Kick out priests who abuse kids, says archbishop
Buti Tlhagale wants the abuse of minors to trigger immediate banishment from the Catholic Church
The Catholic Archbishop of Johannesburg, Buti Tlhagale, has proposed that priests who abuse children be automatically excommunicated from the church, meaning they would be permanently disbarred.
Speaking at the ordination of four Catholic priests in Johannesburg at the weekend, Tlhagale said that considering the moral gravity of abuse of minors by priests, the church ought to consider expanding the list of acts that prompt automatic excommunication.
“There is palpable outrage against the Catholic Church hierarchy for its complicity, its silence and its cover-ups – for siding and hiding perpetrators at the expense of victims,” Tlhagale said.
“The halo of the Catholic priesthood has been broken. The church is castigated because it appears to have claimed to have a ‘holier-than-thou’ attitude. We priests claim to be the other Christ. We have set the bar high, but fail lamentably to live up to that moral standard, that moral ideal, hence the merciless and the harsh criticism.”
Tlhagale said that according to Canon law, a priest assisting abortion or getting married brought about automatic expulsion, but he now wants the abuse of minors to trigger immediate banishment from the church.
The archbishop’s call is the most radical statement against abuse by a Catholic leader in the country and follows the drift of Pope Francis, who defrocked two Chilean bishops this month over sex-abuse claims.
It comes in the context of growing pressure against the church globally for its failure to act against priests and bishops who sexually abuse children, following recent scandals in the US, Australia, the UK and Chile.
This month, the local church was rocked by explosive claims of child abuse in the 1980s perpetrated by a retired priest now living in a nursing home in the UK.
Limpopo resident William Segodisho revealed how he had allegedly been abused while he was living at a street shelter for children in Hillbrow‚ Johannesburg. He claimed the church covered up the abuse when he tried to report it.
Tlhagale also spoke out against sex abuse in other churches, mentioning, in particular, the trial of Pastor Timothy Omotoso in Port Elizabeth.
“This case brings to the fore the raw feelings of anger, of outrage, of bitterness, of frustration, of hatred, even of self-hatred; feelings, desires of retaliation, of betrayal, of disloyalty, of unfaithfulness, of cover-ups, of a sinister abuse of power and of deception,” said Tlhagale.
“When such cases hit the front pages of newspapers, many cannot help but think about the Catholic Church, and the plethora of scandals of child sexual abuse across the world.
“It is a false consolation to argue that child abuse does not only happen in the Catholic Church. Child abuse should simply not happen,” said Tlhagale.
The archbishop also spoke out against corruption besieging the country.
“Defrauding the state, greed, self-enrichment, corruption, state capture, the collapse of Steinhoff and VBS – these ills point out that there is something fundamentally wrong in the state of South Africa.” The country was “visibly under siege on a number of fronts”.
“Thousands of young people are deeply disillusioned because of unemployment and, therefore, the meaninglessness of life. Many communities are frustrated by the broken promises concerning the lack of houses, electricity, water and decent sanitation.
Their dignity is being trampled underfoot just like in the old apartheid days. Their anger is palpable as they resort to destroying public facilities in order to make their voice heard,” said Tlhagale.