The Anglican Church of Southern Africa has adopted new measures that include requesting police clearance for those who want to serve as its clergy. Picture: Ayanda Ndamane/ANA Pictures

Johannesburg - In an unprecedented move to curb child abuse, the Anglican Church of Southern Africa has adopted new measures that include requesting police clearance for those who want to serve as its clergy.

"In future, anyone wanting to be ordained to serve as a clergyperson will have to provide a police clearance certificate," said Archbishop Thabo Makgoba of Cape Town in a statement on Wednesday

“From January 2019, we will progressively enforce the same rule for lay ministers, especially those involved in youth ministry and Sunday School teaching," said the bishop.

He said the church has also set up an email address to make it easier to report allegations of such abuse.

“At meetings held last week, our church's Synod of Bishops and our Provincial Standing Committee – which includes clergy and lay people from every diocese in Southern Africa – had their first opportunity to discuss the reports of clergy abusing children which received widespread publicity earlier this year," said Makgoba.

“We were made acutely aware of the pain of those who have been hurt by the church. Although the number of cases reported so far is limited, we resolved to take up the issue with the utmost seriousness.

“Experienced lawyers and clergy serving on our Canon Law Council reported that our pastoral standards, which are incorporated into church law, set out a sound basis on which to handle complaints of abuse. 

"But the council has said we need to make it easier for complainants to access procedures for laying complaints, and to provide better support for them along the way."

Makgoba said the council also reported that complaints, especially historical complaints, were not being handled quickly enough. 

“In addition, the Canon Law Council emphasised to the Synod of Bishops that it is urgent and very important that every diocese set up a team to deal effectively with allegations of abuse," said the bishop. 

"We are arranging training for the bishops at the next meeting of our Synod of Bishops, and have asked each diocese to ensure that its teams also receive training in how best to respond to complaints. 

“Most of the half-dozen cases which have emerged this year concern events which occurred more than 20 years ago, which – except in cases of rape – prevents victims from pursuing their cases through criminal courts in South Africa. 

"I, therefore, reiterate my earlier support for quick action by Parliament to change the law to allow such prosecutions to take place. Victims of sexual abuse need to be able to pursue charges both in criminal courts and in church tribunals.” 

* Receive IOL's top stories via WhatsApp by sending your name to 0745573535.

African News Agency (ANA)