Church and child abuse: the letter of the Archbishop of Singapore
Archbishop William Goh of Singapore writes a pastoral letter to his community shaken by the conviction of a man religious for paedophilia. Let us pray to “be more vigilant and mindful,” Archbishop Goh says. Let us “remember that the sins of one will affect others as well. It is a timely reminder for us to renew our faith, find healing in forgiveness and in God’s mercy, and seek reconciliation with our wounded brothers and sisters”.
Singapore (AsiaNews) – The Catholic Church of Singapore has been shaken recently by the case of a local Catholic school administrator, convicted of sexual abuse on two minors.
The man religious is not a priest. From Singapore, he was sentenced to five years in prison last Thursday. Under local law, his identity cannot be revealed to protect the minors involved in the case.
Unfortunately, the Churches of Asia find themselves dealing with this serious issue, which undermines the credibility of the Church's witness.
The same week, a 35-year-old priest from the Society of St Eugene De Mazenod, a local congregation in the Indian State of Kerala, was sentenced to 18 years in prison for abusing four boys from a minor seminary.
Sister Arina Gonsalves, a member of the Pontifical Commission for the Protection of Minors, told AsiaNews that she hopes that the “verdict of the court [will] bring healing and peace to survivors and their family”, noting that “Pope Francis has placed” action against sexual abuse and “child protection as the core of the Church's central government.”
In a significant and exemplary pastoral letter, Archbishop William Goh of Singapore addressed the issue head on, noting how the entire Church community is coping with the case in the city-state.
“It is with great sadness and regret that we have learnt of the case involving a member of our Church – who has committed sexual crimes against young people. Like many of you, I am dismayed, shocked, and ashamed. Some of us are confused as to what actually took place and how this could have happened.
“As Archbishop and leader of the Catholic Community in Singapore, I humbly apologise on behalf of the Church. My heartfelt sympathy to those who have suffered on account of this crime. I pray that they will find healing and closure, and we journey with them as a Church through this pain. May justice be rendered accordingly.”
In his message, the Archbishop of Singapore notes that a Professional Standards Office PSO) was established in 2011 to make sure that Church provides a safe environment, especially for children.
“The PSO is made up of professionals comprising Senior Counsels (law), ex-District Judges, senior lawyers, legally trained persons, psychologists and people in senior management, not all of whom are Catholics. The PSO operates independently in accordance with the laws of the land as well as the dictates of Canon Law without any interference from the hierarchy of the Church. To further enhance the impartiality of the PSO, with effect from 2018, it has been headed by a lay person, a non-cleric.”
Yet, “an incident like this on our shores is sobering,” writes Archbishop Goh. “Many good Church leaders have sacrificed much to remain faithful to the gospel and have worked hard to instil the values of our Catholic faith in the young. A cloud of suspicion now hangs over “the entire Church in Singapore.
“I appeal to you all to be united in prayer and to sincerely seek the mercy and healing of our God. We pray that the Holy Spirit will guide us to strengthen our Catholic organizations, councils and institutions so that we emerge a safer, credible, stronger and more compassionate Church. We pray that we all be more vigilant and mindful as leaders and members of the church.
“Let this incident be a wake-up call for us all to take our spiritual life seriously and be awakened from a complacent faith. Conversion is required of the entire Church. We must remember that the sins of one will affect others as well. It is a timely reminder for us to renew our faith, find healing in forgiveness and in God’s mercy, and seek reconciliation with our wounded brothers and sisters by taking the call to conversion of life seriously.
“Finally, please pray as well for our Church leaders, priests, religious and Church workers to be faithful to the responsibilities placed on them so that they can be true witnesses to the Faith, living exemplary lives for our young to emulate. Pray also for me, that I will have the wisdom and courage to lead the Church after the heart of the Good Shepherd.”
(Nirmala Carvalho contributed to this article)
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