Lone voices of courage can join in a new tide of jus­tice

Sunday Times - - Opinion -

Fa­ther Bill MacCur­tain, 84, is liv­ing out his last days in the care of the Catholic Church. Aton­ing for his crimes and his lapses, he may be­lieve, is now a mat­ter be­tween him and his God. Wil­liam Se­godisho, a for­mer street child taken in by the church in the 1980s, has a dif­fer­ent view. Now in his 40s, he wants jus­tice for the abuse he al­legedly suf­fered at MacCur­tain’s hands. He says he was re­peat­edly raped by the priest, who gave him shel­ter when he ran away from a fam­ily rav­aged by al­co­hol and ended up on the streets. MacCur­tain did much to help him, he says, but it came at a ter­ri­ble price.

MacCur­tain has ad­mit­ted that he vi­o­lated the trust Se­godisho placed in him and says he deeply re­grets the pain he caused. The apol­ogy stops short of ac­knowl­edg­ing rape.

This is an all-too-fa­mil­iar story — from Chile to Ger­many, In­di­anapo­lis to Ire­land, Catholic priests have been ac­cused of sex­u­ally abus­ing chil­dren. And the church has cov­ered up the al­le­ga­tions, al­low­ing the priests to es­cape the con­se­quences. Worse, priests have of­ten been moved from one dio­cese to an­other to cover up the scan­dal. The pos­si­bil­ity of this re­sult­ing in fresh vic­tims was seem­ingly over­looked.

The vic­tims are of­ten young­sters who are vul­ner­a­ble — not only on ac­count of their age but also be­cause they may come from bro­ken fam­i­lies or may have faced other hard­ships without love and sup­port. It is a story that plays out in other con­texts, too. The re­cent book, The Lost Boys of Bird Is­land, tells how poor boys were raped and abused by pow­er­ful po­lit­i­cal lead­ers and busi­ness­men.

As Se­godisho says, who would be­lieve the word of a black street child in the ’80s against that of a white priest? Like­wise, who would be­lieve the word of a black street child against mem­bers of the apartheid es­tab­lish­ment back in the day? But the wheels turn. Those once in power be­come frail. Their vic­tims learn to un­der­stand the abuse they suf­fered and how they were ma­nip­u­lated. And some, like Se­godisho, find the courage to tell their sto­ries pub­licly. As more peo­ple come for­ward, the tales of abuse re­veal a pat­tern of crime com­mit­ted un­der the cloak of re­spectabil­ity. Peo­ple like Se­godisho help to rip that cloak away. His courage helps to cre­ate a cli­mate in which jus­tice can be­gin.

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