Singapore’s most senior Catholic clergyman, Archbishop William Goh, apologized on behalf of the Church on Thursday after a member of its monastic order was sentenced to five years in prison for sexual acts on two young boys.

Goh said he was “dismayed, appalled, and ashamed” to learn of the situation, which occurred more than ten years ago, in a pastoral letter published on Thursday.

Catholic Church scandal Singapore
Catholic Church scandal Singapore

“I humbly apologise on behalf of the Church,” wrote Goh. “I want to assure you that the Archdiocese takes very seriously the provision of a safe environment, especially where children and young persons are present.”

According to news accounts, he is a “prominent figure” in Singapore’s Catholic community. He is in his mid-sixties, celibate, and has never married.

Both teenage boys had asked the man to be their godfather for their Catholic process of confirmation, which meant he would be their spiritual advisor and mentor.

On Thursday, a member of the Church pled guilty to one charge of voluntarily having sexual intercourse against the order of nature and one charge under the country’s Children and Young Persons Act, according to the national newspaper The Straits Times.

When the boys were 14 and 15, the man became close to them, and their friendship progressed to him performing sex acts on both of them.

The first occurrence happened between January 2005 and December 2006, while the second occurred between April and December 2007.

The two victims were now working adults with their own families who had “gone on” with their lives, said to defense counsel Edmond Pereira, and there was no proof they had been “marred” by the incident.

Pereira also stated that his client had undergone four to five years of rehabilitation in the United States as a result of the crimes committed.

District Judge Shaiffudin Saruwan said the punishment needed to express society’s condemnation of the man’s behavior and the need to safeguard vulnerable victims, citing the “egregious abuse of trust” in the case.

Due to legal restrictions, the identity of the individual, his victims, and the location of the crimes cannot be revealed.

While the Catholic Church has been accused of widespread child sexual abuse in the United States and Europe, such incidents have been uncommon in Singapore.

In 2018, after a report in Pennsylvania in the US detailed the abuse of 1,000 children in six dioceses, Goh said Singapore had investigated a handful of such cases that were “judged inconclusive”.

On Thursday, Goh said it was “sobering” to have such an incident happen in Singapore.

“Many good Church leaders have sacrificed much to remain faithful to the gospel and have worked hard to instil the values of our Catholic faith in the young. A cloud of suspicion now hangs over those who have given themselves to live a life of service,” he said.

“Let this incident be a wake-up call for us all to take our spiritual life seriously and be awakened from a complacent faith.”

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