Feto demands Church to answer claims of sexual abuse by priests
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The article below was originally published in Tetum in this week's edition "Rede Feto Husu Dioseze Atu Responde Violensia Seksual Husi Padre". You can access the original Tetum version at
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Rede Feto demands Church to answer claims of sexual abuse by priests
A priest is alleged to have committed sexual abuse against a woman. This case was then handled through mediation outside the formal justice system. Through the mediation, the Church and the victim's family agreed on a payment of damage for the victim of US$1000. The Rede Feto (an umbrella organisation representing women's NGOs) believes that this type of issue is not only limited to Oecusse.
In October of 2005 a 23 year old woman was sexually assaulted by a priest, known only as AL. She later gave birth to a baby girl in May of 2006.
According to the victim's lawyer, this case has been forwarded to the court of law in Oecusse where AL is accused of sexual assault, which also resulted in the victim's pregnancy. However AL has denied all responsibility for his actions.
Pedro do Nascimento Noronha, the parish priest of Oecusse, confirms that AL did commit such act against two sisters. However he also says that there is no substantial evidence to prove that AL committed these acts or that the two women are in fact the victims.
"Of course, morally, as a priest, he has shown a bad behaviour to the members of the Church. But as a woman, and a Christian, she too should be conscious that she should not fall into temptation. If she knows that the man is a priest, why did she allow herself to make this mistake? So we should not look only at the priest's mistake," Noronha says.
However, according to the victims' mother, AL has yet to meet the victim's family and assume responsibility for his daughter, who is now a year and a half. "We have taken this case to the court with the help of a local NGO called FFSO (Fundasaun Fatu Sinai Oecusse). But it has taken a long time to get any solution. Finally in 2007 the Parish Church and AL's family called us to resolve this issue through mediation or traditional justice at Oecusse church. AL's family paid a fine of US$1000 to the victim's family," Mrs. Texeira, the victim's mother says.
Calling on both families to resolve this case had been an initiative of the Oecusse Parish prist. Noronha had been assigned by the Bishop of Dili's Diocese to help mediate between the two families. Both families reached an agreement through his mediation.
"As the victim's mother I don't want to talk about this problem too much. We are just an ordinary family without the means to do much. We have waited for too long for any results from the court. So we just follow whatever the Oecusse Parish priest asks of us, to resolve this issue through mediation. Padre Pedro also promised us that he will help us bring up this issue to the Diocese," the victim's mother says with apparent sadness.
The baby's grandmother adds that she will not try to find other ways of finding a solution to her daughter's case. The victim and her family promised the Oecusse Parish priest and AL's family that they will not proceed with this case any further although the case has been handed to the court. If they reneged on their promise, as parents of the victim, they will be fined with twice the amount they received from AL's family.
When they tried to bring the AL's case to the Diocese, Noronha said that it was no longer his responsibility but it was the Bishop's responsibility to deal with this issue. As a priest he was only asked to mediate between the two families. The victim's and AL's families have not yet met to resolve this problem at the Diocese. "I don't know about this issue and you can see the Bishop of Diocese because this is his responsibility to answer," Noronha retorts angrily.
The director of Rede Feto, Ubalda Alves, told Kla'ak that cases of sexual violence involving the priests do not occur only in Oecusse. There are other cases which take place in other districts as well. The victims, or the women involved, don't yet have enough courage to come out publicly and denounce these incidences because of shame and because the suspect is a priest. This type of attitude makes it difficult for those who work in the area of promotion of women's rights to raise these issues.
"Rede Feto has also received cases of sexual violence involving the priests in the district of Baucau but when we approached them, the victims become too afraid to speak out about their ordeals. Some went as far as moving out and moved to Indonesia. We also tried to contact some of them by phone but they are always afraid to speak out," Ubalda Alves said through an interview at Rede Feto office in Colmera.
Alves says that Rede Feto feels saddened by what the priests have committed against the women. "These types of actions violate human rights, in particular the rights of a woman. The priests should be a role model for the society. But they have become suspects of sexual violence," Alves added.
The Rede Feto, through its member organisations like Fokupers, Alola Foundation, and its partners, Pradet, JSMP and other NGOs are ready to assist the victims who want to bring up their problems.
Ubalda has also stressed that Rede Feto and its members are ready to help the victims with the provision of safe houses and counselling; legal assistance, should the victims wish to take up their cases to the courts; and providing the victims with moral support. Sexual abuse is a crime. It's not an ordinary case which should be resolved through traditional justice. "It should be handled through the court because only through the court can the victim's rights be upheld before the law," the former Fokupers activist said.
Alves stressed further that the representatives of all women's organisations have asked the Diocese to look into these cases as crimes. These cases are a threat to the priests' moral integrity. The Diocese should have firm conviction to confront these cases. They should not be silenced and swiped under the carpet.
The Diocese should not encourage the victims to be silent but it must encourage the victims and their families to take up these cases in the court of law like any ordinary citizen. Criminal cases should not be resolved by transferring the priests to other locations. This is not the way to solve these problems. "I think the Church's Canon law number 1395, Article 1 and 2, year 1395, says that if a priest is involved in a criminal case such as sexual violence, sexual abuse or other acts of violence which result in the death of another person, he has violated the 6th Commandment and he can receive suspension as well expulsion from the Church. Nevertheless we should also answer before the court of law to account for our actions," Alves says.
Alves further explains that Rede Feto's department of advocacy is determined to continue following these cases until some justice is achieved. According to Rede Feto, some members of Timor's Catholic church are still very conservative and are fearful of the priests. But Rede Feto will find ways to educate them that before the law everyone is equal.
The way that the Oecusse Parish priest, together with the families of AL and the victim, undertook this mediation without the presence of the Police and the legal councillors representing the victim through the assistance of the NGO FFSO, will raise many questions. "I don't know if they are going to resolve this issue through traditional justice or mediation because the victim's and the Parish priest's sides have not informed us" John, the director of FFSO, the group which facilitated legal assistance to the victim's family, says.
When Kla'ak tried to contact the Bishop of Dili, Mgr. Ricardo da Silva, at his office at the Câmara, for comments, Padre Apolinário Guterres, the Vicar General said that the Bishop is not, and will not be, available to speak to any journalist for the next weeks or months. "As the Vicar General I cannot comment on this issue. Only the Bishop can comment on this issue. It seems like the Bishop will not have any time to respond because he has lots of work," Guterres says.
If some priests have committed sexual assault against a women, why can't this case be brought before the court of law? Is justice only for the ordinary people in this country? Wait and see.
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