DECLARATION ON PAEDOPHILE PRIESTS
The South China Morning Post today (2 May 2002) reported on the sexual abuse of minors by three Catholic priests in Hong Kong. The Catholic Diocese of Hong Kong would like to make the following public statement by way of clarification:
It is beyond question that paedophile abuses are not only appalling sins but also serious crimes. The diocesan authorities cannot and will not tolerate paedophile practices in any shape or form (whether of the serial or singular kind), least of all among those in the sacred ministry, in whom the public in general and the faithful in particular place a special trust. Children and young people have a paramount right to be protected from the danger of sexual abuses.
Over the past 27 years as Bishop of the Catholic Diocese of Hong Kong, Cardinal John Baptist Wu has received complaints against three priests who had been accused of sexually abusing minors. This might appear to be a small figure in comparison with the number of Catholic priests (more than 300) working in Hong Kong. However, as far as the Church is concerned, even one case is already too many.
The first case involved a priest who had reportedly committed a sexual abuse in his home country many years ago, long before his coming to Hong Kong. The priest was recalled and was barred from any ministry involving contact with minors. There was no complaint and no evidence or suspicion of any wrongdoing during his time in Hong Kong. The priests involved in the other two cases were both suspended from public ministry with one subsequently leaving the priesthood.
In dealing with sexual abuses cases, the Church, apart from taking appropriate remedial action for the victims, had in the past focused on "correcting" this misconduct. Just as Jesus came not to condemn sinners but to look for the lost sheep, to restore the prodigal son, and to save the tax collectors and the prostitutes, the Church had always given preference to the spirit of mercy and forgiveness by those priests who repented of their paedophile offences the chance to make amends for their past life. Yet contemporary studies in psychiatry and related fields have enabled the Church to gain deeper insights into paedophilia. Paedophiles often suffer from deep-rooted problems in their psyche. This being so, it would be difficult for them to overcome
their deviant behaviour, even with a sincere intention, spiritual means, moral efforts and therapy. Repentance for an apparently one-off offence is no sure guarantee that there have been no offences in the past, or that there will be no relapse in the future.
In view of the contemporary progress in psychiatry and the medical sciences, and the current worldwide situation witnessing to sad cases of sexual abuses of minors by priests, our diocese, in line with the instructions of the Holy See, will address this issue by adopting a more up-dated and more balanced approach. The diocese will see to it that the protection of minors will be regarded as a paramount right.
The diocesan authorities will adopt a No Tolerance Policy. This means any Catholic priest, working in Hong Kong, once proven to have committed even one act of sexual abuse of a minor, shall be removed from public ministry.
The diocesan authorities will form an inter-disciplinary committee (composed of experts from the legal, educational and medical fields, etc.) to review and formulate policies and procedures for promoting greater awareness of and concern for the sexual abuse of minors. This committee will also address the relevant issues and problems, such as the implications of a No Tolerance Policy in relation to paedophile practices and lay down guidelines to ensure, among other things, that all requirements of the Hong Kong SAR Law are complied with.
The diocese will be issuing a Policy Statement in due course as well as various directives to strengthen existing measures for the protection of children and young persons as a matter of paramount right.
In compliance with the instructions of the Holy See, our diocesan seminary, just like seminaries in other countries, has in recent years placed more emphasis on assessing the suitability of candidates to the priesthood and has provided a more thorough priestly formation. One way to achieve these objectives is by requiring new students joining the seminary to go through psychological tests and adding courses on personality development and human sexuality to the curriculum. Among our priests, there are those who have attended such courses abroad.
Whatever harms paedophile offences by priests might have done to the public image of the Catholic Church and of priests, our diocese, just like the universal Church,
will do her utmost in restoring the credibility of priests. We must not forget that the priests who have committed these offences are a very small minority, as compared with the great majority of priests who have remained faithful to their ministry. Nor must we allow ourselves to be scandalized by human failings, to the point of losing our faith in God.
Catholic Diocese of Hong Kong
2 May 2002