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Catholic Cleric says Hong Kong Church Didn't Handle Abuses Properly

May 6, 2002 | AP

A senior Roman Catholic cleric acknowledged Monday the church did an inadequate job handling past allegations of child sex abuse, but he pledged that officials will respond better to any future cases.

If the church learns of any more pedophile priests, it might report them to the police, which did not happen previously, the Rev. Lawrence Lee said on government-owned radio RTHK.

"In the future, we'll consider the victim's age and the seriousness of the offense, among other factors," said Lee, chancellor of the Hong Kong Catholic Diocese. "Maybe there are cases that we have to report as a matter of principle."

Lee said the church had not reported past abuse cases partly because it wasn't a legal requirement in Hong Kong and also because victims and their families didn't want to go public.

A former priest, Michael Lau, was arrested over the weekend for alleged indecent assault on a teen-ager 11 years ago, but he was released on bail Sunday. No charges against him had been filed as of Monday evening, police said.

Lee had said Sunday six priests who worked here were allegedly involved in child sex abuse, but on the radio show Monday he said five were allegedly involved.

Lee told The Associated Press later Monday he changed the number because he doubted the credibility of one person who claimed to have witnessed an offense but did not cooperate with the church and would not name the victim.

Lau is so far the only person arrested in the escalating scandal that broke last week, and Lee told the AP that Lau is the only one who has left the priesthood.

The rest are still active in the church, but two have been suspended from public ministry, including one who has left Hong Kong, Lee said.

Police have said they are investigating the allegations, and the vice chancellor of the Hong Kong church, the Rev. Francis Tse, said Friday the church would cooperate with the investigation.

Lee said in the future, church officials will require local Catholic organizations to report any abuse to a central monitoring system.

Police said Monday that Hong Kong law does not require third parties to report child abuse.

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