I’m sorry, says Archbishop Chong
“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.”
The Sacred Heart Cathedral in Suva.
Archbishop Peter Loy Chong in Suva on July 14, 2020.