.- A Jesuit priest living in the U.K. is facing a call for extradition to South Africa, where he is accused of sexually abusing a teenager in the 1980s.
William Segodisho said at a press conference in Johannesburg Tuesday that he was sexually abused by Fr. William MacCurtain – a priest of the British province of the Society of Jesus – over a period of years during his stay at the Streetwise Children’s Shelter in Johannesburg.
MacCurtain ran the shelter at that time.
MacCurtain is now 84 years old and living in a nursing home in the English city of Bournemouth. According to the Society of Jesus, MacCurtain was removed from ministry in 2001, when the U.K. province was first informed of the allegations against him.
Segodisho said that he was 13 years old when he met MacCurtain, who offered him shelter and protection, even paying for him to attend a private school for a period of time. The abuse, he claimed, was the price of MacCurtain’s help.
Speaking to local press Oct. 9, Segodisho said that although the alleged abuse happened nearly 30 years ago, he felt it was important to speak out about what had happened to him.
“I’ve kept silent for almost three decades, but I’m not getting any younger,” Segodisho said. “Life is unpredictable, and I would hate to take this to the grave. I’ve made a decision to come out into the open and tell the very sordid story of what happened to me.”
Segodisho said the abuse ended in 1989, when he complained to another Jesuit priest and MacCurtain was transferred back to the U.K.
In a statement released by its U.K. province Oct. 10, the Society of Jesus said that the matter “was only reported to the Jesuits in Britain for the first time in 2001. Fr MacCurtain had already returned to the UK in 1990.”
According to the statement, the priest was “immediately withdrawn from all active ministry,” has “never ministered again,” and that “steps have been taken to ensure that at no time since his withdrawal from ministry has he posed any safeguarding risk to children.”
In a letter sent to Segodisho by the Jesuit superior for the U.K. province in January, Fr. Damian Howard, SJ, said that MacCurtain was in “very poor general health.” The provincial said that while he understood Segodisho wanted to receive an apology directly from his alleged abuser, “at the moment, a conversation between you is inadvisable as it is unlikely to be satisfactory for you.”
Fr. Howard wrote that “it is clear to me that Fr. MacCurtain violated the trust placed in him as a Catholic priest.”
“He took advantage of you at an age at when you could not possibly have given your proper consent. In doing so, he showed himself to have little regard for your dignity and to be ready to exploit you for his own gratification,” Howard wrote to Segodisho.
In a statement reported by the BBC, MacCurtain said “I recognise that my behavior towards Segodisho in the 1980s violated the trust he had put in me as a Catholic priest.”
“I deeply regret the pain that I have caused Segodisho, and would wish to apologize to him unreservedly. I realize, though, that such an apology cannot right the wrongs done to him at that time, or the suffering that he has endured since,” he added, according to the BBC.
The BBC said the priest declined to comment on the possibility of extradition.
The U.K. Jesuit province did not directly address the question of extradition, but said that “the Society of Jesus in Britain is currently aware of an ongoing investigation by the police in South Africa.”
“Working with the Society of Jesus in South Africa we have been in contact with the complainant and his lawyers. Whilst the police investigation continues we do not wish to take any steps which might prejudice that investigation, but we have engaged with the complainant’s lawyers to focus upon his immediate psychological needs.”
Miranda Friedman, a spokeswoman for Women and Men Against Child Abuse, the organization which arranged the press conference for Segodisho, said he had endured “absolute exploitation” and called for MacCurtain to be returned to South Africa to face charges.
“We absolutely demand they give us an answer and with Fr. MacCurtain at 84, they are not going to use old age and health to avoid what they have done,” she told the South African Broadcasting Corporation.