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Allegedly violated by priest behind the walls of piety

William Segodisho admits he was a headstrong and difficult youth. By the time he entered adolescence, he had already joined a militant faction that was fighting against the apartheid regime in Polokwane, then Pietersburg. 

In 1986, when he had just turned 14, he and his group had set numerous government vehicles alight in protest.

As the number of arson incidents climbed, so did the arrests of his friends. He was forced to flee his home province, not able to tell his family where he was going. 

Arriving in Joburg with no money and few friends, the youngster began living on the streets. 

“We thought when we got to Joburg we would join up with other comrades or maybe go into exile, but we had no plan. We just knew we had to get away,” he said. 

After months of doing odd jobs and sleeping in parks, he met a woman who guided him to the Streetwise shelter that was being assisted by the Cathedral of Christ the King in Doornfontein. 

It was while he was in the shelter that he met Father McCray*, a priest of the Catholic church who was fundraising for the shelter. 

After the pair had known each other for about a month, Segodisho said the priest invited him out. He took the 14-year-old to the Zoo Lake and in the deserted park the priest allegedly told Segodisho he wanted to help him. 

“He had a plan for me. He wanted to take me out of the shelter and find me a good school.” Segodisho said he loved hearing what he was being told but became uncomfortable as the priest began fondling him. 

This led to a kiss, his first kiss. 

“I hadn’t even started thinking about girls and relationships. I let him do what he wanted because of what he said. I didn’t like the shelter. I had dreams to better my life.” 

By the following weekend, the priest had already found the teenager a sponsor, and he was enrolled at a boarding school in Roodepoort. Before the school year started, Segodisho began staying with the priest in his room at the cathedral.

The sexual encounters became more intense, all within the walls of the church. By the time he was at school, the abuse had become a weekend habit, often prefaced with alcohol. 

The teenager was struggling to adjust to being in a private school and was expelled after writing a sexually-charged letter to a female classmate. 

In mid-1987, he was enrolled, with McCray’s help, at the Treverton Preparatory School and College in Mooi River. 

To his relief, Segodisho only returned to Joburg in the school holidays. By this time, the priest was staying at the Holy Trinity Church in Braamfontein. While he was now rarely with McCray, the times he was were much like before. 

In December, the priest had planned a holiday for the two of them in Amanzimtoti, at a guest lodge. 

After being plied with drinks and passing out, Segodisho woke in extreme pain. He had been penetrated in his sleep, and the priest told him that he likely fell off the bed in his drunken state. 

“Later we were playing a game of table tennis; he was beating me because moving was painful. I remember I picked up a wet towel and I began to (beat) him with that towel,” said Segodisho. 

“I told him: 'I know what he did to me last night'."

The teenager broke down in tears, and as the priest held him, he cried an apology. 

“He said he shouldn’t have gone that far. I remember telling him I would prefer it if it stopped altogether.” 

By this point, a year-and-a-half had passed since Segodisho had seen his single mother in Seshego, but his homesickness was becoming impossible to endure. 

William Segodisho and his lawyer Ian Levitt. Segodisho has laid charges against a priest who allegedly abused him. Picture: Supplied

He asked if he could return to his mother for the rest of the holidays. Segodisho said he didn’t want the joyous reunion to be soured by his experiences of abuse, so he kept quiet. 

Upon seeing the poverty of his township he realised he had been given an opportunity to receive a quality education, and decided to return to school. 

In the holidays of 1988, he refused to stay with McCray. 

He instead visited Joburg-based friends, whose families were willing to look after him for a few days at a time. 

But the priest was tenacious, insisting Segodisho visit him for the last night before returning to school. 

“I let him have his way with me. It was painful but I shut it out. The reason being that after I told him about the situation at home, he said he would make a plan for me to support my family.” 

A stipend was promised – and delivered. “I didn’t want to upset him. To make him change his mind.” 

In mid-1989 he was expelled again, allegedly for assaulting a bully who had been terrorising him for months. 

However, McCray used his connections to clinch a spot at Woodmead School, where he began to flourish. 

But after returning to Joburg, Segodisho resented being asked to visit the priest on at least two weekends a month and during his holiday.

Segodisho finally forced a confrontation in 1989, saying he would report the abuse to the upper-echelons of the church. 

Despite promises the sex would stop, they remained unfulfilled. Segodisho approached another priest at the Christ the King Cathedral. 

“I think I know what you’re going to tell me and I would rather not be involved. Go to the superior and tell him,” the father told him, seemingly unwilling to help.  

But within a few months, McCray had been relocated to the UK.

No longer in the care of the church, Segodisho was sent back to the shelter, and told the fees at Woodmead were too high. 

Rather than remain in Joburg without the possibility of an education, Segodisho returned to Seshego. 

For a decade he remained silent, only laying a complaint with the church in the early 2000s. His then lawyer told him opening up a criminal case would be pointless, and that he would focus on a civil case. 

The lawyer managed to arrive at a settlement without Segodisho’s full approval, and stole some money offered by the church. 

Attempts to contact this lawyer were unsuccessful, as he has since been disbarred. 

Last year, after reading about the Sidney Frankel matter – the high court ruling that altered the law around the prescription of sexual assault charges – Segodisho decided to approach the lawyer who had represented Frankel’s alleged victims. 

Through Ian Levitt Attorneys, Segodisho opened up his criminal case against McCray in December last year. But the reason Segodisho came forward was not only to bring his abuser to justice but also to find others who were abused at the Joburg shelter during the same period. 

He said he knew of at least two others who suffered similar ordeals. 

While his legal team tries to track them down, Segodisho asked that anyone with information should contact him via email at msegodisho@gmail.com or via the Saturday Star at shain.germaner@inl.co.za

ResponseA statement from the Jesuit society’s British Council in response to queries from the Saturday Star said: “When the case was reported in 2001, (the father) had already returned to the UK. 

“He returned to the UK in 1990 and the complaint was lodged in 2001. (He) was informed of the allegations by the British Provincial and withdrawn from all active ministry. 

“He has never ministered in public again. No other allegations have been brought to our attention by anyone. 

“An investigation was carried out by the British Province of the Society of Jesus because he is a member of this province. A local lawyer met (William) Segodisho and his lawyers at the time. The Diocesan authorities were verbally notified of the case. 

“It was agreed that those responsible for him must deal with the case. The Society of Jesus has a strict, no-tolerance policy towards child abuse.” Meanwhile, the Catholic Archdiocese of Johannesburg said it takes the allegations very seriously. However, it said no official complaint was logged. 

“The Catholic Church, in its seriousness in addressing this issue of child abuse, has special, dedicated local and national committees, called the professional conduct committees (PCC), which investigate reported cases,” said Father Thabo Motshegwa, chairperson of the Joburg PCC. “The church’s PCC will investigate further, and take action, depending on the outcome of the police investigation,” said Motshegwa

Saturday Star

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