YAOUNDÉ, Cameroon – A leading bishop in South Africa said clerical sexual abuse is a problem the Church is trying to confront in the country.
Mthatha Bishop Sithembile Sipuka, the president of the Southern African Catholic Bishops’ Conference, told Crux that “between 2000 and 2016, 44 cases have been reported and investigated. Other cases are still being processed.”
He said the Church must do more to prevent abusers from entering the priesthood.
“The vexing question should really be, how can a priest stain the soul of a young person by sexually abusing him or her? And there is really no answer to that question, except to say that he is sick and abusive of power and should not be in priesthood,” the bishop said.
Sipuka noted the fact that in years past, bishops across the globe have come under severe criticism for engaging in a code of silence when it comes to the clerical abuse of minors. The bishop said it was a grave injustice to the victims when accused priests were transferred to another parish to keep the allegations secret.
“I think that it was due to the lack of sensitivity and compassion for the victim and concern mainly with the reputation of the Church, something that was totally wrong and for which the Church must repent and seek forgiveness,” he said.
Sipuka insisted the Bishops of the Southern Africa Catholic Bishops’ Conference – which includes South Africa, Botswana, and Swaziland – have handled the crisis well.
The bishops’ protocol states that “all rumors, allegations, reports or complaints of sexual abuse or misconduct will be investigated, first of all to establish whether they are credible or not.”
“There was no code of silence among bishops within SACBC on abuse,” he told Crux.
Sipuka said that the SACBC has been talking about sexual abuse in the Church since 1999, and later established a protocol for investigating sexual abuse of minors by clergy which has since been revised 5 times.
“Since the emergence of the cases of sexual abuse, the bishops have consistently spoken of a no-tolerance approach to sexual abuse of minors and of the care of children as being of paramount importance,” the bishop added.
He said that bishops have also produced a Child Safeguarding Policy, which applies to all dioceses of Southern Africa.
In a statement issued at the end of their July 30-Aug 6 Plenary Assembly, the bishops of the SACBC said they “will enhance structures for reporting any cases of abuse; and we commit to accompany victims in their healing process, and especially bring perpetrators to account.”
The bishops also decided “to send suitably disposed people to do special studies on the safeguarding and protection of children and vulnerable adults, so that the problem of abuse is not only addressed more fully and professionally, but also prevented from happening.”
Sipuka said the conference “has systems and structures to deal with sexual abuse of minors by clergy,” but said they are being updated in view of the Vatican summit on sexual abuse which took place in February, and the Vatican legislation that resulted.
At the time of the summit, Archbishop Abel Gabuza of Durban admitted to Crux that it is never an easy task for a bishop to denounce his priest.
While insisting that it was morally right for victims to get a sense that justice has been done to them, he however advised caution.
“Relying on hearsay evidence can be dangerous. In the case of evidence presented to me, I would not hesitate to denounce such a priest. I would take the responsibility of reporting the priest to the police,” the archbishop said.
“The trick in all this delicate matter is that one should not be in a hurry to approach and report to the police … No one should be condemned unless proven guilty and one must avoid the situation of trying to help the victim and destroy the life of someone innocent at the same time,” he said.
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