Channel News Asia (CNA) [Queenstown, Singapore]
June 10, 2022
By Davina Tham
A prominent figure in Singapore’s Catholic community was sentenced to jail last month for sex offences against two teenage boys.
During investigations, it emerged that the man’s sexual misconduct was first uncovered in 2009 by leaders of a religious order of which he was a member.
But it took years before it was reported to the police and for him to be charged and sentenced.
The man, now in his 60s, cannot be named due to a court order that prohibits the publication of any information that could lead to identification of the victims.
The gag order covers the offender’s designation, appointment, the school he was linked to, and the name of his Catholic order.
Here is a timeline of events related to the case:
2005 TO 2006: SEX OFFENCES AGAINST VICTIM V2
The man came to know the first victim, identified as V2 in court documents, between 2003 and 2004, and they became close.
In 2005, when V2 was between 14 and 15, the man committed an indecent act on the boy. This happened at the man’s residence
Sometime from 2005 to 2006, he performed another sex act on V2, who was then aged 14 to 16, court documents said.
APRIL TO DECEMBER 2007: SEX OFFENCES AGAINST VICTIM V1
The man also became close to another victim, identified as V1 in court documents.
Between April 2007 and December 2007, the man performed a sex act and committed an indecent act on V1 when the boy was 14 to 15.
Sometime after that, V1 transferred schools.
2009: RELIGIOUS ORDER LEADERS LEARN ABOUT OFFENCES
In 2009, V1 confided in the sector leader of the man’s religious order about the incidents.
The boy was “struggling emotionally and socially” and felt “disgusted” about the sex acts the man had performed on him, according to court documents.
The sector leader counselled V1 and offered to escalate the matter to the police, but V1 refused, court documents stated.
Upon being questioned by his religious superior about V1’s allegations, the offender admitted that they were true.
He was immediately suspended from school activities by his superiors in the order, and prevented from returning to the school premises, according to court documents.
JUNE 2009: OFFENDER LEAVES SINGAPORE
In June 2009, the man left Singapore to receive treatment under a six-month therapy programme in the United States.
He was not under police investigation then as no police reports were lodged by the victims, according to court documents.
The man had no further contact with either victim after leaving for the US.
After he completed the therapy programme, he was posted to a different country where “he was no longer involved with minors”, court documents said.
He would return to Singapore for “one or two weeks at a time” to visit his family.
MAY 2013: CHANGE OF ARCHBISHOP
Archbishop William Goh succeeds former Archbishop Nicholas Chia, who retired after serving in the position since 2001.
MARCH 2020: OFFENDER RETURNS TO SINGAPORE
About 11 years after the offender admitted to the religious order leader about the sex abuse, he returned to Singapore to renew his missionary visa.
Due to the COVID-19 pandemic, he was unable to return to his country of ministry and remained in Singapore.
LATE 2020: SCHOOL BOARD LEARNS ABOUT OFFENCES
Sometime in late 2020, the man’s history was brought to the attention of a school board.
OCTOBER 2020: ARCHBISHOP INFORMED
Archbishop Goh was informed about the man’s offences in October 2020, according to the Roman Catholic Archdiocese of Singapore.
Responding to media queries in May 2022, the Archdiocese said: “The Roman Catholic Archbishop was only informed of the case in October 2020, during which time he gave instructions that the matter be reported to the police as it was a criminal offence and that a report be made directly to the Dicastery for Consecrated Life in Rome and to inform and update the Archbishop of the Diocese where the offence was committed in accordance with Vatican protocols.”
The Archdiocese added that religious orders within the Roman Catholic Church are “separately constituted” and are governed by their own judicial proceedings and administration of law.
MAY 10, 2021: POLICE REPORT LODGED
After an internal inquiry, the chairman of the school board lodged a police report.
The police followed up and started investigations immediately, according to court documents.
JAN 18, 2022: OFFENDER ARRESTED
Police arrested the man after the investigations were concluded.
JAN 20, 2022: OFFENDER CHARGED
The man was charged with two counts of voluntarily having carnal intercourse against the order of nature with V1 and V2, and two counts of committing indecent acts with the victims.
He was remanded for psychiatric observation to evaluate whether he suffered from any abnormality of mind that could have impaired his mental responsibility for the acts.
FEB 10, 2022: BAIL
On Feb 10, he was offered bail of S$15,000.
MAR 3, 2022: INTENTION TO PLEAD GUILTY
On Mar 3, the man’s defence lawyer informed the court of his client’s intention to plead guilty to the charges, as opposed to claiming trial.
MAY 5, 2022: OFFENDER IS CONVICTED AND SENTENCED
The man pleaded guilty to his offences and was convicted. He was sentenced to five years’ jail.
The prosecution asked for four to six years’ jail for the offender, citing his abuse of trust and authority, as well as the young ages of the victims.
The defence lawyer said the victims had “moved on” with their lives and were “doing well”, with no evidence to suggest they had been “marred” by the experience.
He asked for a shorter term for the offender, claiming the man had “lost himself” and was “overwhelmed” with his responsibilities.
In sentencing, District Judge Shaiffudin Saruwan noted the “egregious abuse of trust” in this case.
“The accused has exploited his position of significant influence and authority,” said the judge.
He added that the sentence must convey society’s disapproval of the harm caused by the man’s actions, and the need to protect vulnerable victims.
The judge said he also took into account the offender’s remorse, seen through his cooperation with investigations and decision to plead guilty, sparing the victims from testifying at trial.
MAY 5, 2022: ARCHBISHOP APOLOGISES
On the morning of the man’s conviction, Archbishop Goh issued a pastoral letter to the Catholic community in which he apologised on behalf of the church.
“It is with great sadness and regret that we have learnt of the case involving a member of our Church – who has committed sexual crimes against young people. Like many of you, I am dismayed, shocked, and ashamed,” said the Archbishop.
“My heartfelt sympathy to those who have suffered on account of this crime. I pray that they will find healing and closure, and we journey with them as a Church through this pain. May justice be rendered accordingly.”
MAY 6, 2022: CHURCH, POLICE RELEASE MORE INFORMATION
The Archdiocese released more information on the case in response to CNA’s queries, including when Archbishop Goh learnt about the man’s offences.
It said that Archbishop Goh was informed of the offences in October 2020, and he instructed that the matter be reported to the police and the Dicastery for Consecrated Life in Rome.
It added that the Church offers victims and their families help in terms of providing counselling support and spiritual support.
The Archdiocese declined to comment further on whether it made a police report.
The police said that upon completion of investigations, they issued a written advisory to a 64-year-old man to “remind him of his legal obligations under Section 424 of the Criminal Procedure Code”.
This was done after consulting the Attorney-General’s Chambers.
Section 424 of the Criminal Procedure Code states that every person aware of the commission of or intention to commit certain offences must immediately give the information to a police officer. This is if it is “in the absence of reasonable excuse”, says the Code.
Police did not specify who the 64-year-old man was or how he was related to the offender and the case.
MAY 11, 2022: CHURCH SAYS IT IS INVESTIGATING
In a statement, the Archdiocese said it was working with the offender’s religious order to “investigate the background of the case which occurred more than 10 years ago”.
The Archdiocese said it was also “taking steps to see how more information about the case can be publicly released in light of the existing gag order”.
It added that religious orders and boards of Catholic schools have been reminded of their obligation to report to the Archbishop immediately if they become aware of alleged offences against minors or vulnerable people.
JUN 5, 2022: RELIGIOUS ORDER SAYS VICTIMS WANTED PRIVACY
The Archdiocese said it had asked the religious order for more information on the case.
A statement on the Archdiocese’s website included a statement from the religious order. In the statement from the religious order, it said an investigation was initiated by the superior of the order for Singapore.
Only the local leader and the superior were involved in the investigations.
The victims were repeatedly told they could make a police report and would be accompanied to a police station to do, said the religious order.
“Both victims refused to do so and were insistent in wanting to keep the matter private,” added the religious order.
“Out of respect for the stated wishes and requested privacy of the victims, the superior did not make a police report then.”
The religious order said that the superior then focused on what to do about the offender, “who was remorseful and expressed willingness to accept all consequences”.
He was removed from his position and prevented from returning to the school premises. It was also revealed that the six-month treatment in the US was paid for by the religious order.
After the programme, the religious order abided by the recommendations of the treatment centre, which included not placing the offender in “any setting that involves working with minors”.
“Hence, the offender had to be posted to a different country, where he could undertake work that did not involve minors. The local religious superiors there were informed of his background and of the key restrictions of his recovery programme,” said the order.
The superior of the order for Singapore continued to monitor the offender’s adherence to the restrictions imposed by the programme and his commitment to therapy and recovery.
“To our knowledge, there are no other victims and the offender confirmed this,” said the order.
The order added that after the man’s actions were brought to the school board’s attention in late 2020, the order informed the Archbishop in October 2020.
The Archbishop then gave instructions that the matter is reported to the police. It added that it has “fully cooperated with the authorities” in their investigations.
JUN 5, 2022: CATHOLIC CHURCH SAYS IT ASKED FOR PARTIAL LIFTING OF GAG ORDER
The Archdiocese also said it asked the Attorney-General’s Chambers (AGC) to partially lift the gag order “for greater accountability and transparency”.
It sought a partial lifting of the gag order in relation to the offender’s identity, the name of his religious order and details of his subsequent treatment and postings.
“The AGC informed that they had carefully considered our request but were unable to accede to it,” said the Archdiocese.
JUN 6, 2022: AGC SAYS GAG ORDER IS TO PROTECT VICTIMS
In response to the previous day’s statement by the Archdiocese, the AGC confirmed it did not apply to lift or vary a gag order.
Doing so might lead to the identification of the victims, AGC explained.
“The gag order, which was applied for by AGC and issued by the Court, was specifically to protect the identity of the victims,” it said.
“It was not in any way sought to protect the interests of the accused person, or of the Catholic order involved.
“The gag order covered the identity of the accused because, based on the facts and circumstances of the case, the identification of the accused was likely to lead to the identification of the victims.”
AGC said that after the case was brought to court, lawyers acting for the Titular Roman Catholic Archbishop (TRCAS) of Singapore wrote to AGC to request for a partial lifting of the gag order.
“AGC’s paramount interest was, and remains, the protection of victims. We consider every request to lift a gag order carefully as victims’ interests are paramount.
“Therefore, we could not accede to the request from TRCAS, and declined to apply to the court to have the gag order lifted or varied.”