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Priest urges Ramaphosa to establish inquiry into historical sexual abuse

Reverend June Major names her alleged rapist on the steps of the St George's Cathedral last year. Pictures: Brendan Magaar/African News Agency (ANA)

Reverend June Major names her alleged rapist on the steps of the St George's Cathedral last year. Pictures: Brendan Magaar/African News Agency (ANA)

Published Apr 6, 2022

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Activist and Anglican priest, Reverend June Major, has taken her fight for justice for sexual assault victims to the president's office.

On Wednesday, Major handed a memorandum to President Cyril Ramaphosa's office in Tuynhuys, Cape Town, calling for a commission of inquiry into historic child sexual offences within churches and other faith-based institutions.

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The move comes as the country observes Sexual Assault Awareness Month and against the backdrop of Ramaphosa acknowledging that gender-based violence was a pandemic in the country.

In the memorandum, Major highlighted that in countries such as Ireland, Australia, Canada and Mexico, commissions of inquiry were set up to investigate sexual abuse of minors by priests.

The memorandum called for a "safe space" for victims and survivors, the majority of whom were now adults, to share their experiences.

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"I recently assisted a family where a pastor (allegedly) raped a four-year-old child and another 10-year-old. Another pastor (allegedly) raped a three-year-old and a four-year-old. The children were too young to testify, so he walked free," said Major.

She said that despite churches speaking out publicly against the rape of minors, there was a "cover-up" within the institutions and ranks.

The memorandum also called for the commission's investigation to include all institutions attached to churches including schools, academies, scouts, retreat houses and institutions for homeless children.

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It further called on Ramaphosa to set up a model similar to the one established in Australia, called the National Redress Scheme. It was set up in response to a commission that investigated child sexual abuse.

"It was a way to acknowledge that many children were sexually abused in Australian institutions, to hold them accountable and to help those who had experienced sexual abuse access counselling and psychological service,“ read the memorandum.

Major requested that a late Anglican priest, Reverend Luke Stubbs, be acknowledged in the commission as he highlighted "the problem of paedophilia within the church."

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Ramaphosa has been given until June 16, Youth Day, to respond.

"Our youth sacrificed for our freedom, let us not now sacrifice them because we are too afraid to investigate these mighty institutions,“ said Major.

Five months ago, Major completed a six-week walk from Cape Town to Makhanda, where she was allegedly raped by a fellow priest in 2002.

In her quest for justice, she started the #SayHisName campaign, and publicly named the alleged rapist in March last year.

A victim of sexual abuse by a Roman Catholic priest at the age of 10, George Rose retold the experience and the effect on his life in a letter to President Cyril Ramaphosa.

He said the life he led as a result led to an HIV diagnosis at the age of 60.

"Far too many perpetrators have been protected by the institutions and a veil of secrecy thrown over the horror of the abuse of minors and women without regard for the impact it has had on their lives,“ he said.

He said perpetrators should no longer be allowed to "hide behind the mitre and sceptre" in covering up abuse.

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