With sexual harassment, Hong Kong churches face twofold problem, pastors and concern groups say
Victims are afraid to come forward because culprits are often church leaders, while the churches play down accusations to protect their reputations
Hong Kong churches face a twofold problem when it comes to sexual harassment: victims are afraid to come forward because the culprits are often church leaders, while churches often play down accusations to protect their own reputations, local Christians have said.
Pastors and concern groups raised these issues on Monday morning in the wake of a scandal involving pastor Ngai Lap-yin, who on Friday admitted having taken sexual advantage of women. Ngai was earlier dismissed from the Brotherly Love Swatow Baptist Church in Tsz Wan Shan.
This was followed on Sunday by the release of results from a Hong Kong Christian Council survey that found at least 55 more sexual harassment claims.
Pastor Wu Chi-wai, general secretary of the Hong Kong Church Renewal Movement, slammed the city’s churches for handling sexual harassment reports in what he said was a poor and unprofessional manner.
Matters were often left unsettled as churches tended not to launch independent investigations if any of their leaders had been accused of wrongdoing, he said.
“The churches do not want to expose their flaws to the public but want to protect their name. How they handle the [harassment] actually does greater damage [to the churches and the victims],” Wu said on an RTHK phone-in programme on Monday.
Taking Ngai’s case as an example, Wu said the church should invite an independent party to look into the complaint and listen to the wishes of the victims “instead of closing the file by sacking the pastor”.
Pastor Phyllis Wong Mei-fung from the Christian Council echoed those concerns on the same programme. She said sexual harassment problems would get more serious if the churches played down the issue.
Between August last year and April, the council’s online survey received responses from 55 local Christians. Of the respondents, 35 claimed to have been victims of sexual harassment. Another 20 said friends or fellow church members had fallen victim.
A fifth of the reported cases involved rape or attempted rape. Others involved things such as touching, sexually suggestive emails or messages, or sexual gestures.
Jessica Tso Hiu-tung, the council’s assistant executive secretary, said on the radio show that about half of the suspected culprits were pastors, preachers or deacons – high-ranking members of their churches.
“As the pastor might be well respected in the church, the victim would rather hide the incident as people might not believe the story,” she said.
Churches also often used Christian teachings such as forgiveness and obedience in a “misleading” way to try to cover up or play down the complaints, she added.
Tso urged churches to set up anti-sexual-harassment policies and report systems, and to conduct related training for pastors, church leaders and members.