Cleric convicted for touching woman's breast 'unreliable'

PUBLISHED : Thursday, 12 August, 2010, 12:00am
UPDATED : Thursday, 12 August, 2010, 12:00am

A magistrate called a Catholic deacon unreliable and untrustworthy as he convicted him of indecently assaulting a woman by touching her breast.

Magistrate Johnny Chan Jong-herng found Van Truyen Nguyen, 50, guilty yesterday after he had heard evidence from both the woman, who worked for the church, and the deacon. Nguyen had pleaded not guilty.

'The defendant has not told the court the whole truth,' Chan said. 'He is unreliable and untrustworthy. I don't accept the defence case that the behaviour was out of playfulness.

'A deacon becomes a Catholic priest, [someone] from whom people expect a higher moral standard. In this case, I take the moral standard as the level adopted by the general public.'

He said he also did not accept that the accusation of indecent assault had arisen out of any cultural gap between the woman and Nguyen, who moved from Vietnam to the city in 2006.

Nguyen was remanded on bail to appear for sentencing on August 25, pending probation and community service order reports.

A Catholic Church official said the church would follow up on the case but refused to say how without first reviewing the verdict.

Asked what the heaviest punishment possible would be, Dominic Yung Yuk-yu, director of the local diocese's social communications office, replied: 'It will be determined by God.'

Defence counsel Newman Wong Hing-wai told the court that the conviction would be a huge punishment for the deacon, whose dream of becoming a priest was now at risk. He urged the magistrate to impose a non-custodial sentence, saying there had been no breach of trust or abuse of power by Nguyen and that the likelihood of him reoffending was almost zero.

Chan rejected the possibility of imposing a suspended sentence, saying he did not want to make news headlines by imposing such a lenient sentence for indecent assault.

He agreed with Wong that the Catholic Church faced difficulties in finding people willing to become priests, but he said it 'may not be a bad thing' if someone who was unsuitable to become a priest was barred by a conviction from assuming such a role. The negative consequences of an unsuitable person becoming a priest could be even greater.

The court was told earlier that the woman complainant had done housework for the defendant and three priests at the church in eastern Hong Kong Island since October.

On December 14, the priests were out and she asked Nguyen if he wanted his dinner. He said no, went up to her and placed his right hand on her back. As he touched her breast with his left hand, he said: 'We're a family. Will you let me touch you?' The woman said that she pushed him away with all her strength but fell backwards and hit her head against the wall.

'I used my hands to cover my head ... I screamed: 'Go away',' she said. But the deacon approached her again and grabbed both of her arms.

'He said: 'Can I lift you up to see how heavy you are?'' The complainant pushed him away and left the building.