Clerical sex abuse scandals abroad a 'wake-up call': Singapore's Archbishop

Archbishop William Goh. (PHOTO: Roman Catholic Archdiocese of Singapore)

The Catholic Church in Singapore will soon be enhancing the measures it has put in place to reduce the risk of sexual abuse within its parishes and organisations, said Archbishop William Goh on Saturday (1 September).

This comes in the wake of last month’s revelation that some 300 priests in Pennsylvania had abused over a thousand minors across the span of 70 years, and that a vast majority of the crimes had been allegedly covered up by some members of the Church.

In a pastoral message posted online, Goh described the scandals abroad as a “wake-up call”, adding that the Catholic Church in Singapore has “not been spared allegations of child abuse”.

Noting the “handful of cases” seen over the years, he said that these incidents were referred to the archdiocese’s Professional Standards Office (PSO) for investigation.

“Thus far, all the cases have been judged to be inconclusive by the PSO, and confirmed by the Congregation for the Doctrine of the Faith in Rome. As Archbishop, I want to assure you that, to the best of my knowledge, there has been no cover-up in our archdiocese,” said Goh.

Formed in 2011 by Goh’s predecessor, Nicholas Chia, the PSO is the “instrument by which the Church deals with sex abuse complaints”, said Goh adding that it is staffed by lay professionals who conduct their probes “at arm’s length from the Archbishop” so as to ensure total impartiality.

Currently, any allegations of abuse investigated by the PSO must also be reported to the police, so as to discourage falsified or exaggerated claims that may hurt innocent parties.

Prevention better than cure

Goh also noted the systems and processes already put in place by the Church to prevent sexual abuse, adding that announcements would soon be made as to how these will be enhanced.

Current measures include having all priests and religious workers employed by the archdiocese declare that they have not been previously convicted of any sex offences. Those with known records will not be allowed to work in ministry or mingle with the vulnerable.

“Soon, all seminarians and novices who want to join priestly or religious life will not only have to sign this declaration but they would be subjected to more stringent psychological tests and background checks,” he added.

“There is a need also to ensure that our Church volunteers, especially those dealing with children, are vetted and cleared of sexual crimes against children. I seek the understanding of Church volunteers why such a step is necessary.”