Bertoni Center, Pretoria, May 9th, 2002, (Zenit.org).-What follows is a pastoral letter on child abuse, from the Conference of the Bishops of Southern Africa, addressed to all Southern African Catholics.
Dear People of God,
We greet you warmly and affectionately.
The media are full of reports about child-abuse by priests and religious men and women. In this situation of sadness and turmoil we would like to share a message with you:
Child abuse by Church personnel is seen by us as ´a sign of the times´ through which the Lord speaks to us. We hear him crying out: “Repent, my friends, renew your first love for me and my children and remember your calling to ´shine among a corrupt and sinful people like stars lighting up the sky´”. (cf Phil. 2.15)
At the same time we hear the Lord calling on us on the one hand to show mercy to a repentant sinner and on the other hand to do everything in our power to support our priests, brothers and sisters in this time of crisis. We share a common responsibility for one another.
We regard child abuse as a criminal act that is damaging and even destructive for a promising young life. The Holy Father called child abuse “an appalling sin in the eyes of God.” This also reflects our position.
In practice this means that all of us have the duty to report child abuse wherever it might occur: in the church community, in school, in offices, sports clubs, etc. We need to protect the child – the welfare of the child comes first, not the interest of the perpetrator.
The Church in southern Africa has worked out a very precise method of dealing with cases of child abuse in the form of a ´Protocol.´ This procedure demands that in a case where anyone from Church personnel is accused of child abuse, it has to be reported without delay to a specially appointed contact person named in each diocese who has a duty to pursue the case according to definite steps and procedures which are laid out in the Protocol.
Something of a controversy, fanned by the media, has arisen concerning the duty of reporting a case of child abuse to the police. We declare that the Catholic Church wants to follow the law of the country and does not regard itself above the law; however, the law itself is not altogether clear in what circumstances the report has to be given, or by whom. We have appealed to the Government to clarify the situation.
We hardly need to remind ourselves that a priest may not report anything which he has heard in the Confessional, or in circumstances that equate to the Confessional, against the wishes of the penitent. In history, priests have preferred to die rather than to reveal information which they had received in the Confessional.
A major concern for all of us in the Church is the problem of child abuse that has become a feature of our modern, permissive society. We ask the challenging question: What do the press, law-makers and educators do to stamp out media-promoted uncontrolled sexual behaviour which prepares the ground for sub-human and even perverse sexual behaviour! Society´s schizophrenic attitude toward sex is evident in the mass media. Films, music, publications, videos and television commonly exalt sex and portray ever more explicit images. Courts defend this under the legal title of free speech. Yet in some magical way all these things are presupposed to have no detrimental effect on how people live and act.
If the media rightly exposes the horrible acts of child abuse by clerics and religious – it has the same duty to expose the rotten conditions in society which encourage widespread evils such as child abuse, the portrayal of sex, pornography and even child pornography available on the internet – and indeed all kinds of videos reflecting sexual perversion and bestiality.
Our Deputy President, Jacob Zuma told us at the Launch of the Moral Regeneration Movement in Pretoria on April 18, 2002 that we should find ways to “deal with perversions such as child pornography.” “Something is wrong within the fabric of society,” he added. “We urgently need to do something about it.”
This is a challenge that we all need to take on for the betterment of our society. We, as followers of Christ, acknowledging our sinfulness, are encouraged by the same Christ to continue on the path which he has shown us. Our joy in the Lord is our strength.
We bless you and pray for you in deep unity with you and with all those who are suffering.
9th May, 2002, Bertoni Centre, Pretoria.
Wilfrid Cardinal Napier – President
and Members of the Administrative Board
of the SACBC.