It was bound to come to light sooner than later. Over the last 20 years, the Catholic Church has been under intense pressure to admit to cases of sexual abuse within its ranks.
Admitting is one thing. But investigating and brining criminal proceedings against the offending priests and other members of the clergy is another matter altogether. It is something the Catholic Church has shied away from for many decades.
This week, people around the world read in horror as the Vatican treasurer, the third highest ranking Catholic clergyman down from the Pope, George Pell, was found guilty of sexually assaulting two boys when he was archbishop.
There is no need to go into the details here because there is enough of it online. But what we should note is that the abuses happened over several decades and that large amounts of money were used to silence many of the victims and their families. Why is this event in Australia significant and why should it concern Papua New Guineans?
There are 2.7 million Papua New Guinean Catholics. Nearly a third of Papua New Guineans state “Catholic” as their church denomination. We have the biggest Catholic population in the Pacific. The Church has played an important part in the early development of the country from the construction of schools, health centers and economic activity.
Those at the helm in Papua New Guinea as well as well as the people need to take stock of what has happened in Australia. Serious questions need to be asked.
With the recent developments, many critics argue that the church has lost its moral compass and maybe, lost its relevance as well. George Pell, may be just one person. But he represented millions in Australia. As the institution argues against abortion, same sex marriages and family planning the Pell trial has exposed ongoing abuses and the moral hypocrisy that were covered up until the trial and exposure of Pell as a child abuser.
What should also concern Papua New Guineans is that over the last 50 years, Australian Catholic Dioceses and orders transferred priests and religious brothers to rural parishes in Papua New Guinea to prevent Australian authorities following through with child abuse investigations and making arrests.
One example… In 2014, Australian priest, Fr. Roger Mount, stalled a deportation from Papua New Guinea. Previously known as Br. Roger Mount, he was investigated for child abuse whilst in Australia and was later sent to PNG where he worked at the Sogeri parish for 20 years after his abuses came to light.
His victims in Australia were reportedly paid the equivalent of K400,000 to shut up.
Roger Mount is one of several other members of the clergy sent to Papua New Guinea to ‘hide’ from Australian authorities.
Many of those decisions were made primarily because our systems were and still are too weak to track down offending members of the clergy and there is little awareness of the different forms of abuse in rural areas.
Cardinal John Ribat, the most senior priest in PNG seems to have taken a strong stance against abuses. But his words need to be enforced in a country where abusers of the worst kind tend to hide.