Priest ostracized after breaking code of silence on sex abuse

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A Catholic priest in Uganda broke taboo to tell his archbishop about the “open secret” that sex abuse in the church is indeed a problem in Africa — and that he himself was a victim as a child. The archbishop’s response? He suspended the priest.

The Los Angeles Times

May 4, 2013, 6:10 p.m.

Anthony Musaala has forced the Uganda church to confront a problem it had denied. (Isaac Kasamani, For The Times / May 1, 2013)

KAMPALA, Uganda — He is a celebrity across eastern and central Africa, a gospel-music star known to many as the “Dancing Priest.” But for years he also was a keeper of painful secrets — his own and many others’.

In going public, Anthony Musaala has forced the Roman Catholic Church in Uganda to confront a problem it had insisted didn’t exist. And he may stir a debate far beyond Africa’s most Catholic of countries.

The Ugandan priest has been suspended indefinitely by the archbishop of Kampala for exposing what he calls an open secret: that sex abuse in the Catholic Church is a problem in Africa as well as in Western Europe and North America.

The African Catholic church is fast-growing, pious and traditional. As the church elsewhere forks out billions of dollars to compensate the child-sex-abuse victims of Catholic priests, few African Catholics have questioned the assumption, voiced recently by Ghanaian Cardinal Peter Turkson, that the African church is purer than its counterpart in the West, which they regard as secular and permissive.

It’s not more pure, says Musaala. He claims to have the evidence to prove it.

“The Vatican turns a blind eye because it doesn’t want to be embarrassed about this blooming church. But I think it’s time we had the truth,” Musaala says.

In March, he wrote to the archbishop of Kampala, Cyprian Lwanga, about priests who fathered children, kept secret wives, or abused girls or boys. One of the cases of abuse he cited involved himself. He was one of numerous boys sexually abused at 16, he says, by Catholic brothers at one of Uganda’s best boarding schools. He also listed several other cases of alleged child sex abuse in his letter.

“Wherever you go, people know about this. It’s like an open secret. People know. Nothing is ever done,” said Musaala in an interview.

In the letter, Musaala also called for a debate on marriage for priests.

The letter was leaked to the media. And in response, Lwanga suspended Musaala, saying his statements stirred up contempt for the Catholic Church and damaged the morale of believers.

Later in the month, Lwanga acknowledged that abuses had taken place, apologized to victims and set up an internal inquiry. But he did not backtrack on Musaala’s unpaid suspension.

Lwanga’s limited concession came after South African Cardinal Wilfrid Napier of Durban said in a BBC interview that he had dealt with cases of child sex abuse, which were handled by the church internally, and not referred to police. He suggested that the perpetrators weren’t criminals and needed counseling.

“Some of the priests went, according to the wisdom of the time … for treatment, came back and have been under — what we call it — personal surveillance and have functioned quite normally ever since,” he said. Napier later apologized, but also accused the BBC of twisting his words in the radio interview.

Anyone who calls for these embarrassing secrets to be brought to light, placing the church in an awkward position, doesn’t get much sympathy from Uganda’s conservative churchgoers, even if the allegations are true. To traditionalists, what Musaala is doing is un-African.

The suspended priest says he spends hours each day sitting under a tree in his garden. He has no work. He thinks, prays, reads the Bible. He feels as if he is undergoing a test, like the biblical prophets “who said things that kings did not want to hear.”

8 Responses to Priest ostracized after breaking code of silence on sex abuse

  1. Carlo says:

    Re: Priest ostracized after breaking code of silence on sex abuse. This story sounds very similar to what happened to Fr. Derek Pedersen in the St. Catharines Diocese. It is a deep dark sin the way that this good priest has been treated for having the courage to tell and report the truth. Fr. Pedersen has so much good to offer and it fills me with great sadness and shame knowing how he has been treated by the Bishops and the priests of the Diocese. The church should welcome and encourage people to tell the truth not punish them for doing so unless the church has something to hide or cover up.

  2. Leona says:

    Carlo, could you let the folks at know more details about this Fr. Pedersen. They are creating a list of the heroic whistle lowers so they can be thanked, celebrated and held up as models for others. It would be nice to be able to honoured him.

  3. 1yellowknife says:

    I am not sure if former NWT/Nunavut social worker Michel Bertrand was a whistleblower re the OMI Eric de Jaeger abuses. However, I am certain Bertrand was key in ensuring the actions of Eric de Jaeger were not forgotten and ignored. A trial for Eric ( 76 charges) is pending. I suspect Michel Bertrand will not rest until those who enabled Eric’s reign of terror and subsequent avoidance of justice are “shaken, rattled and rolled”. Stay tuned…

  4. Carlo says:

    Sylvia, I remembered the article about Fr. Pedersen that you had published a few years ago and I recognized the similarities with Fr. Musaala’s case. I wonder how many other priests worldwide, who have spoken out, and consequently have had their human and labour rights denied and trampled upon by a Church that should be upholding such rights and protecting victims and people who report allegations of abuse? While I don’t have direct contact with Fr. Pedersen, I’m sure that he has suffered much for what was covered up by the Diocese, the Vatican and the justice system. I even heard that Fr. Pedersen and others have pictures to prove what he was saying was true. Many Catholics in Niagara know about the perversion of justice that occurred in Fr. Pedersen’s case.

  5. Ndiwabene says:

    I am as appalled as anyone else about the substance of Fr Musaala’s statements. It does happen in the Ugandan church although the incidence is hard to state.

    My word of caution is that there is more to this than meets the eye.

    In 2009 public allegations against Fr Musaala (and other priests) were not the first – others went through the official channels. He was then put under investigation. The Archbishop’s recent decisions following that process are the trigger for Fr Musaala’s outburst. [deleted]

    God bless you

  6. Sylvia says:

    I just watched that video Ndiwabene and have deleted the link you provided.

    The video is strange. The commentators sounds like a robot. You said you could not vouch for the accuracy of the video so I can not imagine why you would decide to post the link.

  7. Ndiwabene says:

    Fair enough. It may become clear to you in the future. (BTW, that robotic voice is computer generated).

    Happy New Year,

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