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WATCH — Secretary-General to bishops: ‘Please stop talking but act’

An exclusive interview for spotlight.africa with Sr Hermenegild Makoro CPS, by Ricardo da Silva SJ.

“Please stop talking but act!” These were the clearly pained words of Sr Hermenegild Makoro CPS, the secretary-general of the Southern African Catholic Bishops’ Conference, who serves on the special commission set up by the Pope to address sexual abuse in the worldwide Catholic Church.

In an exclusive interview with spotlight.africa, Makoro was emphatic in stressing that policies and protocols alone “won’t help us” when it comes to dealing definitely with sexual abuse in the Church. This “has penetrated the heart of the Church”, she said.

She called all those who had at any time suffered abuse to “Come forward, so that you can be helped”, making an impassioned plea to Church leaders and institutions: “Let’s open our house (and) make it a safe space where people (those sexually abused by clergy) can come and share the pain that we are carrying.”

Makoro admitted that in the earlier stages of the Church’s reckoning with the sexual abuse of minors by priests, they had been focused on accountability. There was a need to admit that “things were not followed well, processes were not followed — and people were not listened to” or believed, she explained.

This aspect of accountability was very much at the fore for bishop-presidents gathered at the recent meeting held at the Vatican. They themselves admitted this, as she paraphrased the bishops’ own words, in the synod hall: “‘We are wrong.’ …  ‘we don’t do our duty.’ … ‘we don’t do what we are supposed to be doing.’”

For Makoro, important as it is to establish mechanisms for accountability, guidelines and procedures for dealing with the aftermath of abuse, such as we have done, it is now time to take seriously the call to real action.

People are angry and hurting, she said. And we cannot say: “‘Okay, it’s (sexual abuse) a mistake’… What mistake?”, she exclaimed, in seeming rhetorical fashion. 

But — replying almost immediately — so as not to leave anything to chance, she said: “Bishops need to act. If a priest has done something it must be acted upon!”

WATCH the full interview with Hermenegild Makoro CPS, secretary-general of the SACBC

* The opinions expressed here by Spotlight.Africa contributors and editors are their own and not official statements of the Society of Jesus in South Africa or of the Catholic Church unless explicitly stated.

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Ricardo da Silva SJ
Ricardo is a member of the South African region of the Jesuits and an ordained deacon of the Roman Catholic Church. In 2020, he received a master's degree in journalism from the Graduate School of Journalism at Columbia University, New York, where he was an African Pulitzer Fellow and reported on religion, mental health, housing and other social injustices. Before moving to the U.S.A., Ricardo served as acting editor of spotlight.africa and was on the team at Jesuit Institute South Africa. His preparation for ministry as a Jesuit has taken him to study theology in Brazil, philosophy in the U.K and brief working stints in Zimbabwe and Spain. As a Jesuit, he has ministered to refugees, migrants, people experiencing street homelessness, young adults, seminarians, the elderly, and high school and university students, staff and faculty. Before entering religious life in 2007, Ricardo worked in marketing, communications, and brand management before joining the Jesuits in 2007. Ricardo holds dual citizenship, having emigrated from Portugal to South Africa at the age of six with his mother.

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