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No cover-ups in allegations of child abuse cases in Singapore’s Catholic Church: Archbishop

SINGAPORE — In light of recent reports of the cover-up of child sex abuse by Roman Catholic priests in Pennsylvania, Archbishop of Singapore, Most Reverend William Goh, said on Saturday (Sept 1) that they are "a wake-up call for us, as the Catholic Church in Singapore has not been spared allegations of child abuse", and that a handful of cases were brought to their attention.

SINGAPORE — In light of recent reports of the cover-up of child sex abuse by Roman Catholic priests in Pennsylvania, Archbishop of Singapore, Most Reverend William Goh, said on Saturday (Sept 1) that they are "a wake-up call for us, as the Catholic Church in Singapore has not been spared allegations of child abuse", and that a handful of cases were brought to their attention.

Rev Goh also assured that there have been no cover-ups in Singapore's archdiocese, and that guidelines have been put in place to reduce the risk of such abuses, said the Archbishop in a pastoral letter on Saturday addressed to the Church.

He added that the cases were judged to be inconclusive by the Professional Standards Office (PSO), and confirmed by the Congregation for the Doctrine of the Faith in Rome.

The PSO, which was set up by Rev Goh's predecessor Archbishop Nicholas Chia in 2011, assists the Church in investigating sex abuse complaints. To "ensure total impartiality and non-interference from the Archbishop's Office", Rev Goh said the PSO is staffed by lay professionals – or non-clergy members.

Rev Goh added that a police report must now be made whenever the PSO takes up a case. He explained that it was to discourage falsified or exaggerated claims which "malign" the innocent.

"The pain of being questioned and living under suspicion while waiting for judgement to be pronounced can be as traumatic for these priests as it is for those who have truly been abused," he said.

The Archbishop also outlined several new systems and processes to protect members of the Church from sexual abuse.

All priests and religious workers employed by the archdiocese must now declare that they have not been convicted of any sex offences. Those with known records will not be allowed to work in ministry or "mingle with the vulnerable", he said.

Furthermore, seminarians and novices will also be subjected to more stringent psychological tests and background checks before they are accepted into the priestly or religious life.

"There is a need also to ensure that our Church volunteers, especially those dealing with children, are vetted and cleared of sexual crimes against children," he said as he appealed to members of the Church who are lawyers, doctors, psychiatrists, and counsellors to offer their service to the PSO.

A grand jury report released in late August detailed reports on clergy abuse in the United States, accusing hundreds of priests in six of Pennsylvania's eight dioceses of assaulting children for decades while the diocese covered it up, often sending priests to treatment centres and reassigning them to different parishes.

The results of the grand jury's two-year investigation were the latest revelation in a scandal that has shaken the Catholic Church since the Boston Globe in 2002 reported on decades of clergy abuse and the attempt by the diocese to cover it up.

Allegations of clergy abuse in Europe, Australia and Chile have also emerged and prompted the resignation of several leaders within the Church, which has about 1.2 billion members worldwide.

Referring to the cases in Pennsylvania, Rev Goh said "we are shocked and dismayed at the severity and extent of the abuse described".

"We feel extremely sad that those young people have been hurt, and are suffering even now, the effects of the trauma of being abused by the very people who were entrusted to protect and to shepherd their souls," he added.

However, Rev Goh said every scandal is a stepping stone for growth.

"The exposure of such crimes is good for the Church in the long run. It purifies the Church, ensures the highest integrity of our Church leaders, and helps them to be more discerning in accepting Church workers or candidates to the priesthood and religious life."

 

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