The social communications office of the bishops' conference of Papua New Guinea and the Solomon Islands hosted the conference for Papuan journalists.
The Melanesian nation consists of the eastern half
of the island of New Guinea, as well as numerous other, smaller,
islands, and is located north of Australia and east of Indonesia.
all its population is Christian; and 27 percent is Catholic, yet many
Papuan Christians integrate indigenous beliefs and practices into their
Papuans believe in sorcery, and those accused of practicing it - a
majority of who are women - are at times subject to mob attacks and
The conference featured a presentation by an Italian
missionary and sociologist, Fr. Franco Zocca, who discussed the Church's
attitude toward magic and sorcery, as well as data collected by the
Melanesian Institute, which studies indigenous cultures of the region.
Zocca coordinated a four year research study on sorcery in Papua New
Guinea, and told conference attendees that "only scientific
enlightenment and a massive education effort can help overcome sorcery
beliefs" in the country.
The conference included talks by Church
leaders who shared their knowledge of sorcery in the area, their
assessment of its consequences, and strategies that could counteract
frivolous accusations and unjust punishment of alleged sorcerers and
At its conclusion, Bishop Rochus Tatamai of Bereina said
Mass for all those attending the event, preaching on the life and
writings of St. Francis de Sales.
The topic of sorcery is an
important one in Papua New Guinea. According to Human Rights Watch, at
least nine women were attacked after being accused of witchcraft in
2013; an improvement from the more than 50 sorcery related deaths which
occurred in 2008.
Some indigenous Papuans do not believe in
misfortune and accidents, and attribute them to sorcery, while the
accusation can also be used for revenge or envy. Amnesty International
reports that women are six times more likely to be accused of sorcery
than are men.
In February 2013, 20 year old Kepari Leniata was
stripped and then burned to death as a witch after a six year old child
died in her city.
A 1971 Sorcery Act criminalized the practice of
sorcery in Papua New Guinea, and accepted the accusation of sorcery as a
defense in cases of murder; that act was repealed in May, 2013.
the act's appeal was accompanied by a new law which included
sorcery-related killings among crimes penalized by capital punishment,
as well as aggravated rape and armed robbery.
sorcery-related violence continues to be a problem in Papua New Guinea,
the situation has improved in recent years, due in part to the Church's
apostolates and evangelization, bringing a change in thought and ways of
life through education and catechesis of indigenous Papuans.