Superior of sex offender in Singapore Catholic church did not inform police to respect victims’ wishes

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SINGAPORE — The two teenage boys who were sexually abused by a prominent member of a Catholic order had refused to make police reports in 2009 when the case first came to light, it has now emerged.

This was revealed in a statement from the Catholic order to which the offender belonged. The statement was put up on the website of the Roman Catholic Archdiocese of Singapore on Sunday (June 5) night as it gave more details about the case.

This came about a month after Archbishop William Goh, the head of the Roman Catholic Church in Singapore, said that it was working with the offender’s religious order to investigate the background of the case.

The Catholic Church has many religious orders and congregations, which can be religious institutes or communities where people take vows to lead religious lives and may have mission work related to social welfare or teaching.

In a separate statement on Sunday, the archbishop’s communications office revealed that its request to partially lift a gag order on the case was rejected by the Attorney-General’s Chambers (AGC).

The gag order was imposed by the court such that the identity of the offender — who is in his mid-60s — the name of his religious order, and details of his subsequent treatment and posts could not be made public, so as to protect the victims’ identities.

The religious order clarified in its statement that both of the offender’s victims refused to make police reports in 2009 when one of them revealed what had happened.

They also insisted on wanting to keep the matter private, which was why the offender’s superior did not inform the police then.

It was known previously that his second victim had declined to escalate the matter.

Members of the public as well the Catholic community had questioned why the perpetrator was not reported to the police before he left Singapore to undergo a six-month therapy programme.

The Singaporean offender had pleaded guilty and was sentenced to five years’ jail on May 5 for engaging in sexual acts with the victims sometime between 2005 and 2007.

TODAY understands that he is not a priest.

Repeatedly told they could file police report

The archbishop’s communications office said on Sunday that the Catholic Church here has asked the offender’s religious order — which is separately governed — for more information on the case.

At the same time, it asked the AGC to partially lift the gag order. However, AGC replied that it had carefully considered the request but was unable to accede to it, the archbishop’s communications office said. TODAY has contacted AGC for comments.

The office said last month that it was checking to see how more information could be publicly released in light of the gag order.

The religious order in its statement described the steps it had taken when the offender’s acts were discovered. It also said that it was “deeply dismayed, ashamed and sorry for the incidents, and remains committed to supporting the victims”.

When one of the victims confided in the leader of the religious order here in 2009, after both boys had already left the school, the superior of the order for Singapore immediately began an investigation.

Within the religious order, only the leader here and the superior were involved in the probe.

The victims were interviewed and given counselling support.

The religious order said: “They were repeatedly told that they could make a police report and would be accompanied to the police station to do so. Both victims refused to do so and were insistent in wanting to keep the matter private.

“Out of respect for the stated wishes and requested privacy of the victims, the superior did not make a police report then.”

The Singapore Police Force said last month that in consultation with AGC, they issued the superior a written advisory to remind him of his legal obligations to report sexual crimes under Section 424 of the Criminal Procedure Code.

The law allows police reports to be filed by persons other than the victim. There is no legal requirement for a victim’s consent to be obtained before a police report can be made, the Ministry of Home Affairs said in 2020.

Offender was remorseful

The superior then focused on what to do with the offender who was “remorseful and expressed willingness to accept all consequences”, the religious order said.

He immediately removed the offender from his position and prevented him from returning to the school premises, in order to ensure no further contact with the victims or minors.

He also sent the offender for treatment, therapy and rehabilitation beginning with an intensive six-month programme in the United States, paid for by the religious order.

After completing the treatment, the religious order abided by the treatment centre’s recommendations — one of which was that the offender not be placed in any setting that involves working with minors.

He thus had to be posted to a different country where he could undertake work not involving minors. The religious superiors there were informed of his background and the key restrictions of his recovery programme.

“The superior of the order for Singapore also continued to monitor the offender in his subsequent posting, checking on the offender’s adherence to the restrictions imposed by his recovery programme and his commitment to continued therapy and recovery,” the religious order said.

“To our knowledge, there are no other victims and the offender confirmed this.”

During the court case, it emerged that the offender’s conduct was brought to the attention of a school’s board in late 2020. He had returned earlier that year to renew his visa but could not leave again due to Covid-19 travel restrictions.

When Archbishop Goh learned of the offences, he “gave instructions that the matter be reported to the police”.

He also directed the offender’s superior to make a report to the Dicastery for Consecrated Life in Rome, Italy, and for the superior of the order to inform and update him on the matter. This was in accordance with the Vatican’s protocols.

The dicastery overlooks matters concerning religious orders and congregations.

Following an internal inquiry, the chairman of the board made a police report in May last year.

The police arrested the man in January this year after concluding their investigations.

‘Zero tolerance’

The religious order said that it fully cooperated with the authorities and is “committed to a zero tolerance for such behaviour”.

It added that it has “a safeguarding protocol with guidelines to prevent similar incidents”.

“The protocol is reviewed regularly to ensure awareness and adherence. The protocol also states that all such incidents must be immediately reported to the civil authorities and the archbishop of Singapore,” it elaborated.

On Sunday, the archbishop’s communications office reiterated its reminder to the religious orders and boards of Catholic schools here that they are obliged to report to the police and archbishop immediately once they are aware of incidents involving alleged offences against minors or vulnerable persons.

“The Church will not tolerate behaviour by clergy or religious that will put others at risk,” the office said.

It added that the Catholic Church will be sharing more information about the work of its Professional Standards Office in its publication, Catholic News.

The office previously did not give information on how many complaints or cases the Professional Standards Office, which was established in 2011, has handled or resolved since its launch. — TODAY

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