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Thursday, December 8, 2016
South African Bishops' response to clerical child abuse
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¬†The South African Bishops Conference have issued the following statement this morning: In view of the much publicised crimes in the United States of America, involving the sexual abuse of children by clergy of the Catholic Church, the faithful of our Church in South Africa have the right to know what action their Church leaders have taken when similar abuses occur here. The Catholic Church sees sexual abuse as a grave sin against God and a graver sin against the ''Little Ones' to whom God's Kingdom belongs. Speaking of child sexual abuse by members of the clergy, American-born Archbishop Foley, the President of the Pontifical Council for Social Communications, said recently that "the Church needs truly holy priests; priest who are pure in thought, word and deed, priests who are men of prayer, priests who are generous in service, priests who are self-giving, self-sacrificing; priests who "are dedicated to making known the saving knowledge and love of Jesus". The Catholic Bishops of Southern Africa have published a document called 'Integrity in Ministry'. In the Foreword the Bishops say that "abuse in all its forms, and especially abuse of power and sexual abuse, must be condemned and every step must be taken to prevent further occurrences." While the vast majority of priests live dedicated celibate lives, the Church in Southern Africa admits that a few of its clergy have been accused of sexually abusing children. The Bishops have approved a Protocol outlining the steps to be taken when responding to each and every case reported. The Preface of this Protocol states that: ∑ The safety and welfare of children is paramount, and every step must be taken to ensure their protection ∑ A prompt response must be given to all allegations of child sexual abuse ∑ The right of every accused person must be respected Summary of the Protocol and Procedure 1. Each diocese is to nominate a "contact Person" to whom all allegations of child sexual abuse must be referred within 24 hours of the receipt of a complaint. 2. This contact person immediately interviews the person making the complaint as well as others who may have knowledge of the accusation. The contact person then submits a written report to the Bishop or Religious Superior. 3. If the accusation is well founded, the report is presented to the Provincial Committee. (The Catholic Church in South Africa is organised into four Provincial Metropolitan Areas centred on Pretoria, Cape Town, Bloemfontien and Durban). Each Provincial Committee is composed of lay persons, religious and clergy. 4. While the investigation is in progress the accused may be given a period of 'Administrative Leave' from his ministry. This does not imply guilt and is given to facilitate the procedures. Administrative Leave is common practice in many professions during investigation. 5. Having listened to the report of the Contact person and asked questions about any unclear areas, the committee appoints two "Assessors, either lay or clerical, who are skilled in interviewing and psychology. These Assessors must meet all involved in the case - the alleged victim, the accused and others deemed necessary to arrive at the truth. 6. The Assessors present a written report to the Provincial Committee, which in turn makes recommendations to the Bishop and Religious Superior. 7. If the allegations are found to be false, steps are taken to restore the good name of the accused. 8. If the allegations are found to be true, the Bishop and/or Religious Superior decides what action to take in regard to the victim and the abuser. The Bishop/Religious Superior then meets with the victim and family to clarify outstanding issues. The abuser is also interviewed to communicate the decision regarding his future. In this way it is hoped that justice, fairness and equality for all will be achieved with compassion and mercy. As Archbishop Fo1ey said in the sermon already quoted: "the best defence against charges of sexual abuse against the clergy is virtue and, in the absence of virtue, candour". The Southern African Council of Priests and the Southern African Catholic Bishops' Conference worked together in producing "Integrity in Ministry and the Protocol". Together they have committed themselves to two things: a) holiness and integrity in the service of God and His people, and b) openness and candour in facing allegations and abuse in any form. Wilfrid Cardinal Napier, OFM President of SACBC
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