A Roman Catholic priest who is allegedly facing charges of molesting five boys while based at a Randburg parish three years ago had “run away” to South Africa after facing similar allegations in his home town in Germany.
Church authorities on Thursday failed to explain how a priest who had allegedly committed such serious crimes had managed to avoid detection and land in a Johannesburg parish.
A source close to the case told The New Age that Fr Georg Kerkhoff was subsequently moved by the church and was “operating within the archdiocese of Cape Town”.
Durban Cardinal Wilfrid Napier’s comments that paedophilia is an illness and not a crime has brought the spotlight on the soft treatment of alleged child abusers within the Catholic church.
The Teddy Bear organisation, which has been working with Kerkhoff’s South African victims, intends raising this case with Napier when he arrives from Rome at the weekend.
According to European media, the German Catholic Church had ignored abuse complaints laid almost 10 years previously against Kerkhoff who allegedly shared beds and had saunas and showers with boys and young men in Germany.
Kerkhoff was charged in the Brits Magistrate’s Court of having sexually abused several children including a nine year old in South Africa during a church camp in 2008. The Catholic diocese of Aachen said they were aware of the charges Kerkhoff was facing in South Africa but declined to comment.
In one German parish, locals had complained that he had invited children to share his home sauna. Priests in the neighbouring communities also reported the matter to the bishop of Aachen. However, the complaints were apparently not taken seriously.
The spokesperson for the Southern African Catholic Bishops Conference, Bishop William Slattery, said he was not sure how Kerkhoff was allowed to work with children in South Africa.
“There are two channels through which priests from other countries can come to South Africa. They can come through the diocese but the bishop must invite them or if they apply, he must accept them. And they must come with certain papers showing they have no history or criminality, including paedophilia.
“In the Catholic Church there are also religious orders that have superiors so people can come through them into the country. They must get clearance documents,” Slattery said.
He said normally in the Catholic Church, when a priest was accused of sexual abuse of any kind, he was put on administrative suspension pending the investigation of the church and the police.
“When the police act on it, the church stands back for a while and the priest is then put on administrative leave. He is sent to a place where he can’t have contact with children until the case proceeds. If he is guilty, the case is sent to Rome and Rome can laicise, or defrock, him,” Slattery said.