Archbishop Slattery brought in to assist scandal-ridden Mariannhill diocese
Durban - Archbishop William Slattery, who has been brought it to assist the Mariannhill diocese, has his work cut out for him.
The retired cleric has been given the nod by Pope Francis to deal with a raft of issues, including allegations of sexual abuse. He was appointed three weeks ago.
In an interview with the Sunday Tribune this week, Slattery confirmed that priests at the diocese were under investigation.
One was accused in June of sexual abuse and the rape of young girls. The investigation was lodged about a month ago and Slattery said the priest was being investigated by an independent body.
A group of concerned men wrote a letter to retired former archbishop of Durban Cardinal Wilfrid Napier asking for his intervention.
Among matters raised were the issue of financial mismanagement and failure by Bishop Mlungisi Dlungwane to take action against another priest who was alleged to have been in a sexual relationship with a married woman but was made a spiritual adviser.
The Sunday Tribune last year reported that a Catholic priest was alleged to have had an affair with a sports official’s wife. The woman has since died, but at the centre of the battle were her possessions. The sports official’s wife had left him in 2008 and moved into an estate and was alleged to have continued the affair.
The letter claims that in addition to the improper deployment of priests accused of scandals, there has been a string of allegations of financial mismanagement, illegal land and property trade and lease with private companies and individuals.
Dlungwane has also been accused of promoting a priest to the position of chancellor when he was allegedly dismissed for misusing church funds.
Slattery said he was aware of some allegations which were being handled by an internal body of investigators.
“We have a church protocol to deal with allegations of abuse. We have constituted an independent team which consists of a lawyer, social worker and a healthcare professional to investigate without bias. When that report comes through, I will immediately make it public,” he said.
Slattery, 77, who is fluent in Zulu and Sotho, was born in the south of Ireland before he relocated to South Africa to conduct church activities. He has been a priest for 50 years. He served in Kokstad and Ladysmith for decades before he was transferred to Pretoria to head the seminar and train ordained priests. He said the Mariannhill diocese was the second-largest in the country with 350 000 Catholics and about 80 priests.
“I am not coming with only new ideas but to also dialogue with priests and the people here to formulate programs of service to keep us abreast with the changes. We need to train new leaders and engage everybody in the work of the church.
“The world is in transition and we should be able to respond to it. Some of the structures of the diocese need to be renewed to deal with those, including with the environmental issues and so on,” he said.
Regarding the scandals that the church faces, he said it has also become aware that sometimes people bring cases to extort money but normally, the accusations brought against the priests were true.
Slattery encouraged parents to always report the matter to the police. He said the investigators were normally women to allow the victim to speak freely about her alleged abuse.
“We treat allegations of abuse very seriously because our task is to uplift and serve the people while contributing to a peaceful society.
“For 2000 years the church has been among the educators of the children of the world. We have built more orphanages than any other organisation in the world,” Slattery said.