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04 Jun 2003 13:18
The Catholic Church in South Africa has taken the first steps towards compiling a central database of abuse cases in its ranks, according to the church newspaper Southern Cross.
The move follows recent claims in the media of sexual abuse by a Catholic priest in Rustenburg, who has since abruptly retired. The church also says it was advised by a senior prosecutor that it was not legally obliged to report abuse cases.
Southern Cross reports in its latest edition that the secretary general of the Southern African Catholic Bishops’ Conference, Vincent Brennan, has written to all dioceses saying the media often asked if there was a central database for sex offenders in the church.
The media were not always aware that each diocese was a separate jurisdiction, he said.
“Even when we explain this, we are still seen as one unit, and I believe that it is necessary that we compile such a list.”
He asked each metropolitan professional conduct committee to report back on how many cases it had dealt with since the church’s publication of a child abuse protocol some years ago, the outcome, and what was done to help the victim.
“From your experience working with the protocol, how do you think we can better respond to the needs of victims?” he asked.
Brennan also chairs a national coordinating body for the professional conduct committees.
He said in the letter that the media had over the past year or so consistently claimed that the church considered itself above the law and refused to report the crime of child abuse.
Even though many churchmen had told reporters they were subject to the law even more than others, because they preached high standards of morality, the accusation was still repeated.
He said Jan d’Oliviera, deputy director of the Directorate of Public Prosecutions and a strong Catholic, was a member of “our” professional conduct committee.
“A few years ago he addressed the bishops’ conference and said that the law as it stands does not oblige us to report cases.
“Because this was continually questioned, we held a meeting last year with a group of legal experts [including Jan d’Oliviera, Allan Schwarer and Noel Pistorius].
“They agreed with the position taken by Dr D’Oliviera, and decided to request a meeting with the Department of Justice to discuss the issue.
The department did not reply.”
Brennan said the bishops at the meeting with the experts had however decided they had a moral obligation to go beyond what the law demanded, and that criminal offences of this nature should be referred to the authorities.
He said that when he and Cardinal Wilfred Napier attended an international conference on child sexual abuse in England last year, delegates from other countries were surprised that they were not automatically reporting cases.
When the claims against the Rustenburg priest were first reported last month, the Sunday Times quoted justice ministry representative Paul Setsetse as saying the Criminal Procedure Act said “crime must be reported”.
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