Catholic Information Services for Africa (Nairobi)
Fr. Dominic Vincent Nkoyoyo
9 November 2010
When the lid on Pandora’s Box is lifted, will the Catholic Church in Africa stand? In recent years, the entire Body of Christ, the Church has been severely wounded and its image badly damaged by the heavy blows inflicted upon it by sexual scandals that have rocked the Church in the West. Some members of the clergy and religious congregations and Orders have been implicated in the scandals.
In Canada sexual scandals involving some members of the clergy have been reported in several dioceses: British Colombia, Newfoundland, Ontario, Manitoba, Nova Scotia and Quebec. And reports say that the diocese of Antigonish in Nova Scotia spent at least $15 million to settle lawsuits filed by victims of sexual abuse by diocese priests dating back to 1950!
In USA, child sexual abuse scandals were first publicized nationally in 1985 when a Louisiana priest pleaded guilty to several accounts of molestation of boys. The situation worsened when five priests of the Archdiocese of Boston were charged with sexual abuse of minors. Gradually, abuses were reported in the other Catholic dioceses of United States. By 2002 it is estimated that Catholic dioceses in USA had spent a total of about one billion dollars on sexual abuse scandals! Eventually, diocese after diocese filed for bankruptcy, for the amounts of money which were required to settle the cases were too big.
Very recently, it has been the sexual scandals in the Catholic Church in Ireland which have dominated the media worldwide. Starting in the 1990s, government inquiries in this country established that hundreds of priests had abused thousands of children in previous decades. And responding to this, in March 2010 Pope Benedict XVI wrote a pastoral letter apologizing for all these scandals carried out by Catholic clergy.
These scandals have damaged the Church spiritually and crippled the finances of the Catholic Church in United States. It is reported that it is the allegations in USA which encouraged victims in other nations to come forward and rapidly create a global crisis.
But generally speaking, the Catholic Church in Africa has so far not been directly affected by these scandals. We just hear of them remotely in the media. But for how long will the situation remain like this? Is it not time that we the Church in Africa began asking ourselves some important question and learn something from what the Church in the West has gone through?
Can we affirm that no sexual scandals have taken place in the Catholic Church in Africa? Can we say that we have never heard of any stories or rumours that might point at least to the possibility that such scandals could have taken place in Africa? If such stories indeed exist, have we made any efforts to find out whether or not they contain a grain of truth? Should we come across hard evidence that such scandals have taken place, what are we going to do? Are we going to wait until we are taken to court or should we make every possible effort to settle these cases out of court? Should it be established that these cases are many, do our dioceses have enough money settle them?
But it is very important to remember that some sexual scandal cases are very complicated and, therefore, very difficult to handle. For example, it is not entirely impossible for some people to fabricate or concoct a sexual scandal case against a priest or religious brother just out of malice to damage his name or to get him out of the post he is holding so that they may occupy it themselves! Also in cases involving adult women and priests or religious we should not be tempted to think that always the women are the victims! Sometimes, these women married or unmarried are the ones who persuade the priests or religious and eventually lead them astray. In which case, it is the priests and religious who are the victims!
Cases in which children were fathered should be handled with extra care; otherwise, they can be permanently damaged psychologically as events unfold. In fact, since all the people implicated in such cases be they victims, offenders or collaborators, are already in a very difficult situation at least spiritually and psychologically, efforts should be made not worsen the situation of any of them. The main goal in handling these cases should be: getting everybody implicated healed, reconciled with God, with their inner self and with each other. If true reconciliation can be arrived at in these cases, that is an excellent sign that inner healing has taken place and all bitterness is gone.
Given the complexity of these cases, I believe it would be a good idea for all National Episcopal Conferences of Africa to put in place committees of experts to deal with them as they rise!
Fr. Dominic Vincent Nkoyoyo is from Monastery Val Notre-Dame in Canada.