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Catholic figure's sexual offences in 2005-2007: Archbishop 'only informed in Oct 2020', instructed police report be made

SINGAPORE — The head of the Roman Catholic Church in Singapore only learned in October 2020 that a prominent member of a Catholic order here had sexually abused two boys more than a decade ago, his communications office said on Friday (May 6).

Archbishop William Goh (pictured) addressing a congregation at the Cathedral of the Good Shepherd in January 2022.

Archbishop William Goh (pictured) addressing a congregation at the Cathedral of the Good Shepherd in January 2022.

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  • Archbishop William Goh learned in October 2020 that a member of a Catholic order here had sexually abused two boys 
  • The sexual offences took place in 2005 to 2007
  • He then asked that the matter be reported to the police
  • The police said they have issued a written advisory to a man for not reporting the case to them after the offender told him about it
  • The man is believed to be the religious superior of the Catholic order to which the offender belongs

SINGAPORE — The head of the Roman Catholic Church in Singapore only learned in October 2020 that a prominent member of a Catholic order here had sexually abused two boys more than a decade ago, his communications office said on Friday (May 6).

Archbishop William Goh then “gave instructions that the matter be reported to the police” because it was a criminal offence, the office said in response to TODAY’s queries.

The police told TODAY that they have issued a written advisory to a man for not reporting the perpetrator's offences to the police after learning about them.

The archbishop’s communications office said that apart from referring the matter to the police, Archbishop Goh also directed the offender's superior to make a report to the Dicastery for Consecrated Life in Rome, Italy, and for the superior of the order to inform and update him on the matter. This was in accordance with the Vatican's protocols.

The dicastery overlooks matters concerning religious orders, which are communities where people take vows to lead consecrated or religious lives.

TODAY asked the archbishop some questions after the convicted member of the Catholic order was on Thursday sentenced to five years’ jail. He cannot be named due to a gag order imposed by the courts here.

Immediately after the sentencing, Archbishop Goh apologised on behalf of the Church and said that he was “dismayed, shocked and ashamed”.

The perpetrator, who is in his mid-60s, had pleaded guilty to engaging in sexual acts with two teenage boys sometime between 2005 and 2007.

He committed the crimes after forging close relationships with the two victims, even going out for meals with the family of one of them.

In 2009, the perpetrator’s second victim confided in the sector leader of the Catholic order, who counselled him and offered to escalate the matter to the police. The victim declined to do so.

In the meantime, the man admitted his wrongdoing to a higher authority, the religious superior of the Catholic order, when asked about the victim’s complaints. The man was immediately suspended from school activities and prohibited from entering the school premises.

The man later went overseas to undergo a six-month therapy programme. He was not under police investigation because no report had been made at that time.

His conduct was brought to the attention of the school’s board in late 2020. Following an internal inquiry, the chairman of the board made a police report in May last year.

The police arrested the man in January this year after concluding their investigations. TODAY understands that he is not a priest.

On Friday, the archbishop’s communications office responded to TODAY’s question on why it had not reported the man to the police before he left Singapore.

It said that religious orders within the Roman Catholic Church are “separately constituted and are governed by their own judicial proceedings and administration of law”.

TODAY also asked the police about whether anyone was being investigated for not reporting the crime when it first came to light in 2009.

In reply, the police said that upon completing the investigations, they have — in consultation with the Attorney-General’s Chambers — issued a written advisory to “a 64-year-old man” to remind him of his legal obligations under Section 424 of the Criminal Procedure Code.

TODAY understands that the 64-year-old was the perpetrator's religious superior.

“Organisations and members of the public are advised to report sexual crime cases to the police. Police investigations are confidential, and police officers are trained to manage victims sensitively and appropriately,” the police added.

Section 424 of the Criminal Procedure Code requires anyone who is aware that certain specified crimes have been committed or knows of a person’s intention to commit such crimes to immediately give that information to the officer in charge of the nearest police station, unless he or she has a reasonable excuse, the Law Society of Singapore's website states.

The term “reasonable excuse” in Section 424 has not been defined by the Singapore courts.

The Ministry of Home Affairs said in November 2020 in the forum page of The Straits Times that “reasonable excuse” will depend on the facts and circumstances of each case. The ministry has been reviewing if and how it could clarify the scope of "reasonable excuse", or allow for exceptions to the duty to report.

The law allows police reports to be filed by persons other than the victim. There is no legal requirement for a victim's consent to be obtained before a police report can be made, the ministry said at the time.

The archbishop’s communications office declined to answer several other questions from TODAY on Friday, saying that some were specific to the perpetrator and that responding to them would lead to him being identified, thus contravening the court order.

TODAY had asked whether there has been any probe into potential lapses in the case and if so, what was the outcome.

The office did not respond on the above, as well as about who paid for the accused's overseas therapy programme and whether he was still on the Church's payroll then.

It also did not give information on how many complaints or cases the Church’s Professional Standards Office has handled or resolved since its launch.

In his statement on Thursday, Archbishop Goh had pointed to the Professional Standards Office, which was established in 2011, that regularly reviews church protocols to provide a safe environment to protect the vulnerable.

The office comprises senior counsels of law, former district judges, senior lawyers, legally trained persons, psychologists and people in senior management, he wrote.

Since 2018, the Professional Standards Office has been headed by a non-cleric to “further enhance” its impartiality.

Reverend Father William Goh became archbishop in May 2013, taking over from former archbishop Nicholas Chia, who was heading the Church from 2001 until he reached the age of 75.

Emeritus Archbishop Chia, 84, is now retired.

Related topics

court Catholic Church archbishop police crime sexual crimes

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