A former priest arrested for alleged indecent assault of a teen-ager 11 years ago was released on bail Sunday after police detained him overnight for questioning.
Michael Lau, 42, became the first suspect to be arrested in an escalating controversy engulfing Hong Kong’s Roman Catholic Church over allegations that six priests were involved in child sex abuse.
The allegations come amid an unfolding pedophile priests’ scandal in the United States.
Diocesan authorities in Hong Kong reassured churchgoers Sunday they would not tolerate any sexual abuse by priests.
“It is beyond question that pedophile abuses are not only appalling sins but also serious crimes,” said a notice posted in Hong Kong Catholic Cathedral on Sunday.
Police spokesman T.K. Ng said that officers picked up Lau from his home in Hong Kong’s Western neighborhood on Saturday night after receiving a complaint from a man who accused the priest of abusing him in 1991 when he was 15 years old.
Ng said the man first went to the police in 1999 but the case was dropped due to insufficient evidence. Lau has not been formally charged and will report to police on Monday, Ng said.
Rev. Lawrence Lee, chancellor of the Catholic Diocese of Hong Kong, said Sunday that the victim complained to the church 11 years ago.
Lau, then a trainee priest, had admitted to the church that he had sexually abused the boy twice and the church asked him to leave the priesthood. Lee said the boy’s family had not wanted to report the matter to the police.
Separately, Ng said police had received a complaint Friday accusing another priest of sexually assaulting a student in 1997, but the complainant, who claimed he witnessed the alleged offense, could not provide more details about the victim to assist the investigation.
Lee said the church received two complaints on Friday.
In the first, a man claimed that he was sexually molested by a priest during a camping trip more than two decades ago when he was 15. Lee said the priest in question no longer worked in Hong Kong.
In the second, another man alleged a trainee priest sexually abused several of his classmates more than 30 years ago. The technical school involved in the second case was looking into the charges, Lee said.
A fifth priest accused of molesting a boy has been suspended from public ministry and was receiving therapy, while the sixth alleged offense took place in another country before the priest came to Hong Kong, Lee said.
As the church tried to reassure its members that it would not tolerate child sex abuse, some Hong Kong Catholics criticized the local diocese for its handling of priests who had sexually molested children — although many others said the revelations would not affect their faith.
“I think the church was to some extent trying to cover things up,” said Shirley Wong, a mother of two. “It’s unfair for the victims that it did not go to the police.”
Admitting that its past policies might not be up to date, the church has pledged to form an interdisciplinary committee to review its procedures.