Be proactive on sex abuse in Asia, Malaysian bishop tells synod

synod CNA October 3, 2018 - The opening day of the 15th Ordinary General Assembly of the Synod of Bishops. | CNA

Catholic leaders in Asia need to be proactive in implementing preventative sex abuse policies, a bishop from Malaysia told the 2018 Synod of Bishops.


"In the Asian context, these are often not spoken, so I raised the issue," Archbishop Simon Poh of Kuching told CNA.


"We are seeing what has happened in the situation of abuse worldwide," Poh said. "Rather than saying that things don't happen here … we have to be proactive and say, 'What can we do?'"


While sex abuse cases have rocked Catholic dioceses across the Western world from Pennsylvania to Chile, there have been few reported clerical sex abuse cases in the Catholic Church in East and Southeast Asia.


In an interview this week, Cardinal Oswald Gracias of Mumbai, India, told Crux that the treatment of sex abuse at the synod should not just address the matter in the Western or Anglo-sphere context.


"It's a critical issue for certain countries because of credibility etc., and we have our own issues in India," Cardinal Gracias said.


While some have suggested that the abuse crisis is a problem particular to the Church in Western countries Archbishop Poh does not agree. "It is a human problem," he said.


In Malaysia, where Christians are a demographic and cultural minority, the sexual exploitation of children has been an increasing issue in the wider society. In this context, the archbishop wants the Catholic minority to set an example.


"We are actually sending a message across Asia," Poh said. "We [bishops] should be the first to promote and safeguard our children."

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Archbishop Poh was among several Catholic bishops to focus their synod intervention on clerical sex abuse prevention at the synod on young people, the faith, and vocational discernment.


Bishop Frank Caggiano of Bridgeport said that the Church must discuss its sexual abuse crisis if it is to gain the trust of young people in his first synod intervention.


"It is a both a crime and a sin that has undermined the confidence and trust that young people must have in the Church's leaders and the Church as an institution, so that they may again trust their priests and bishops to exercise true spiritual fatherhood, serve as adult figures in their lives, and as authentic mentors of faith," said Caggiano.


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Archbishop Peter Comensoli of Melbourne said at a press briefing Oct. 20 that the sexual abuse crisis, the failure of leadership to address abuse appropriately, and the failure of bishops to listen to and believe victims, have been a consistent part of discussions since the opening of the synod.


Clerical sex abuse will likely be present in the final document of the 2018 Synod of Bishops, which the synod fathers will vote upon paragraph by paragraph this Saturday.


Cardinal Gracias, a member of the drafting committee for the synod's final document said that the draft document being discussed by bishops this week, "doesn't put the victim at the center" in its treatment of sexual abuse.


"It says we commit ourselves to zero tolerance, but that's a phrase, a slogan, and it doesn't say what it means," Gracias continued.


Archbishop Charles J. Scicluna of Malta said that while the synod has not ignored the sexual abuse crisis, Catholics looking for thorough answers should "give the pope time."


Scicluna pointed to February 2019, when Pope Francis will convene a meeting of the presidents of the world's bishops' conferences to address the issue of sexual abuse.