SINGAPORE, May 6 — The head of the Roman Catholic Church in Singapore only learned in October 2020 that a prominent member of a Catholic order here had sexually abused two boys more than a decade ago, his communications office said today.
Archbishop William Goh then “gave instructions that the matter be reported to the police” because it was a criminal offence, the office said in response to TODAY’s queries.
The police told TODAY that they have issued a written advisory to a man for not reporting the perpetrator's offences to the police after learning about them.
The archbishop’s communications office said that in accordance with Vatican protocols, Archbishop Goh directed that a report be made to the Dicastery for Consecrated Life in Rome, Italy, and that the dicastery shall inform and update the archbishop on the matter.
TODAY asked the archbishop some questions after the convicted member of the Catholic order, who cannot be named due to a gag order imposed by the courts here, was sentenced to five years’ jail on Thursday.
Immediately after the sentencing, Archbishop Goh apologised on behalf of the Church and said that he was “dismayed, shocked and ashamed”.
The perpetrator, who is in his mid-60s, had pleaded guilty to engaging in sexual acts with two teenage boys sometime between 2005 and 2007.
He committed the crimes after forging close relationships with the two victims, even going out for meals with the family of one of them.
In 2009, the perpetrator’s second victim confided in the sector leader of the Catholic order, who counselled him and offered to escalate the matter to the police. The victim declined to do so.
In the meantime, the man admitted his wrongdoing to a higher authority, the religious superior of the Catholic order, when asked about the victim’s complaints. He was immediately suspended from school activities and prohibited from entering the school premises.
The man later went overseas to undergo a six-month therapy programme. He was not under police investigation because no report had been made at that time.
The man’s conduct was brought to the attention of the school’s board in late 2020. 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. TODAY understands that he is not a priest.
Today, the archbishop’s communications office responded to TODAY’s question on why it had not reported the man to the police before he left Singapore.
It said that religious orders within the Roman Catholic Church are “separately constituted and are governed by their own judicial proceedings and administration of law”.
TODAY also asked the police about whether anyone was being investigated for not reporting the crime when it first came to light in 2009.
In reply, the police said that upon completing the investigations, they have — in consultation with the Attorney-General’s Chambers — issued a written advisory to “a 64-year-old man” to remind him of his legal obligations under Section 424 of the Criminal Procedure Code.
TODAY understands that the 64-year-old was the perpetrator's religious superior.
“Organisations and members of the public are advised to report sexual crime cases to the police. Police investigations are confidential, and police officers are trained to manage victims sensitively and appropriately,” the police added.
The archbishop’s communications office declined to answer several other questions, saying that some were specific to the perpetrator and that responding to them would lead to him being identified, thus contravening the court order.
TODAY had asked whether there has been any probe into potential lapses in the case and if so, what was the outcome.
The office did not respond on the above, as well as about who paid for the accused's overseas therapy programme and whether he was still on the Church's payroll then.
It also did not give information on how many complaints or cases the Church’s Professional Standards Office has handled or resolved since its launch.
In his statement on Thursday, Archbishop Goh had pointed to the Professional Standards Office, which was established in 2011, that regularly reviews church protocols to provide a safe environment to protect the vulnerable.
The office comprises senior counsels of law, former district judges, senior lawyers, legally trained persons, psychologists and people in senior management, he wrote.
Since 2018, the Professional Standards Office has been headed by a non-cleric to “further enhance” its impartiality.
Reverend Father William Goh became archbishop in May 2013, taking over from former archbishop Nicholas Chia, who was heading the Church from 2001 until he reached the age of 75.
Emeritus Archbishop Chia, 84, is now retired. — TODAY