Hong Kong Police Probe Church AbuseMay 2, 2002 | AP
Police said Thursday they are investigating allegations that three Roman Catholic priests were found by church leaders to have sexually abused children, cases the Hong Kong church never reported to authorities.
The Catholic Diocese of Hong Kong confirmed in a written statement that three priests who worked here were accused of molestation, and two of them were suspended from public ministry. One of them later left the priesthood.
The third priest was accused of sexual abuse in another country, years before he came to Hong Kong, and was sent home and barred from any ministry involving contact with minors, the church said. It did not specify the country, but said there were no allegations of abuse by that priest in Hong Kong.
The allegations of molestation were first disclosed by the South China Morning Post newspaper, and come amid a Catholic Church molestation scandal in the United States that led to an emergency meeting last week in the Vatican (news - web sites).
The Post report was the first indication that Hong Kong may have a problem with pedophile priests.
Police spokeswoman Margaret Ho said late Thursday that police are still gathering information about the cases and haven't yet contacted the church.
The Rev. Francis Tse, vice chancellor of the Catholic Diocese of Hong Kong, declined to discuss the charges but told The Associated Press that the church also was investigating.
The Post said that it asked the leader of Hong Kong's 347,000 Catholics, Cardinal John Baptist Wu, about the allegations and received an e-mailed response that confirmed some details of the three cases but left many questions unanswered.
The e-mail, sent on Wu's behalf by the Rev. Lawrence Lee, chancellor of the Hong Kong Catholic Diocese, did not identify the victims or the priests because of privacy concerns.
But the e-mail to the Post, which has been seen by the AP, confirmed three cases of pedophilia among priests had taken place over the last 27 years.
"This might appear to be a small number in comparison (to) the number of Catholic priests working in Hong Kong. However, as far as the church is concerned, even one case is already too many," the e-mail said. More than 300 Catholic priests are working in Hong Kong.
The majority of Hong Kong's 6.9 million people are Buddhists and Taoists. About 530,000 are Christians. The rest are Muslims, Hindus, Sikhs and Jews.
The e-mail said action against the priests had been taken "in accordance with church law by requiring them to do penance, undergo a spiritual renewal, and receive counseling and psychiatric therapy."
The church apologized to the victims and their families and provided "counseling, psychiatric and financial assistance," the e-mail said.
The church's written statement, released Thursday night, said the Hong Kong church would adopt a no-tolerance policy toward molestation.
"That means any Catholic priest, working in Hong Kong, once proven to have committed even one act of sexual abuse of a minor, shall be removed from public ministry," the statement said.