Three SA priests defrocked over child abuse claims
Precious Blood Sister Hermenegild Makoro, secretary-general of the Southern African Catholic Bishops' Conference, confirmed the damning allegations, which have placed South Africa among the countries scandalised by what Pope Francis has described as a “monstrous” crisis.
The US, Chile and Germany are among the countries also embroiled in turmoil facing the church.
“Thirty-five cases of clergy sexual abuse have been reported to the church since 2003 in South Africa,” said Makoro
She added that only seven of the 35 cases of priests preying mostly on young boys were currently being investigated by the police, and none had led to a conviction.
An exception is the case against Georg Kerkhoff, a German priest who is currently serving a six-year sentence for more than 20 cases of child abuse.
Makoro said another Joburg priest was ordered to refrain from conducting church services after he was accused of abusing two children 30 years ago.
He appealed, but the church refused to allow him back to perform services, and his marriage officer licence was suspended.
Makoro said the church had been working hard to tighten their responses to cases of sexual abuse within the ministry.
She said the church had introduced the child-safeguarding policy in 2015 to ensure tighter measures.
Police spokesperson Brigadier Vish Naidoo said all sexual offences were investigated thoroughly by specialised sexual offence units.
“When cases are reported, they are not recorded as a teacher or a priest abusing a child.
"Our specialised sexual offence units are doing well in investigating the cases,” Naidoo asserted.
Makoro added that in instances where complaints against priests had been found to be credible, they had been withdrawn from the ministry and, in some cases, suspended.
Suspension during an investigation included removal from pastoral duties, risk assessment and a psychologist’s report.
“Although there still are omissions in our systems due to the size and logistics of the church, we are committed to, and constantly actively working towards, rectifying this.
“We acknowledge the reality of sexual abuse by some clergy, but we are committed to making changes.
"It is a work in progress,” explained Makoro.
The church had a list of sex offenders and reported cases, which were being dealt with through the local professional conduct committees.
Cases involving sexual abuse of minors was also forwarded to the Congregation for Doctrine and Faith at the Holy City in Rome, Makoro said.
Those entering the priesthood undergo psychological tests to evaluate emotional, cognitive, social and personality functioning. The assessment included an interview to review their psychological, clinical and spiritual history.
William Segodisho, 46, was allegedly sexually abused as a teen by Father William MacCurtain at Christ the King Cathedral in Braamfontein, Joburg, for nearly four years while in the cleric's care in the 1980s. The priest has since moved back to the UK.
Segodisho complained to another cleric, who also allegedly abused him. Segodisho said that in asking for help he promised never to reveal the name of the priest. Segodisho said the priest who helped him report MacCurtain was killed by a man with whom he allegedly had a sexual relationship.
Last week, MacCurtain finally apologised to Segodisho. “I recognise that my behaviour towards Mr Segodisho in the 1980s violated the trust he had put in me as a Catholic priest. I deeply regret the pain I have caused Mr Segodisho, and wish to apologise to him unreservedly."
The British Province of the Society of Jesuits said in a statement they had removed the cleric from the ministry.
Segodisho said the abuse had left him scarred and led him to abuse drugs and alcohol and landed him in prison.
For years, he had begged the church to take his claims seriously, but they didn’t. Eventually the church took him for counselling and paid R20000 for him to further his studies.