rehabilitated in the United Kingdom during a seven or eight-week course".

Said Sam: "I can only assume they found him guilty -- why will they not face up to what happened? All I ever wanted was an admission of guilt and a sincere apology. I feel completely alone and abandoned by the church and the justice system. Criminals are finding sanctuary in the church."

The M&G has seen a second letter from Napier in which he tells the brother of a boy allegedly abused by a priest: "It's not in the interest of Catholics to know about this priest's transgression."

An "aggressive" Napier is also said to have told the family it had done wrong to record and circulate the priest's confession of sexual abuse.

The alleged victim's brother, Chris (not his real name), said: "We reported my brother's sexual abuse to the archbishop of Cape Town, Lawrence Henry. Almost 18 months later, nothing has happened.

"I wrote to Cardinal Napier asking him for assistance. Within half an hour, he phoned me and was extremely aggressive. He said: 'Who do you think you are to cause so much trouble?'

"My brother had a recorded confession of the priest who sexually abused him and Napier said it was wrong of us to record and distribute it. He never once asked me how my brother was or how the family was coping. We were very devout Catholics."

Napier later wrote to Chris: "Given your accusatory tone I do not think I should commit myself to any further communication with you. You seem to be looking for scapegoats to blame for what happened to your brother."

The two incidents are among five cases of rape and sexual abuse by Catholic priests reported to the M&G this week. All the alleged victims have left the Catholic Church, they say, because of the way the church dealt with their allegations.

Sam said she was eight or nine when her mother started a 12-year affair with their parish priest, who was also her school chaplain. During these years, he allegedly raped and sexually abused her on numerous occasions at her home. Now 37, she lives overseas.

In 2002 she laid charges against the priest. But last week, the case was dropped because a doctor told a Durban magistrate that the priest, now 75, suffers from dementia. As he has not pleaded, he cannot be named.

Napier was subpoenaed by the state to testify because of the financial offer he made to the complainant.

Chris has made contact with 12 other people who were abused as children in the Catholic Church. "Loads of people out there were abused, but they're too scared to come forward because the church doesn't have an open policy on abusers in its own ranks," he said.

Sidney Coleman -- his real name -- was raped and sexually abused between the ages of seven and 18 by three Catholic priests. He was one of the victims of former Camps Bay priest Patrick Thornton, who was convicted of sexual abuse and died in a car accident last year.

Said Coleman: "Napier phoned last October wanting to know if I was OK now. I cut him short because I don't trust him and don't want anything to do with them. Archbishop of Cape Town Lawrence Henry told my parents things would change and the church would come clean -- 11 months later and nothing has changed.

"The church is paying lip service to those who were sexually abused. For months they didn't even check to see how I or my family were coping."

Another man, who asked not to be named, said he was sexually abused by Catholic priest James McCauley, over a period of three years in his teens. Although he reported the matter to the church in 1996, a "protocol procedure" was only convened nine years later.

The accused priest was present, but the alleged victim was not allowed to attend. McCauley died two weeks ago, before his trial on sexual abuse charges.

Alleged victims complain that protocol committees are little more than a platform for priests to plead innocence.

The M&G has a transcript of the McCauley meeting, at which the assessor, Deacon Dick Croucher, dismisses the complaint as that of someone "with a mental problem" -- specifically, paranoid schizophrenia with a sexual orientation. Croucher admits he is not a trained psychologist.

The accused priest then thanks the committee for its help in sending him the questions beforehand, and ends the meeting with a prayer. When he appeared in court two weeks ago, numerous charges of sexual abuse were listed against him.

This week Napier said that he was not the head of the Catholic Church and could not take responsibility for what happened in it.

"We paid for Sam's therapy because we believe that she was a victim. We stopped paying when she said she's going the civil route. We sent the priest off to be rehabilitated in the UK -- we don't defrock priests, because that's not how things are done.

"You are keeping this issue alive, and you're having an impact on people's private lives. Why do you journalists keep bringing this up?"

Napier's lawyers, Garlicke and Bousfield, said Sam's rape allegations had "always been strenuously denied, and that no facts had been alleged to substantiate them".

They added that the framing of the M&G's questions "lead us to conclude that your motive is to create sensation based on an obvious assumption of guilt. The innuendoes underlying your questions are out of place and uncalled for, and are rejected out of hand."


Any original material on these pages is copyright © 2004. Reproduce freely with attribution.