By Amanda Watson | The Citizen |
Frustration at nearly 30 years of inaction by the Society of Jesus (the Jesuits) in response to allegations of sexual abuse and rape against a clergyman nearly led to a hunger strike on the steps of the Christ the King Cathedral Catholic Church in Johannesburg this week.
Yesterday, an emotional William Segodisho told the media his story of how he had run away from the police in Polokwane during 1985 as a 10-year-old activist against apartheid, and eventually met up with a Catholic church father.
“I’ve kept silent for almost three decades, but I’m not getting any younger,” Segodisho said.
“Life is unpredictable, and I would hate to take this to the grave. I’ve made a decision to come out into the open and tell the very sordid story of what happened to me.”
While at Streetwise Children’s Shelter opposite the Women’s Jail, Segodisho said the priest – who then oversaw the shelter – took him under his wing, feeding, clothing, and promising him an education.
In excruciating detail, Segodisho told of how the priest had led him to believe Segodisho could show his appreciation by allegedly masturbating him.
It wasn’t too bad at first, said Segodisho, except for the kissing.
“I was 13 going on 14. I hadn’t even thought of a girlfriend, and here was an elderly man kissing me. It was disgusting.”
However, Segoshiso said, the priest plied him with alcohol and a drunk Segodisho gave him “a bit of pleasure”.
“It was nothing serious, nothing which would harm me, I just had to play with him, I just had to masturbate him.”
This went on for a few years, until one fateful night in Amanzimtoti where the two were on holiday.
“That night, Father Bill did more than just molest me. That night, Father Bill went a step further. While I was drunk, he took the opportunity to penetrate me, to rape me,” Segodisho said, his anguish plain to see.
Eventually, said Segodisho, another priest – who has since died – noticed what was going on.
That priest also began to abuse him, he says.
Ironically, it was this same “Father” who helped Segodisho after he complained to him, and the priest was transferred to England at the end of 1989.
But by then the damage had been done, and Segodisho sank into an alcohol- and drug-induced haze to escape the shame he felt.
Once the money the priest had been paying to a prestigious KwaZulu-Natal midlands private school dried up – where an angry Segodisho had previously stabbed a fellow pupil for racism – there was nothing left to protect him.
Once he arrived back in Johannesburg, the church systematically began to cut him off until he was back on the street again.
Fast-forward to yesterday, and Segodisho has been divorced once already, has two children, and is leading a semi-functional life.
And he still hates the priest.
Segodisho’s attorney Ian Levitt – known for his prominent role in the Frankel 8 matter that saw the law regarding sexual offences rewritten – says that due to the priest’s alleged frailty, he does not have high hopes for his extradition to South Africa to face possible criminal charges.
However, notes Levitt, a civil claim is in the process of being drawn up in the meantime, and will be ready in a few weeks.
The Society of Jesus apologised in writing for the matter twice, most recently on Monday when Father Damian Howard acknowledged the case had been reported to the church already in 2001.
“Fr [name withheld] was informed of the allegations by the British Provincial and withdrawn from all active ministry. He has never ministered again. We have taken steps to ensure that there is no safeguarding risk to children,” Howard said.
However, there’s a large gap between 1990 when the priest was sent to England, and 2001 when “the case” was reported, again.
It is because of this – and the fact that as head of the Streetwise Children’s Shelter, the priest had access to a large number of children over the years – it is believed that in the public interest he should be named to encourage any other possible survivors to come forward too.
“We demand that the Catholic Church in South Africa and Britain release all records relating to credible allegations and investigations into this priest during his tenure at all parishes where he was active,” said Rees Mann of NGO South African Male Survivors of Sexual Abuse (Samsosa).
He also called for the law to be applied when it came to the confessional box.
“We strongly believe the Church should not be above the law and our South African Constitution,” said Mann.
“The correspondence and other documentation (see screenshots below) depict a woefully inadequate attempt at pacifying a person who suffered immense and unforgivable trauma at the hands of a priest who has betrayed the trust placed in him.
“To date, the man has been denied access to or contact with his abuser, which is deemed wholly necessary, in his own words, as part of his road to healing, and further contradicts the Jesuit Mission statement, whereby they profess to ‘work for reconciliation every day — with God, with human beings and with the environment’.”
When Segodisho wanted to go on his hunger strike, Miranda Friedman of Women and Men against Child Abuse said it was “absolutely” not the way to go.
“It’s dangerous to go out there, since they hadn’t done anything in all these years. Who says they’ll do anything now? We decided to let William tell his story, his full life story, and maybe it will reach his abuser now,” said Friedman.
“I could not believe his suffering. It was palpable today. What we heard today, should profoundly affect every human being.”