Police issue advisory to man for not reporting sex crime by S'pore Catholic order member

The police in Singapore have issued an advisory to a man for not reporting a sex offence by a member of the Catholic religious order in 2007. PHOTO: ST FILE

SINGAPORE - The police have issued a written advisory to a 64-year-old man who did not report to them that a boy had been sexually abused in 2007.

The offender, a man who was part of a Catholic religious order, was sentenced to five years' jail on Thursday (May 5) for committing unlawful sexual acts with two teenage boys between 2005 and 2007.

They were aged between 14 and 15 at the time of the offences.

The court heard on Thursday that one of the victims had confided in the sector leader of the Catholic order in 2009 about the sexual abuse. The victim was asked if he wanted to make a police report, but he refused.

The perpetrator was then questioned by his religious superior about the allegations, and admitted to them. He was suspended and sent for a six-month therapy programme in June 2009 in the United States.

No police report was made against him then.

Responding to queries from The Straits Times on whether legal action would be taken against either the sector leader or the religious superior, the police said on Friday: "Upon completion of investigations, the police, in consultation with the Attorney-General's Chambers, issued a written advisory to a 64-year-old man to remind him of his legal obligations under Section 424 of the Criminal Procedure Code (CPC)."

The police added: "Organisations and members of the public are advised to report sexual crime cases to the police. Police investigations are confidential, and police officers are trained to manage victims sensitively and appropriately."

Section 424 of the CPC requires anyone who is aware that certain crimes have been committed or knows of a person's intention to commit such crimes to immediately give that information to the police unless the person has a reasonable excuse.

In a Straits Times forum letter in November 2020, the Ministry of Home Affairs (MHA) said what constitutes a reasonable excuse depends on the facts and circumstances of each case. It added it was reviewing if, and how, it could clarify the scope of the term, or allow for exceptions to be made.

On Friday, a spokesman for the Roman Catholic Archdiocese of Singapore said Archbishop William Goh was informed of the case only in October 2020. He succeeded Archbishop Emeritus Nicholas Chia as head of the Roman Catholic Church in Singapore in May 2013.

The spokesman said the Archbishop had followed protocols and instructed that a report be made directly to the Dicastery for Consecrated Life. This is the body in Rome, Italy, that is responsible for everything concerning religious orders.

He had also asked for the matter to be referred to the police here.

The spokesman added: "Religious orders within the Roman Catholic Church are separately constituted and are governed by their own judicial proceedings and administration of law."

The spokesman did not address why those in the religious order did not make a police report when the offences first came to light. He said some of the questions The Straits Times asked were specific to the offender and that an answer would lead to contravening the gag order.

Veteran criminal lawyer Amolat Singh, who has more than 25 years' experience, said that once a crime is committed, there is a duty under the CPC to report it.

"They should not become the final filter that chooses which incident they should report because there is a duty to report to the police who are properly equipped to get to the bottom of things, especially because it could involve other children and parents," he said of the perpetrator's superiors.

On Thursday, the offender, who was part of a Catholic religious order that established a school in Singapore, pleaded guilty to one charge of voluntarily having carnal intercourse against the order of nature and one charge under the Children and Young Persons Act.

Details about the man, who is in his 60s, and his victims cannot be disclosed due to the gag order. The gag order also covers the man's designation and appointment and the address of where the incident happened.

The man committed the sex act on the first victim, whom he taught religious and moral education in lower secondary school, in 2005, and the second victim between April and December 2007.

In March 2020, he returned to Singapore to renew his missionary visa but was unable to return to his posting owing to the Covid-19 pandemic.

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In late 2020, his history was brought to the attention of the school board. The chairman of the school's board lodged a police report on May 10 last year, following an internal inquiry. The police arrested the man on Jan 18 this year.

A teacher who was formerly from the school where the offender had taught said the offender was a good public speaker. "He was convincing and able to captivate his audience," the teacher said.

She added she never suspected anything was wrong, and was shocked when she learnt he could have been involved in the cases.

How the case unfolded

Some time in 2005: The man performs a sexual act on the first victim.

April to December 2007: The man performs a sexual act on the second victim.

Some time in 2009: The second victim confides in the sector leader of the order, who then counsels him and offers to report the matter to the police, but the victim refuses. The offender admits to the allegations. He is suspended and prevented from returning to the school where he teaches.

June 2009: The man leaves Singapore to get treatment in the United States for six months. No police report is filed against him. After his treatment, he is posted to a different country.

March 2020: He returns to Singapore to renew his missionary visa and is unable to return to his country of ministry owing to the pandemic.

Some time in late 2020: His history is brought to the attention of the school board.

October 2020: Archbishop William Goh is informed of the case and gives instructions to report the matter to the police.

May 10, 2021: The chairman of the school board makes a police report.

Jan 18, 2022: The man is arrested.

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