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Africans quietly confront Church scandal

Africa | Justice

FROM 2008 TO 2010, the Catholic Church was shaken by a series of staggering revelations of acts of pedophilia committed by its priests. 

Street 89, a French Media outlet, reported that "overall, in a few weeks, there were some 170 complaints of sexual abuse in Germany alone, covering two thirds of the dioceses. Such revelations were in addition to those that rocked the American church in recent years and that of Ireland, where the number of complaints exceeds 14,000..."

"We are deeply ashamed," declared Pope Benedict XVI during his visit to the USA in 2008. "The Church will do everything possible to heal the wounds caused by pedophile priests and ensure that such acts do not recur," he added.

Since then, bishops have been accused of stalling some cases and shuffling problem priests around while the Vatican averted its eyes.

On May 16, 2011, however, after years of hesitation, the Vatican weighed changes to church law that will make it easier to deal with the abuse problem. The Vatican ordered the bishops to bring to justice members of the clergy suspected of abuse and to prevent them from exercising a ministry harmful to minors.

The frenzy of international media reports that followed the revelations generally overlooked cases of sexual abuses concerning the Catholic Church in Africa; however, the continent is far from exempt from such practices.

"I know that the Church in Africa suffers from the same evils,” said Buti Tlhagale, the Archbishop of Johannesburg, in reference to the painful scandals in the Church of Ireland, Germany and the USA.

"The bad behavior of priests in Africa has simply not been exposed by the media with the same prominence as in the rest of the world,” he said during a homily in April 2010, reported by Le Nouvel Observateur.

This was confirmed by the group Secularism is a Women’s Issue (SIAWA) in their May 16th 2010 entitled, “Pedophilia and the Catholic Priest: A Taboo in Africa”.

Because of the strong social taboo and lack of publicity, pedophilia among African clergy seems like less of a problem.  A Congolese priest of the Theology Faculty of Kinshasa challenged this theory, however.

"Within the Church, we are not allowed to speak," he said. The situation is embarrassing and does not play the game of transparency. Hypothetically, there have been cases in Africa.

Until very recently, despite the Pope’s recognition of the "deep shame" and "gravely immoral behavior", and an acknowledgment that priests and bishops had resigned and victims were compensated, very little was done to bring to court and punish the clerics.

This was because parts of Catholic Canon law, according to expert Nicholas Cafardi on npr.org, “requires sufficient proof of guilt and a trial to protect the rights of the accused.”

That canonical system was seen by many bishops as too complicated to use, Cafardi said.

This reluctance to denounce clergy abuses knew few exceptions in Africa.  In May 2010, it was reported by afrik.com that in Uganda, the minister of Ethics and Integrity Nsaba Buturo James called the people of his country to fight against Catholic priests whose moral values were “more than doubtful”.

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