Boys Town bishop accused of molestation
By Lauren Cohen
September 30, 2007 / The Times
Writer tells of his abuse by the institution’s founder over three years
A Catholic bishop who founded the largest private childcare organisation in South Africa has been implicated in the sexual abuse of a teenager at Boys Town.
Bishop Reginald Orsmond, who died in 2002, was lauded for starting the Boys Town children’s home in 1958.
But startling allegations have now emerged against the former Bishop of Johannesburg in the autobiography of magazine editor Mario D’Offizi, to be released by Ge’ko Publishing next month. D’Offizi claims in his book, Bless Me Father, that Orsmond sexually abused him during three years at Boys Town in the Magaliesberg in the ’60s.
Joe Araujo, who took over from Orsmond as executive director of Boys Town in 1993, has heard similar allegations against Orsmond.
“About three or four years ago, another person from the first [intake of] 26 told me something similar. I asked him what he wanted to do about it, since Orsmond had already passed away.”
Araujo, who retires next month after 33 years, said sexual-abuse claims were his nightmare and were “one of the risks of this type of work”.
“It’s not for me to say if there is truth in the allegations. Perhaps the church and Boys Town need to sit down and corroborate the stories,” he said.
Father Lionel Sham, who worked with Orsmond for nine years, described him as a “wonderful and upright man”.
“When I read the chapter of the book, I couldn’t believe it. My heart cried. He was not that kind of person. He was compassionate and loving, not abusive,” said Sham.
Now married with children of his own, D’Offizi harbours no anger towards Boys Town: “I’d choose Boys Town over the best private school in South Africa. Bless Me Father is not an allegation. It’s my confession.”
D’Offizi said a 1996 advertising campaign he penned for the Truth and Reconciliation Commission was the first impetus for him to tell his story. “I wrote the line, ‘The truth hurts, but silence kills’, and thought about what truths I was hiding.”
Born into a family with eight siblings and alcoholic parents, D’Offizi was in and out of children’s homes from an early age. At Boys Town, before his 14th birthday, he claimed that he was summoned to Orsmond’s room where the priest asked him to touch his genitals.
“Alcohol was always involved. He would let me drink before anything happened. I acquired a taste for alcohol,” D’Offizi said. “I refused to give him oral sex or to be sodomised. There was only touching and kissing.”
The abuse ended just before D’Offizi’s 16th birthday, after he told Orsmond that he “loved girls too much” and asked for the relationship to stop. The first person he told about it was a doctor he consulted at the age of 22 after suffering panic attacks.
“People might ask why as a 15-year- old I didn’t do something. But when you’re tied into a situation like that … your survival instincts are stronger than normal. My father was an Italian, a Catholic. He would have beaten me if I had told him.”
D’Offizi said he had forgiven Orsmond and had kept in touch with him after leaving the home.
D’Offizi met a fellow Boys Town pupil last year and told him of the abuse. The man said his younger brother, since deceased, went through a similar ordeal. Speaking to the Sunday Times, the man, who asked not to be named, said Orsmond “would invite you to his room and sing to you, give you a drink, put his hands on your lap and tell you certain urges were not evil”.
A 2003 investigation into sexual abuse by South African clergymen conducted by the Sunday Times moved the Catholic Church to compile a database of abuse in its ranks and help victims report sexual abuse to the police.
Orsmond’s nephew Fergus Sexton said it was a “grave injustice” that the allegations had emerged after his uncle’s death. “If anything untoward did happen, why is he [the author] coming forward only now?” he asked. “People should have the right of response. Boys Town was his whole life. He gave his life to the home and to the church.”
Southern African Catholic Bishops Conference spokesman Chris Townsend said the allegations in the book were “very hurtful if they are true, and very hurtful if they are not”.
“Since 2000, the Catholic Church in Southern Africa has had a protocol in place for dealing with allegations of sexual abuse of children by church personnel. Every allegation is taken seriously,” he said. However, the process deals only with allegations made against those still living.