Acknowledges Accusations Against a Few of Its Priests

"The Catholic Church sees sexual abuse as a grave sin against God and a graver sin against the ´Little Ones´ to whom God´s Kingdom belongs," Cardinal Wilfrid Napier said in a statement released today.

"While the vast majority of priests live dedicated celibate lives, the Church in Southern Africa admits that a few of its clergy have been accused of sexually abusing children,´´ he added.

He said the Church had drafted a document warning priests "abuse in all its forms, and especially abuse of power and sexual abuse, must be condemned and every step must be taken to prevent further occurrences."

Reuters said the statement did not make clear whether priests would be dismissed. Church officials were not immediately available to expand on the statement, the news agency said.

Cardinal Napier´s statement followed a meeting of U.S. cardinals at the Vatican this week to address the scandal of priests who abuse minors.

He said the new protocol outlined how to deal with allegations of sexual abuse by priests. Each diocese or church district was instructed to nominate a contact person to receive complaints and respond to them within 24 hours.

The cardinal noted that the Catholic bishops of Southern Africa have published a document called "Integrity in Ministry." In its foreword, the bishops say that "abuse in all its forms, and especially abuse of power and sexual abuse, must be
condemned and every step must be taken to prevent further occurrences."

He added: "The bishops have approved a Protocol outlining the steps to be taken when responding to each and every case reported."

The preface of the protocol states that:

--The safety and welfare of children is paramount, and every step must be taken to ensure their protection

--A prompt response must be given to all allegations of child sexual abuse

--The right of every accused person must be respected

The press release issued this "Summary of the Protocol and Procedure":

1. Each diocese is to nominate a "contact Person" to whom all allegations of child sexual abuse must be referred within 24 hours of the receipt of a complaint.

2. This contact person immediately interviews the person making the complaint as well as others who may have knowledge of the accusation. The contact person then submits a written report to the Bishop or Religious Superior.

3. If the accusation is well founded, the report is presented to the Provincial Committee. (The Catholic Church in South Africa is organised into 4 Provincial Metropolitan Areas centred on Pretoria, Cape Town, Bloemfontien and Durban). Each Provincial Committee is composed of lay persons, religious and clergy.

4. While the investigation is in progress the accused may be given a period of "Administrative Leave" from his ministry. This does not imply guilt and is given to facilitate the procedures. Administrative Leave is common practice in many professions during investigation.

5. Having listened to the report of the Contact person and asked questions about any unclear areas, the committee appoints two "Assessors," either lay or clerical, who are skilled in interviewing and psychology. These Assessors must meet all involved in the case -- the alleged victim, the accused and others deemed necessary to arrive at the truth.

6. The Assessors present a written report to the Provincial Committee, which in turn makes recommendations to the Bishop and Religious Superior.

7. If the allegations are found to be false, steps are taken to restore the good name of the accused.

8. If the allegations are found to be true, the Bishop and/or Religious Superior decides what action to take in regard to the victim and the abuser. The Bishop/Religious Superior then meets with the victim and family to clarify outstanding issues. The abuser is also interviewed to communicate the decision regarding his future.


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