Wednesday, April 28, 2010

Silence reigns over Church's child abuse scandals in Africa

As allegations of pedophilia rock the Catholic Church in Europe and the Americas, the Church in Africa has remained largely silent on the scandal that has hardly made a ripple in local media.

Senior clerics across the United States and Europe are accused of protecting guilty clergy by moving them to other parishes - where they sometimes offended again - instead of handing them over to civil authorities for prosecution.

In countries from Nigeria to Uganda to Congo, Church officials questioned by AFP brushed aside queries about sex abuse allegations, sometimes blaming the media for amplifying the story.

News this month that an Italian Jesuit priest was transferred to Mozambique from Brazil, following abuse allegations by at least eight boys and young men, merited only one brief report on Mozambican state radio.

The head of the Southern African Bishops Conference publicly acknowledged this month that the issue of paedophilia has touched the Church in Africa, saying 40 cases of abuse have been reported over the last 14 years in the region.

"The misbehaviour of priests in Africa has not been exposed to the same glare of the media as in other parts of the world," Archbishop Buti Tlhagale said in Johannesburg.

Those remarks were met with deafening silence from Church officials across Africa, where about 17 percent of the continent's roughly 800 million people are Catholic.

Africa is one of the only regions of the world where the church is growing, by about three percent in 2007, according to the Vatican.

In the Democratic Republic of Congo, Kinshasa Archbishop Laurent Monsengwo Pasinya told AFP that he had never received a complaint about child sex among the clergy.

"I've been a bishop for 30 years, and I have never handled a case of paedophilia nor seen any clergy accused," he said.

Other church officials indicated that any such allegations should first be handled internally rather than through the legal system - the very behaviour that sparked the controversy elsewhere in the world.

"Repentance is about one's heart, so we can't always trust the legal system," said Monsignor John Katende, spokesman for the Archdiocese of Kampala in Uganda.

"We deal with all sin and all errant members according to the gospel, and incidents like this (child abuse) require a stepped process. First is one-to-one discussion. Then involve a third party, then involve the larger Church and community," he told AFP.

Former clergymen across the continent painted a different picture.

"When I was in the church, I happened to discover some suspected cases of abuse, especially by foreign clergy," said Felix Koffi Ametepe, a former clergyman from Burkina Faso who is now a journalist.

"There's a certain tolerance among African Catholic communities regarding priests who visit women. Even if people very well know that the priest has a child, or that he has ongoing relations with a woman, no one does anything about it," he told AFP.

"Everyone accepts if a priest is with a woman, but no one would understand what he would look for in a boy. That means that no child would be believed if he said that a priest had touched him."

The issue of priests keeping concubines or even marrying women erupts into the open periodically.

Former Zambian archbishop Emmanuel Milingo was excommunicated in 2006 for consecrating four married priests as bishops.

Milingo himself in 2001 married a Korean acupuncturist in a mass "Moonie" wedding ceremony in New York presided over by the founder of the Unification Church himself, Reverend Sun Myung Moon.

"The misdeeds of a few priests should not be used to condemn the church," said Bishop Felix Ajakaiye, spokesman for Nigeria's Catholics.

"What is happening in Europe can happen anywhere, in Africa and in Nigeria. Nobody is immune from sin, nobody is immune from temptation."


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