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Prosecutors Push To Keep Sex Abuse Case Against Former Catholic Priest On Track

Jan 7, 2003 | AP

A former Catholic priest should be tried for the alleged sexual abuse of a boy even though more than a decade passed before he was charged, a prosecutor said Tuesday.

"Many cases of sexual abuse don't come to light for years," prosecutor Michael Arthur told the judge hearing ex-priest Michael Lau's case.

Lau was to have gone on trial Monday on charges that emerged during a pedophilia-and-coverup scandal that rocked Hong Kong's Roman Catholic Church last year.

But his lawyer, Cheng Huan, has tried to stop the government's case by arguing that the alleged abuse in 1991 and 1992 occurred too long ago and that evidence has been destroyed. The alleged victim, now in his late 20s, is schizophrenic and cannot clearly remember what happened, Cheng said Monday.

Arthur said Tuesday the alleged victim is capable of testifying. He agreed the young man is schizophrenic but said the alleged abuse might have contributed to his problems.

The alleged victim was a teen at the time of the reported attacks and his family was close to the priest, so the victim did not come forward for years, the prosecutor said.

The prosecutor also took issue with defense arguments that Lau's case would be damaged by missing evidence, including his inability to get testimony from the former head of the Hong Kong church, Cardinal John Baptist Wu, who died in September.

Testimony from Wu would not have helped Lau, the prosecutor said, because Wu suspended the priest after an internal investigation and ordered him to spend a month on an outlying island as penance.

District Court Judge Maggie Poon said she would probably rule Friday on whether the case will proceed.

Lau, 42, is the only person to have been arrested in the Hong Kong church scandal, which echoed problems faced by the church in the United States and elsewhere last year.

Lau has worked as an insurance agent since he was defrocked in 1995 following the internal church investigation that found he twice molested a 15-year-old boy. The church never reported its findings to police.

Prosecutors modified their case against Lau on Monday, charging him with four counts of indecent assault and one count of attempted sodomy, which could put him in prison for up to seven years if he is convicted on all counts.

Lau has not entered a plea, but he previously pleaded innocent to the original charges, three counts of indecent assault and one count of procuring an act of gross indecency.

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