Prominent figure in Catholic community jailed 5 years for sex offences against 2 teenage boys
Catholic Archbishop of Singapore Reverend William Goh apologised on behalf on the Church, saying the incident was a "wake-up call for us all to take our spiritual life seriously".
SINGAPORE: A prominent figure in the local Catholic community was jailed for five years on Thursday (May 5) for sexual offences against two teenage boys.
The Singaporean man, a member of a Catholic order, had taken a vow of celibacy and has never married, according to court documents.
The identity of the victims is protected by gag order. The man cannot be named due to gag orders prohibiting the publication of his name, designation, appointment and a school to which he was linked.
He pleaded guilty to one charge of carnal intercourse against the order of nature and one charge of committing an indecent act with a young person.
Two more charges for similar offences were considered for sentencing.
VICTIMS AND OFFENDER WERE CLOSE
The court heard that the first victim, identified in court documents as V1, often saw the offender at chapel. The man extended care and concern to V1 and would ask him how he was doing.
The pair grew close. They started to exchange hugs, which escalated into back and leg massages that the man gave V1.
On multiple occasions, the man performed sex acts on the boy, who was between 14 and 15 years old at the time.
The second victim was identified in court documents as V2.
The boy and the man were close and affectionate, and would hug often. The man would go out for meals with the boy's family, and the boy confided in the man.
The man developed "strong feelings" for V2 and started giving him full-body massages, the court heard.
These escalated into sex acts on multiple occasions in 2005 when the boy was between 14 and 15 years old.
DISCOVERY OF OFFENCES
In 2009, V1 was struggling emotionally and socially and felt "disgusted" about the sexual acts the offender had done, according to court documents.
V1 confided in the sector leader of the Catholic order in Singapore, who counselled him and offered to escalate the matter to the police. However, the boy refused.
The offender was questioned by his religious superior about V1's allegations and admitted that they were true. He was immediately suspended from his responsibilities.
In June 2009, the offender left Singapore to receive treatment under a six-month therapy programme at an institute in the United States.
"As no police reports were lodged by the victims, he was not under police investigation then," stated court documents.
After completing the therapy programme, the man was posted to a different country where his work did not involve minors.
He would return to Singapore for one to two weeks at a time to visit his family, and had no further contact with the victims.
In March 2020, the offender came back to Singapore to renew his missionary visa, which was expiring. However, he was unable to return overseas due to the COVID-19 pandemic.
In late 2020, the offender's history was brought to the attention of the board of the school to which he was linked.
On May 10 last year, following an internal inquiry, the chairman of the school board lodged a police report.
The police started investigations and arrested the offender on Jan 18 this year. He was charged in court two days later.
HE "LOST HIMSELF", SAYS DEFENCE
Deputy Public Prosecutors Sarah Siaw and Gail Wong asked for four to six years' jail for the offender, citing his abuse of trust and authority.
The prosecutors highlighted the young age of the victims during the offences, and the fact that the sex acts took place multiple times.
Defence lawyer Edmond Pereira said that the two victims were now working adults with their own families.
He said they had "moved on" with their lives and were "doing well", with no evidence to suggest they had been "marred" by the experience.
Asking for a shorter jail term, the lawyer said that during the time of the offences, the offender had "lost himself" and was "overwhelmed" with his responsibilities.
However, this was not an excuse for his actions and he has apologised for his wrongdoing, said Mr Pereira.
He cited a report by an Institute of Mental Health psychiatrist stating that the man's risk of reoffending was very low given his treatment with therapy.
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.
Archbishop of Singapore Reverend William Goh on Thursday morning said that he was "dismayed, shocked and ashamed" over the case, adding that the incident was a "wake-up call for us all to take our spiritual life seriously".
"As Archbishop and leader of the Catholic Community in Singapore, I humbly apologise on behalf of the Church," Reverend Goh said in a letter posted on the Archdiocese's website.
"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."
He said that the Archdiocese takes the provision of a safe environment very seriously, especially where children and young persons are present.
"The cold reality of having an incident like this on our shores is sobering," wrote Reverend Goh.
"Many good Church leaders have sacrificed much to remain faithful to the gospel and have worked hard to instil the values of our Catholic faith in the young.
"A cloud of suspicion now hangs over those who have given themselves to live a life of service."
The offence of carnal intercourse against the order of nature, which has since been repealed, is punishable with up to 10 years' jail and a fine.
Committing an indecent act with a young person is punishable with up to two years' jail, a fine of up to S$5,000 or both for first-time offenders. The maximum punishments are doubled for repeated offenders.