The Primate of Southern Africa, the Archbishop of Cape Town, Thabo Makgoba, has written to the bishops of the province asking them to establish diocesan advisory teams to handle allegations of abuse. He is also “urgently consulting more widely on how the Church can not only act more effectively, but be seen to act effectively in cases of sexual abuse,” he said in a statement released today. “Key to my efforts is to achieve holistic and sustainable healing.” In his statement, Archbishop Thabo said that in recent weeks “four individuals have either spoken out publicly or contacted my office privately to report experiences of sexual abuse in two dioceses” dating back to the 1970s and 1980s.
One of those cases involved the South African writer Ishtiyaq Shukri. In an open letter at the end of last month, he said that he had been “repeatedly and routinely” sexually abused by Anglican priests at St Cyprian’s Cathedral in Kimberley from the age of 10 in 1978. “The abuse was alienating and confusing,” he wrote. “I did not know what to do‚ so I kept quiet‚ knowing that I was not alone‚ and that there were others‚ too. That knowledge provided a distorted sense of comfort‚ normalising the abnormal‚ which‚ after all‚ is what life in apartheid South Africa trained us all to do.”
He published his open letter in response to comments by Archbishop Emeritus Desmond Tutu on the Oxfam abuse scandal. Archbishop Tutu had said that he was “deeply disappointed by allegations of immorality and possible criminality involving humanitarian workers linked to the charity.” His spokesman said that Tutu was “saddened by the impact of the allegations on the many thousands of good people who have supported Oxfam’s righteous work.”
In his open letter, Shukri said: “Let me be unequivocal: I have great regard for the work Oxfam does‚ having witnessed it first hand in several countries around the world. For that reason‚ I separate the work of the organisation as a whole from those Oxfam employees who abused their authority and power. Oxfam has gone to great lengths to admit its failures regarding the sexual abuse‚ and my admiration for the work that Oxfam does remains.
“However‚ I am left wondering whether Archbishop Tutu can unequivocally say the same for the Anglican Church of Southern Africa. He had far more direct authority over priests like the ones who abused me – priests who pledge obedience – priests who were appointed at leisure‚ and all are still in robes today. Because of the conspiracy of silence in the Church‚ men like me have felt it best to live our entire adult lives in silence with the trauma of what happened to us at St Cyprian’s Cathedral – even in the church building‚ even during religious ceremonies.”
In response to that letter, Archbishop Tutu said that he was “mortified” to hear of the suffering described by Shukri. “Members of the clergy who break the law or behave immorally are as accountable for their actions – now, in the past and in the future – as any other member of God’s family.”
And Archbishop Thabo said: “Mr Shukri has been in touch with one of our bishops and I understand that he is unwilling to go into detail or name the person or persons who abused him. While respecting his wishes, we usually urge victims of abuse to lay charges with the police and with church authorities. The police are often better equipped to investigate cases than we are, especially in cases which go back many decades and may have occurred in dioceses whose former leaders have died.”
He said that the Bishops of the province had learned of Shukri’s letter with “shock and distress” as they were meeting to discuss to Anglican Communion’s international Safe Church Network and Safe Church Commission, which has been established to develop a communion-wide approach to safeguarding.
“Every human being deserves to have the dignity bestowed on them by God respected,” Archbishop Thabo said. “Anyone who demeans this through any form of abuse demeans themselves and God. Abusing others is unbiblical and cannot be condoned.”
In today’s statement, the Archbishop explained that the provincial Canons “make provision for someone who holds a licence to minister in the Church, and who is accused of sexual assault or harassment, to be charged before a church tribunal within their diocese, and disciplined if found guilty. We have also advised complainants in the past to lay charges with the police.
“However, it is clear from the experiences reported in the last few weeks that we are lagging behind in our care for victims of abuse.”
In his own diocese, he had established a team to advise him on the handling of complaints. The team includes a psychologist, a lawyer, a priest and the head of an institution involved in a case. “However, since that team does not have the capacity to advise bishops across Southern Africa I wrote to all our bishops last week advising them to establish similar advisory teams in their dioceses and in their local archdeaconries and parishes,” Archbishop Thabo said..
“I have asked that these teams be appointed to intervene when there are allegations of abuse in parishes or church schools. They should include a psychologist, social worker or counsellor; someone who is qualified to give legal advice; a community worker from outside the church; and the head of the affected entity within the church.
“I am also urgently consulting more widely on how the Church can not only act more effectively, but be seen to act effectively in cases of sexual abuse. Key to my efforts is to achieve holistic and sustainable healing.”
He will address the issue further at Easter, he said.
“As I have said previously, I take responsibility for what has happened in the church in the past and where we have wronged or failed anyone, we beg their forgiveness.
“Every human being deserves to have the dignity bestowed on them by God respected. Anyone who demeans this through any form of abuse demeans themselves and God.”