The Hong Kong Christian Council, a Protestant ecumenical organization, has released a report exposing a growing sexual harassment and abuse problem in local churches, according to The South China Morning Post.
Released Sunday, the report tells of an online survey which revealed during a nine-month time frame (August 2017 to April 2018) there were 55 reported incidents of sexual harassment or abuse in churches, half of them allegedly committed by pastors or church leaders.
Victims were even sometimes told to be obedient and follow "God's plan" in order to keep them quiet. In some cases, victims are afraid to come forward because the offenders are church leaders.
One in five of the cases involved rape or attempted rape, according to the council's report. Other reports involved unwelcome touching, emails or messages with sexual innuendo and unwelcome sexual gestures, according to the newspaper.
Of the 55 cases reported, 35 of those said they were the victim. Twenty respondents said their friends or fellow church members were the victims.
"The survey shows an inconvenient fact: that sexual violence in churches has never stopped," council assistant executive secretary Jessica Tso Hiu-tung told The South China Morning Post. "Churches are unique in their organized culture and group mentality, so enhanced education against sexual harassment is particularly important there."
Ngai Lap-yin, the former pastor of the Brotherly Love Swatow Baptist Church in Tsz Wan Shan, was fired two months ago after he was accused of taking sexual advantage of women with whom he had built paternal relationships. Last week, he turned himself into the local authorities and admitted that he behaved "inappropriately" and harmed women from the church, The South China Post reported.
Several members of the clergy have also stepped forward to accuse local churches of poorly handling harassment reports. They say some churches even went so far as to avoid independent investigations in order to protect their image.
On Monday, two Christian leaders vowed to crack down on preachers and lay leaders who make improper advances on their church members.
Reverend Lo Lung-kwong, the new secretary general of the council, an umbrella body for 21 churches, said putting an end to sexual impropriety by pastors will be one of his "top priorities," according to The South China Morning Post.
"We need to express sympathy and support the victims, encourage churches to formulate preventive measures and complaint mechanisms … and step up our training of pastors," the veteran Methodist pastor told the Post.
Reverend Peter Koon Ho-ming, provincial secretary general of the city's Anglican church, which has up to 40,000 followers, warned: "Regardless of who you are or the size of your church, sexual harassment or abuse should never be tolerated or appeased," according to the newspaper.