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Sexual Abuse of Minors “dark chapter” in History of Church: Rector in South Africa

Fr. John Selemela, Rector of St. John Vianney Major Seminary located in South Africa’s Pretoria Archdiocese. Credit: IMBISA

The cases of sexual abuse of minors constitute a “dark chapter” in the history of the Catholic Church, a Rector in South Africa has told ACI Africa in an interview.

In last week’s interview on the sidelines of the workshop on Human Formation for future Catholic Priests that brought together Rectors of Seminaries in the Inter-Regional Meeting of Bishops of Southern Africa (IMBISA), Fr. John Selemela said the phenomenon of the abuse of minors “is a very sad phenomenon for the church.”

“It is a very dark chapter in the history of the Church, no matter where it happens, whether it is in Europe or even in our context here,” the Rector of St. John Vianney Major Seminary located in South Africa’s Pretoria Archdiocese told ACI Africa correspondent November 24. 

“It is also a phenomenon that is also prevalent within families,” Fr. Selemela noted, and highlighted some of the measures taken by the Church toward child safeguarding.  

“The Church has over the years developed a response to child abuse. There are protocols that the Church has implemented on child safeguarding,” the Cleric told ACI Africa correspondent in South Africa.

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He noted that there is another protocol that deals with consenting adults “to make sure that ministers of the Church are aware that they cannot take advantage of anyone, within their own space, vulnerable children, vulnerable women, vulnerable boys and anybody indeed that cannot be exploited by somebody who has authority and power.”

“People who are accused of those acts must be reported to the police,” the South African Priest said, noting that the Catholic “Church takes these cases seriously.”

“The Church, according to its own protocol, must investigate these cases alongside what is done by the civil authority, the police and also the judicial fraternity,” he further said, adding that in each case, Church leadership “must also carry out its own investigations in terms of canon law to also punish perpetrators.”

The Catholic Church leadership, Fr. Selemela continued, “needs to support the victims so that they can be able to overcome these heinous acts that have otherwise been inflicted upon them by ministers of the Church.”

The South African Rector who had underscored the critical place of human formation in the training of candidates for the Priesthood said such training can help foster “healthy and meaningful relationships” between members of the Clergy and minors.

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“As ministers of the Church, we have self-awareness, we have knowledge about ourselves and we are also well developed integrally as persons to reach a kind of maturity that allows us to have proper, healthy and meaningful relationships with people,” he said. 

Such relationships are lived “without actually seeking to take advantage of any vulnerable person … who come to us, who are wounded; who perhaps need our own guidance, our own sympathy, accompaniment, our own mercy and our own prayers.” 

“In this way, we are fully matured and are settled into ourselves to an extent that we don't go out seeking some kind of affirmation and affection in wrong places whereby we end up actually hurting people and then inflicting damage on them instead of actually helping them.,” Fr. Selemela said, underscoring the need to foster child safeguarding through respectful relationships.

In Seminaries, Fr. Selemela said, cases of abuse are taken “very seriously” and those who perpetrate them are dealt with.

“We also try to help young people to be aware of their own sexual identities and actually be able to live their own sexual identities well in their healthy, celibate manner without actually abusing others,” he said.

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The November 22-25 workshop brought together Catholic Seminary delegates from Angola, Botswana, Lesotho, Mozambique, Namibia, South Africa, and Zimbabwe.