Police said Thursday that Hong Kong’s Roman Catholic Church appears to have been shielding alleged pedophile priests rather than taking action to protect victims of sexual abuse by the clergy.
The lead investigator in eight alleged abuse case that have emerged since early May has complained that the church is refusing to hand over written confessions apparently made by some priests during internal church probes.
“It seems that the church has been protecting its reputation and priests rather than the victims,” Police Superintendent Shirley Chu said. Chu spoke to local reporters on Wednesday and her comments were confirmed Thursday by police spokesman Mackenzie Mak.
The church has been mired in an unfolding scandal involving alleged sexual abuse of children by as many as six priests who have worked in Hong Kong.
Allegations that the church knew of the abuse but did not inform the authorities have mirrored some of the complaints in a massive child sex abuse case that has rocked the U.S. Catholic Church.
Hong Kong church officials say some cases were confirmed in internal investigations and that they now have adopted a “zero tolerance” policy toward child sex abuse, including helping the police as appropriate.
But a spokesman, the Rev. Lawrence Lee, has been quoted by local media as saying confessions by priests would not be handed over because that would violate the trust the priests placed in their superiors when they confessed.
The investigators are asking Hong Kong Justice Secretary Elsie Leung whether they might have grounds for seeking a court order demanding that the church produce the confessions, police spokeswoman S.Y. Ho said Thursday.
Lee did not immediately respond to a reporter’s inquiry about the latest police allegations.
The two most recent complaints were received after a police hot line was set up last week. Callers told police about alleged offenses that took place during the 1960s and 1970s, Ho said.
Ho said all but one of the eight alleged victims were boys, and none of the cases involved allegations of rape.
One priest was said to have abused a girl in his home country before he was transferred to Hong Kong, where the church has said no allegations of wrongdoing by that priest have surfaced. The priest was later sent home.
The investigations have only led to one arrest so far. Former priest Michael Lau was taken into custody on May 4 and released on bail the next day. No charge has yet been filed.
Lau left the priesthood after the church found in an internal hearing that he had sexually molested a 15-year-old boy twice in 1994.
The church has been heavily criticized by churchgoers and the public for failing to report any of the cases to the police.
Police have said two of the priests have moved elsewhere, one to Australia and one to Canada.