Author slams Tutu for silence on Anglican Church child abuse

07 March 2018 - 16:58 By Matthew Savides
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Archbishop Desmond Tutu. File photo.
Archbishop Desmond Tutu. File photo.
Image: Gallo Images/Oryx Media Archive

South African author Ishtiyaq Shukri has lashed out at Archbishop Emeritus Desmond Tutu over his decision last month to step down as an ambassador for international aid organisation Oxfam in the wake of a sex scandal.

Shukri lambasted Tutu for not speaking out against sex abuses in the church – abuses that he says he was a victim of. Tutu‚ as chancellor of the University of the Western Cape‚ capped Shukri in 1990 when he graduated.

“The day Archbishop Tutu conferred my degree was not the first time I was touched by a clergyman from the Church of England in South Africa. In the years leading up to my graduation ceremony‚ I was being sexually abused by priests from the Church of England in South Africa. So far as I am aware‚ the Archbishop has never fully addressed such systematic and institutionalised sexual abuse happening in his own organization‚” he said.

In early February it was reported that Oxfam staff paid for sex with prostitutes in Haiti while in the country after a devastating 2010 earthquake. It is alleged that the organisation's money was used for this purpose.

While not stating outright that his resignation was directly due to the revelations - instead saying it was linked to his retirement from public commitments - Tutu's office said in a statement that the 86-year-old Nobel Peace Laureate was disappointed by the news.

"Archbishop Emeritus Desmond Tutu has supported Oxfam International's good work for many years‚ most recently as one of its global ambassadors. The Archbishop is deeply disappointed by allegations of immorality and possible criminality involving humanitarian workers linked to the charity. He is also saddened by the impact of the allegations on the many thousands of good people who have supported Oxfam's righteous work‚" the statement from his office said.

But Shukri described this stance as hypocritical. Shukri‚ author of award-winning novel The Silent Minaret and I See You‚ said reading Tutu’s statement was “excruciating for me‚ because I have seen first hand the good work Oxfam does”.

His statement is dated February 19‚ four days after Tutu’s statement was issued. Shukri’s publisher‚ Jacana‚ released the statement on Wednesday.

“When Archbishop Tutu made his statement about Oxfam‚ saying that he is ‘deeply disappointed’ about the sex scandal‚ I was reminded of all the times I had been sexually abused by Anglican priests‚” he said‚ adding that he was first abused in 1978 when he was 10-years-old.

“When I read the Archbishop's statement about Oxfam‚ I wept‚ because I knew that‚ as a man‚ it was time to put away childish things‚ and to speak my truth – to him. A man now‚ I am standing up to protect the child I was then. Knowing what I know‚ I see no way of living with myself if I let the Archbishop’s comments about Oxfam go unchallenged as they have in all the mainstream western media I have read. But realising as I am now that breaking a silence of forty years is as painful as maintaining it‚ I despair.”

Shukri said he was “repeatedly and routinely” sexually abused by priests at St Cyprian's Cathedral‚ Kimberley‚ where his maternal family worshiped.

“The abuse was alienating and confusing. I did not know what to do‚ so I kept quiet‚ knowing that I was not alone‚ and that there were others‚ too. That knowledge provided a distorted sense of comfort‚ normalising the abnormal‚ which‚ after all‚ is what life in apartheid South Africa trained us all to do.

“For my part‚ the abuse I experienced at St Cyprian's has had a lasting impact on my life‚ starting with the first diagnosis and medication for clinical depression after my teachers noticed dramatic changes in my behaviour at school. That was in 1979‚ the year I turned eleven‚” he said.

Shukri added: “I have lived with clinical depression all my life. Over the years‚ self-loathing and despair have become part of my experience‚ habitual thoughts of suicide part of my routine. I have cultivated different coping rituals to get through the desperation. Were it not for the unconditional and unending support of family and friends‚ I fear for what might otherwise have become of me. I remain on medication‚ and during a recent visit to my local pharmacy in Pretoria to collect my stash ahead of this two-month trip to Asia and the Middle East‚ the large quantity I required wiped out their supplies. I have now resigned myself to anti-depressant medication being a permanent fixture in my life.”

The deeply personal statement continued that while Shukri had “managed to remove myself from the abuse”‚ the effects endured.

“They surface in my daily relationship with myself‚ and with those I love‚ on whom I feel I’ve been a heavy burden. My personal ties with Oxfam are already known. Supporting my wife who works in Oxfam’s humanitarian team has brought this crisis into our lives in a very particular way. While the sexual abuse scandal that has buffeted Oxfam…has made headlines around the world‚ it also has personal dimensions‚ and I trust that Oxfam will get this right.

“However‚ Archbishop Tutu’s resignation as ambassador to Oxfam does not inspire me with confidence that the Anglican Church of Southern Africa will do the same‚” Shukri wrote.

“Let me be unequivocal: I have great regard for the work Oxfam does‚ having witnessed it first hand in several countries around the world. For that reason‚ I separate the work of the organisation as a whole from those Oxfam employees who abused their authority and power. Oxfam has gone to great lengths to admit its failures regarding the sexual abuse‚ and my admiration for the work that Oxfam does remains.

“However‚ I am left wondering whether Archbishop Tutu can unequivocally say the same for the Anglican Church of Southern Africa. He had far more direct authority over priests like the ones who abused me – priests who pledge obedience – priests who were appointed at leisure‚ and all are still in robes today. Because of the conspiracy of silence in the Church‚ men like me have felt it best to live our entire adult lives in silence with the trauma of what happened to us at St Cyprian’s Cathedral – even in the church building‚ even during religious ceremonies‚” he added.

The Tutu Foundation had not replied to a request for comment on Shukri's statement by the time of publishing.

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