Justice came late in the case of former Catholic priest Michael Lau Ka-yee, convicted of child abuse yesterday 11 years after he sexually abused a boy in his care. He may have faced justice sooner had it not been for the decision of the Catholic Church to deal with the matter in an internal inquiry in 1995 and not refer to police the serious charges levelled against him. The church hearing resulted in Lau making an apology to his victim and leaving the priesthood - a pitifully small price to pay for an appalling crime and a shattered young life. Hong Kong's Catholic Church was widely criticised after this newspaper exposed the scandal of unreported cases last year. Its response was to set up a committee to decide how to deal with such cases in future. Eight months later, that committee's recommendations are still awaiting the approval of the Vatican. Perhaps the Holy See has had its hands full. A string of child abuse cases revealed in January last year in the United States has since led to more revelations in other jurisdictions, as publicity about the cases prompted victims whose suffering had previously been hushed up to come forward. Since then, Pope John Paul has offered his apology to victims, saying paedophilia 'is a crime' and 'an appalling sin' that has no place in the Church. The Vatican has since approved a sex abuse policy formulated by Catholic bishops in the US. It provides that the accused cleric shall appear before a clerical tribunal to determine his guilt or innocence. It also compels bishops to obey civil law when it comes to reporting abuse claims. Calling in the police when the Church discovers a case of child abuse must be among the rules that the local Catholic Church adopts. No other organisation would contemplate allowing its members to avoid justice, and the Church should not be an exception. The argument that it may be in the best interests of the victim, the accused and the Church to settle the allegations privately cannot be allowed to stand. As the revelations over the past year showed, that would mean only the most persistent victims would go public about their plight and paedophiles would be allowed to abuse yet more victims. Hushing up a sex abuse complaint could aggravate the damage to the victim. The psychological condition of Lau's victim might have stood a better chance of being treated had Lau been brought to justice at the first instance. The Church holds itself up as the guardian of morality and the priesthood is held in high esteem by the community. When children are abused by clerics, it is not good enough for offenders to be answerable to their church and to their conscience. They must also - crucially - be answerable to the law.