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