I’m sorry, says Arch­bishop Chong

Fiji Sun - - FRONT PAGE - Shalveen Chand Edited by Ivamere Nataro Feed­back: shalveen.chand@fi­jisun.com.fjj

“ON BE­HALF OF THE CATHOLIC CHURCH IN FIJI I EX­PRESS OUR RE­MORSE FOR THE PAST FAIL­URES AND EX­TEND OUR SIN­CERE RE­GRET AND DEEP SYM­PA­THY TO VIC­TIMS OF SEX­UAL ABUSE... PER­PE­TRATED BY CLERGY OR RE­LI­GIOUS TEACH­ERS” “The over­whelm­ing num­ber of priests and re­li­gious are faith­ful men and women who share the hor­ror and grief that all peo­ple feel when sex­ual abuse is brought to light”

For the first time, the Catholic Church in Fiji has apol­o­gised to vic­tims of sex­ual abuse per­pe­trated by for­eign cler­gies.

The head of the Catholic Church in Fiji, Arch­bishop Peter Loy Chong, said be­hav­iour of some cler­gies had brought shame to the church.

This fol­lowed a re­port by New Zealand me­dia that for­eign priests ac­cused of sex­ual abuse were sent to Pa­cific Is­land na­tions to avoid pros­e­cu­tion.

A method used to evade au­thor­i­ties by the church in the past.

Arch­bishop Chong said all that changed fol­low­ing changes at the high­est level in the Vatican in re­gards to how they dealt with sex­ual abuse al­le­ga­tions.

“First and fore­most, I em­pathise with peo­ple who are vic­tims of sex­ual abuse. I em­pathise with their hurt, anger, trauma and feel­ings. I em­pathise with the pain that vic­tims and their fam­i­lies have ex­pe­ri­enced and con­tinue to ex­pe­ri­ence,” he said. “I em­pathise with the bro­ken­ness they have to live with and af­fect the way they re­late to oth­ers.

“As head of the Fiji Catholic Church, I feel ashamed with the be­hav­iour of our church per­son­nel. I feel an­gry. There was a heav­i­ness in my heart yes­ter­day and today. My first re­ac­tion was not to want to talk to the me­dia. “On be­half of the Catholic Church in Fiji I ex­press our re­morse for the past fail­ures and ex­tend our sin­cere re­gret and deep sym­pa­thy to peo­plesvic­tims of sex­ual abuse. The Church apol­o­gises un­re­servedly for any abuse per­pe­trated by clergy or re­li­gious teach­ers.”

The New Zealand me­dia re­port, which has been shared by many, has a tes­ti­mony of a man who de­scribed the sex­ual at­tack on him very vividly.

Ac­cord­ing to him, the at­tacks were al­legedly done by a for­eign cleric while he was a stu­dent at Marist Brothers Pri­mary School in Suva.

The case of Ju­lian Fox and Frank Klep

It has been un­cov­ered by me­dia in Aus­tralia and New Zealand that Catholic priests were trans­ferred from the two coun­tries to evade au­thor­i­ties and avoid pros­e­cu­tion.

One such case was Father Ju­lian Fox, a priest who was ac­cused of sex­ual as­sault on chil­dren at schools in Mel­bourne. He was sent to Fiji in 1998 and stayed here un­til 2003. He was then trans­ferred to Rome.

Au­thor­i­ties fi­nally caught up to Father Fox and he was con­victed for his crimes in 2015 and jailed for four years.

Father Frank Klep was trans­ferred to Samoa to be part of the Moamoa The­o­log­i­cal Col­lege in 1998. Au­thor­i­ties in Samoa were never told of the ac­cu­sa­tion against Klep and his crim­i­nal his­tory as he had al­ready been con­victed in 1994.

Af­ter this knowl­edge came to light, he was not al­lowed to hold mass or en­gage with chil­dren. How­ever, he was pho­tographed by the Samoa Ob­server News­pa­per hand­ing can­dies to chil­dren.

Sub­se­quently, his visa was not re­newed and he had no op­tion, but to re­turn to Aus­tralia where he faced au­thor­i­ties and was con­victed once again.

The way for­ward

In ac­knowl­edg­ing the wrongs of the past, Arch­bishop Peter Loy Chong said it was the ac­tion of some which had brought dis­re­pute to the church. He said the foun­da­tions laid by Catholic mis­sion­ar­ies in de­vel­op­ing Fiji is of great sig­nif­i­cance,

Fol­low­ing the rev­e­la­tions of the abuse by the Catholic priests world­wide, the Vatican has now set guide­lines which Fiji strongly fol­lows. Arch­bishop Chong said trans­fers of priests were now done very strin­gently and re­quired sev­eral clear­ances. He said this was be­ing done to en­sure the mis­takes of the past were not re­peated.

He re­vealed that dur­ing his ten­ure as the head of the Catholic Church, he had en­coun­tered only one such al­le­ga­tion, which was re­ferred to the Police. He said the most com­mon form of sex­ual com­plaints he dealt with was con­sen­sual sex­ual re­la­tions be­tween grown women and priests.

“Sex­ual abuse is a se­ri­ous prob­lem in our so­ci­ety, not only in Catholic Church. On be­half of the Catholic Church I apol­o­gise to vic­tims of abuse, to their fam­i­lies, and to Fi­jian so­ci­ety – for the hurts in­flicted on them by some of our priests, brothers and lay work­ers,” he said.

“The over­whelm­ing num­ber of priests and re­li­gious are faith­ful men and women who share the hor­ror and grief that all peo­ple feel when sex­ual abuse is brought to light.

“The pro­ce­dures the Arch­dio­cese of Suva fol­lows today rep­re­sent a se­ri­ous and gen­uine ef­fort to help vic­tims of abuse and to erad­i­cate sex­ual abuse from the Church. We con­tinue to work to learn from past ex­pe­ri­ence and from the ex­pe­ri­ence of vic­tims to en­sure that the dan­ger of sex­ual abuse is pre­vented in the fu­ture.

“For the Church and for the Arch­dio­cese of Suva, preven­tion, jus­tice and heal­ing for vic­tims of sex­ual abuse al­ways come first.”

Photo: Ron­ald Kumar

The Sa­cred Heart Cathe­dral in Suva.

Photo: Ron­ald Kumar

Arch­bishop Peter Loy Chong in Suva on July 14, 2020.

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