Churches need to act on claims of abuse
As a pastor admits acting ‘inappropriately’, the Hong Kong Christian Council has found there may be up to 55 other cases in the city, some involving rape
Months after the global #MeToo campaign prompted a Hong Kong athlete to speak out, another one seeking to expose similar abuses in the religious sector, the #ChurchToo, has been answered in this part of the world.
Last week, a pastor of the Brotherly Love Swatow Baptist Church in Tsz Wan Shan admitted that he behaved “inappropriately” after a woman accused him on social media of sexually harassing other church-goers. It would not be surprising if more cases surface.
Indeed, there could be as many as 55 more cases in the city, if an online survey by a church group is any reference.
According to the Hong Kong Christian Council, one in five reports involved rape or attempted rape. Others involved unwelcome touching or gestures, emails or messages with sexual implications. About half of cases involved those who are church leaders or workers. The findings are disturbing and warrant follow-up action.
The accusations against religious bodies are not the first. In April, police were looking into claims that a retired Anglican church leader indecently assaulted at least two male church-goers more than a decade ago.
In 2010, a Vietnamese deacon of the Catholic diocese was jailed for 11 days for molesting a church housekeeper, while in 2003 a former priest was imprisoned for 4 1/ 2 years for sexually abusing an altar boy. The cases do not seem common, but it would be naive to think that churches are immune from sex crime.
The involvement of respectable figures in positions of authority and trust in a family-like church environment often make victims’ tales hard to believe.
The tendency to protect the body’s reputation and the teaching of forgiveness mean such problems are usually swept under the carpet or resolved internally.
The survey findings have provided a glimpse of the scale of sexual misconduct among the city’s churches. A candid confession from the responsible is often the right response to facilitate further probes. More importantly, there needs to be a change of culture to encourage victims to come forward and a mechanism for follow-up action, including the need of a criminal investigation. Only by putting the house in order can public faith and trust be restored.