Clergy sex abuse continues to be exposed across the world. This week a South African man spoke publicly about how he was sexually abused by a priest. Fikile-Ntiskelelo Moya says accountability and action cannot come soon enough.
The revelation this week by William Segodisho that he was sexually abused by a Jesuit priest in Johannesburg, shows the high price of preferring a see-no-evil-hear-no-evil approach.
Segodisho repeated the revelations first made to Johannesburg newspaper The Saturday Star earlier this year. There, he gave details of how the priest had in the mid-1980s lured, groomed and allegedly raped him by enticing him with placement at exclusive private schools, cash and alcohol.
The priest, now in his 80s, returned to his native Britain in 1990. When the Jesuits heard that allegations had been made, the priest was relieved of active ministry and has never been allowed to minister since, the Order says.
Segodisho said that another priest – who has since been murdered – had also molested him. That priest later repented and played a role in reporting the abusing priest to Church authorities.
Segodisho did not name the second priest saying he had made a promise not to divulge his name in exchange for his help in reporting the first priest who abused him. He says that he was not given a hearing when he tried to tell other priests about the abuse.
At the heart of Segodisho’s recurring nightmare is that someone ought to have known and done something earlier to stop the abuse he was facing. Instead nobody did.
He also feels that the Church has not fully acknowledged him and his torment.
Although the priest has been named elsewhere, we have opted not to follow this route because in terms of South African law, those accused of sexual offences cannot be named until they have pleaded or a court has given permission for them to be named.
This is according to Section 154 (2B) of the Criminal Procedure Act, which states “(b) No person shall at any stage before the appearance of an accused in a court upon any charge referred to in section 153(3) or at any stage after such appearance but before the accused has pleaded to the charge, publish in any manner whatever any information relating to the charge in question”.
Last year, after reading about the Sidney Frankel matter – the Johannesburg High Court ruling that altered the law around the prescription of sexual assault charges – Segodisho decided to approach the lawyer who had represented Frankel’s alleged victims, Ian Levitt.
Before the Frankel judgment, a sexual assault offence complainant had 20 years to report the offence to the police, failing which the case lapsed and could not be prosecuted anymore.
Through Levitt, Segodisho opened up a criminal case against the offending priest in February this year.
Segodisho told The Saturday Star that he came forward not only to bring his abuser to justice but also to find others who were abused at the Johannesburg shelter during the same period.
Levitt told spotlight.africa this week that he was still waiting for feedback from the police or the NPA with regards to the criminal case or extradition of the priest.
He added that Segodisho was “adamant that he will go to the end to seek redress or justice from the [the priest] and if necessary from the Church”.
“If the Church were negligent, if other priests knew that William was sleeping in the same room as [the priest] – we will prosecute a claim against all the other priests and against the Church”.
Pope Francis has condemned this scourge and the failure of the Church to deal with child abuse. He notes that the Church has not acted in a timely manner and has declared a zero-tolerance approach, as have the Southern African Catholic Bishops.
While this might come as too little too late, the British Province of the Jesuits has acknowledged that the priest did abuse Segodisho. In January this year the current Provincial wrote an apology to him as he had requested.
With regards to allegations that Segodisho had entered into an agreement with the Jesuits, Levitt said that he was waiting for the Jesuits’ attorney to furnish him with the copy of the agreement.
The Jesuits in Britain say that when Segodisho approached them again in 2017 about the original settlement, the case was reported to the British police.
Local Jesuit, Fr Russell Pollitt, said the Segodisho case highlighted the need for the Catholic Church in South Africa, like the Church globally, to face the consequences of clergy sex abuse.
“We also have the moral responsibility to ensure victims get the care they need. Sexual abuse is a heinous crime. It destroys lives as the William Segodisho case shows.
“Many historical cases were not dealt with in the way that they should have been. Any allegation of child abuse must be reported to the civil authorities. It is scandalous that victims were not believed when they came forward.
“Every Catholic Church in SA is supposed to have the contact details of an appointed person to report abuse on the Church notice board. We have heard many words, we now need actions that will ensure justice is done,” said Pollitt.
For Segodisho, as well as for countless and perhaps nameless other victims of clerical abuse, the Pope has called a global meeting of bishops in February 2019 to ensure that there is accountability and that action is taken. This cannot come soon enough.