Would-be priests will need police clearance

Archbishop Thabo Makgoba
Archbishop Thabo Makgoba
Image: Siphe Macanda

Six months after sex abuse claims rocked the Anglican Church of Southern Africa‚ it has adopted new measures to deal with the issue.

With immediate effect‚ anyone wanting to be ordained to the Anglican clergy would have to provide a police clearance certificate‚ Archbishop Thabo Makgoba said on Wednesday.

From January‚ the same rule would be progressively introduced for lay ministers‚ especially those involved in youth ministry and Sunday school teaching.

The church has also set up an e-mail address to make it easier to report allegations of abuse.

Makgoba renewed an earlier call for a change in the Criminal Procedure Act so that historic cases of alleged sexual abuse can be prosecuted.

“Most of the half-dozen cases which have emerged this year concern events which occurred more than 20 years ago‚ which – except in cases of rape – prevents victims from pursuing their cases through criminal courts in SA‚” he said.

“I therefore reiterate my earlier support for quick action by parliament to change the law to allow such prosecutions to take place.

“Victims of sexual abuse need to be able to pursue charges both in criminal courts and in church tribunals.”

The new measures were agreed on last week by the church synod of bishops and provincial standing committee.

“We were made acutely aware of the pain of those who have been hurt by the church‚” Makgoba said.

“Although the number of cases reported so far is limited‚ we resolved to take up the issue with the utmost seriousness.

“Experienced lawyers and clergy serving on our canon law council reported that our pastoral standards‚ which are incorporated into church law‚ set out a sound basis on which to handle complaints of abuse.

“But the council has said we need to make it easier for complainants to access procedures for laying complaints‚ and to provide better support for them along the way.

“The council also reported that complaints‚ especially historical complaints‚ are not being handled quickly enough.

“It recommended that we set up a central register of complaints‚ including details of what action has been taken.

“Although complaints of abuse can be made directly to the diocese in which it has taken place‚ we have now also set up a dedicated e-mail address for those who wish to report them through that channel: safechurches@anglicanchurchsa.org.za. This may be done anonymously.”

Makgoba said each diocese would be instructed to set up a team to handle allegations.

In March‚ Archbishop Desmond Tutu said he was mortified when he learnt that author Ishtiyaq Shukri‚ 50‚ had allegedly been sexually abused by priests in Kimberley.

In a statement‚ Shukri criticised Tutu over his decision in February to step down as an Oxfam ambassador after reports that the international aid organisation’s staff paid for sex with prostitutes in Haiti after the 2010 earthquake.

“When Archbishop Tutu made his statement about Oxfam‚ saying that he was ‘deeply disappointed’ about the sex scandal‚ I was reminded of all the times I had been sexually abused by Anglican priests,” Shukri said.

He alleged that he had been “repeatedly and routinely” sexually abused by priests at St Cyprian’s Cathedral in Kimberley‚ where his maternal family worshipped.

A few weeks later‚ a man who did not want to be identified, said he had been abused by two priests in Cape Town when he was a boy in the late 1970s and early 1980s.

“The priest and another one in the parish started taking an interest in me‚ but at the time I didn’t know why,” he said.

“Then the abuse started with touching and led to sexual activity.

“The other priest stopped pursuing me. But one continued.

“He would come to our home‚ telling my parents he was taking me to church events.

“This continued for about four years. And suddenly he was moved about 150km from Cape Town.

“But this didn’t stop him coming to our house under the pretext of wanting me to help him with something or taking me to a church event.

“At first‚ he would take me to the house where he lived on the church grounds‚ where he would sexually abuse me.”

Makgoba confirmed that the man had approached him through the Dean of Cape Town‚ Michael Weeder.

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