Dutch bishop investigated for alleged abuse in Kenya

The Dutch Public Prosecutor’s Office in Arnhem is investigating whether there is enough evidence to prosecute Bishop Cornelius Schilder for the sexual abuse of an underage boy in Kenya 18 years ago, a spokesperson has confirmed to Radio Netherlands Worldwide.

Bishop Schilder, now living near the Dutch village of Oosterbeek, has been interrogated by the police, according to an insider. On Monday his lawyer told RNW that Schilder denies all allegations against him.

The Dutch Public Prosecutor launched an investigation after a report surfaced earlier this year through the Deetman Commission, which is researching abuse in the Dutch Catholic Church.

Complicated

The Commission refused to comment directly on the matter, but confirmed that it submits serious complaints to the Public Prosecutor’s Office. The police officially logged the accusation following a request to investigate from the Public Prosecutor.

Spokesperson Ellen Prummel confirmed that the Arnhem Public Prosecutor’s vice squad is considering whether or not the case “truly indicates a criminal offence, and if there are enough leads to warrant further investigation”.

Prummel could not confirm how long this will take. The fact that the victim is living in Kenya and has not notified the police in the Netherlands makes it a “complicated case.” It is also unclear whether the abuse happened too long ago to be prosecuted under Dutch law.

‘Passed on’

The accuser, 32-year-old Michael ole Uka, claims he was abused for years by various foreign priests in Kenya. He came forward in 2005 and informed the church authorities of his allegations when he suffered such severe injuries from abuse that he required urgent medical treatment.

The treatment was paid for by the Mill Hill Missionaries, the congregation to which the accused priests and Dutch bishop belong. Uka also received financial compensation and further aid.

The congregation expatriated an Irish priest involved in the abuse. Mill Hill has relieved the priest of his duties but is still waiting for a Vatican decision to laicise him.

Uka says the abuse started when he was seven years old.

Several members of the clergy allegedly ‘passed him on’ to each other.

The abusers paid Uka’s school fees, which made him feel obliged to permit the abuse, although he says: “I knew it was wrong what they were doing.”

In addition to Schilder, Uka says he was also abused by another Dutch priest who has since passed away.

“He gave me a coffee, showed me my room and started touching me immediately” says Uka, describing his first encounter with Cornelius Schilder.

Touch him

Uka told of his apparent ordeal in a documentary shown on Irish television last month and says the bishop began abusing him in 1993 when he was 14 years old.

At the time, Schilder was a priest in the Kenyan diocese of Ngong.

In 2003, he was promoted to bishop in Ngong.

“He asked me whether this other priest had touched me as well, and I said yes. Then he told me to touch him too and do the same things I had done to the other priest. At the time I thought all priests did these kinds of things.”

The documentary on the Irish RTE network also quoted the father superior of the Mill Hill Missionaries, Anthony Chantry.

According to Chantry, the case has not been reported to the Kenyan police because homosexuality is still a crime in Kenya.

Serious conversation

Mill Hill earlier told Radio Netherlands Worldwide that a congregation official in Kenya had discussed the accusations with both the bishop and the victim.

It was then decided to ask the Archbishop of the Roman Catholic Church in Kenya and the Papal Nuncio, the Ambassador to the Vatican in Nairobi, to conduct an ecclesiastical investigation.

Both declined to take action.

After repeated failed requests by the Mill Hill Missionaries, the Vatican finally intervened three years later, according to an insider.

In August 2009 the Dutch bishop was summoned to Rome for a “very serious conversation”.

He did not return to Kenya but went into immediate retirement in a Mill Hill home in the Dutch town of Oosterbeek.

False and inappropriate

Rome’s official line is that Bishop Schilder has health problems.

Since 2009 he has no longer been allowed to carry out the duties of a bishop and as a priest he has been placed under supervision of Mill Hill.

This makes him the first Dutch bishop to be punished by the Vatican for sexual abuse of a minor.

As Michael ole Uka sees it, justice has not been done. His life has been ruined, “while the bishop enjoys his pension in Europe”.

Bishop Schilder denies the accusation and has until now been unwilling to speak to the media.

On Monday, however, he told RNW via his lawyer that “Michael ole Uka’s accusation of sexual abuse is false.”

Bishop Schilder also added that he “considers it inappropriate to issue a statement as long as an investigation is ongoing.”

He says he regrets that the media have publicised the matter before investigations are completed.

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Massachusetts diocese mourns loss of priest who committed suicide

SPRINGFIELD, Mass. (CNS) — Many Catholics in the Springfield Diocese mourned the loss of Father Paul J. Archambault, a 42-year-old priest who was found dead July 3 at the rectory of Our Lady of the Sacred Heart Parish in Springfield.

Springfield police confirmed that the priest, a chaplain at Baystate Medical Center in Springfield and a part-time parochial vicar at St. Mary Parish in Hampden, died from a self-inflicted gunshot wound.

“We are all diminished by the tragic death of Father Paul Archambault. He was a good and pastoral priest, a caring chaplain and a devout man,” said Springfield Bishop Timothy A. McDonnell in a statement.

“Yet he was not immune to illness,” he added. “Most of us realize that physical illness can be fatal; we sometimes forget that the same is true of illnesses that have no physical cause but wrack the spirit still.”

He prayed that God would bring the priest “safely home, rewarding all the good he accomplished and relieving the burdens he found unbearable.”

Bishop McDonnell was scheduled to celebrate a funeral Mass for Father Archambault July 12 at St. Elizabeth Ann Seton Church in Northampton, to be followed by burial at St. Mary’s Cemetery there.

Mark E. Dupont, diocesan spokesman, said Father Archambault celebrated 4 p.m. Mass July 2 at St. Mary Church in Hampden and was later called to Baystate Medical Center’s emergency department to minister to a Catholic patient. He was last seen leaving the hospital at 6:45 p.m.

“We know that he had been quite busy performing his priestly duties throughout the holiday weekend, which was very typical as he was a very dedicated and devout young priest,” said Dupont.

Father Archambault was scheduled to celebrate Mass at St. Mary’s again July 3. When he didn’t show up, friends and family members became concerned and started a search.

“Throughout the day Sunday, with assistance from Springfield police, calls were made to anyone who might have had contact with Father Archambault. Later, in the afternoon, based on some information that had been received, another search of the rectory was conducted and his body was discovered,” Dupont said.

George D’Astous, Father Archambault’s cousin, said his family is devastated. “Father Paul was a people’s priest,” D’Astous told the diocesan news website, www.iobserve.org.

The priest graduated from St. John’s Seminary in Brighton, Mass., in 2000 and was ordained in the Diocese of Springfield in 2005.

For the last several years he led a eucharistic rosary procession through the streets of Northampton, where he grew up. The priest was also very involved in the diocesan pro-life efforts. He took part in prayer vigils for life and was often seen praying in front of the Planned Parenthood League of Springfield.

Robin Sheehan, who knew Father Archambault through the pro-life community and the rosary procession, said he gave many Catholics the courage to witness for Christ.

“He was so consistent. He didn’t mince his words. That’s what I saw in him,” said Sheehan.

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Father Bob ‘pressured to quit’ post

VICTORIAN of the Year Father Bob Maguire says he is being made to quit his post as parish priest against his will, and that his ejection could unravel his community work.

Father Maguire is due to step down as parish priest at South Melbourne’s Church of St Peter and St Paul on February 1 next year, as he agreed in a letter to the Archbishop of Melbourne, Denis Hart, in 2009.

But the celebrity Catholic priest said yesterday that he was ”pressured” into writing the letter and in fact wants to remain in the job beyond that date, as his position as parish priest is integral to the church’s work in the community.

”Why would you go to the trouble of breaking up the relationship when in fact everybody seems to be agreeing that it’s a bloody good thing?” he said.

Father Maguire resisted an attempt by Archbishop Hart two years ago to nudge him into retirement upon his 75th birthday, winning an extension in the role until February 1, 2012.

”In 2009 I was pressured into signing a letter of resignation,” he said. ”I turned 75 and [Archbishop Hart] said ‘look, the custom now is to offer your resignation and if you offer it, I’ll take it’. So I said, ‘I don’t know that I’ll offer it’.”

Father Maguire – best known for his appearances on TV and radio alongside comedian John Safran, but also for his work with the homeless and the poor – said he could not understand why he was being singled out for retirement when many Catholic priests continue to work well beyond the age of 75.

But Archbishop Hart said the move was ”consistent with canon law, which asks a priest who turns 75 to offer his resignation”.

”While there may be older parish priests in Victoria their appointment is dependent on the assessment by the local bishop of the circumstances of the priest, parish and diocese,” the archbishop added.

Now 77 but still committed to his church and community work, Father Maguire questioned whether it was his attention-grabbing style, rather than his age, behind the move.

”Maybe the Roman style currently prevailing in the Catholic Church thinks that I’m a bogan,” he said.

Father Maguire was named Victorian of the Year last week for his community service work.

He dedicated the award to his parishioners, saying they had joined him in reaching out to the local community, especially those living in South Melbourne’s public housing estate.

Archbishop Hart also praised Father Maguire’s community work, saying he had ”thoroughly deserved the Victorian of the Year award”.

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Austrian cardinal silent on sex abuse

A cardinal with the Roman Catholic Church in Austria has been accused of keeping silent about a sexual abuse case when he was a bishop in 1994.

Cardinal Christoph Schonborn of Vienna is the target of a lawsuit brought by a woman who charges that the prelate failed to respond to a plea for help.

The 45-year-old woman said that she asked for help in 1994, at a time when the future cardinal was serving as an auxiliary bishop in Vienna.

A spokesman for Cardinal Schonborn said that the cardinal would have taken action if he had heard serious complaints.

He described the meeting between Schonborn and the allegedly molested woman as a confessional conversation.

The spokesman also said that the Klasnic commission, which was established by Schonborn last year, financed therapy sessions for the woman.

Nearly 1,000 people contacted the commission. Nearly three quarters of victims that decided to report to the body are men, according to Die Presse newspaper.

The paper also reports that many of the victims abstained from asking for money but demanded apologies instead.

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Court to decide Catholic church liability for priest abuse

The Roman Catholic church’s liability for the wrongdoings of its priests is being tested in a high court hearing that could have a significant impact on clerical sexual abuse cases.

Mr Justice MacDuff has been asked to decide if the relationship between a bishop and a priest is similar to that between employers and their staff.

The case has arisen after a woman, known as JGE, brought a case against the diocese of Portsmouth, alleging that one of its priests had abused her while she was a resident at a Catholic children’s home, The Firs, in Waterlooville, Hampshire. The three-day hearing, which started yesterday, will not focus on the abuse claims but on the issue of corporate liability.

She claims Father Wilfrid Baldwin was able to gain access to The Firs and have contact with its residents through his work as a priest. According to her lawyers, Baldwin’s duties establish a connection between the church and the priest.

“In effect, priests are carrying out their working assigned to them by their bishop and furthering the cause of the diocese,” Elizabeth-Anne Gumbel QC, counsel for the woman, argued. “As the correspondence between Father Baldwin and his bishop demonstrates, he was dependent on the bishop to assign him a post and to control when he moved from one post to another and even to control when he was permitted to retire. The degree of control was, if anything, in excess of that in the typical employer/employee relationship.”

The issue to be determined, Gumbel said, was whether the church “can ever be vicariously liable in any situation for any tort at all”. It was, she added, “a very wide issue indeed”.

Lawyers for the alleged victim say it is the first time a court has been asked to rule on whether the “relationship between a Catholic priest and his bishop is akin to an employment relationship”.

If the answer was “yes” then the next issue would be whether the priest was carrying out the actions complained of in circumstances that were “closely connected” with his role and/or work as a priest.

If the answer was “no” there would be “no circumstances where the Roman Catholic church is liable for the actions of one of its priests whether deliberate or careless and however closely connected those actions were to the role of priest”.

Gumbel told the judge this would place the church “in a unique position as far as avoiding responsibility for the acts or omissions of any priest working within the church organisation in whatever role”.

Although the point to be decided has arisen in a damages action over alleged sex abuse, any decision will affect other types of claims made against the church.

The diocese denies it is vicariously liable and is defending itself against the claim. A ruling in its favour would mean the church could avoid paying compensation to victims of clerical sexual abuse.

The woman’s solicitor, Tracey Emmott, said in a statement that the church claimed the relationship “between the bishop of the diocese and the parish priest in question does not amount to anything akin to a relationship of employment and therefore there cannot be any ‘vicarious’ responsibility for the priest’s acts”.

The hearing continues.

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