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07.04.2010 Feature Article

ABUSE OF AFRICAN CHILDREN BY CATHOLIC PRIESTS VEILED BY STIGMA

ABUSE OF AFRICAN CHILDREN BY CATHOLIC PRIESTS VEILED BY STIGMA
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Africa has the fastest growing number of Catholics and Nigeria is the world's largest seminary making contribution worldwide. The price our children pay for their interaction with some priests is still hidden in secrecy and embarrassment. The rest of the world has learned to speak out against Catholic priests held in high esteem and beyond reproach that abused their positions. They are not the only offenders of children by any means but their culture of secret confessions only, concealed the real number of children abused, even outside of Africa.

While the Catholic Church has been sued worldwide for damages, it is noteworthy that the stigma of homosexuality is so strong in Africa, claiming damages from the Catholic Church are not an option. As the stigma is lifted, people may come forward and sue. If it was in Africa that people were claiming damages in millions of dollars, people could have attached poverty or opportunistic motives to those victims.

Treatment for these children that have become grown men and women, if they come out talking about it, may take another layer of re-reorientation into normal African lives or culture on top of other problems afflicting us. It must be handled differently from the way adults in other countries are treated. Indeed, some may have been told that it got them out of poverty and lack of education that were made available in Catholic churches then. In other words, they have to decide if after benefiting from Catholic schools, abuses from some priests were worth it.

Once Africans start coming out relating their experience in the hands of abusive Catholic priests, another dimension may come in. The obvious one can be racism which may over shadow the real issue of abuse of children. African slaves have been told in the past that they were rescued from diseases and poverty and must consider themselves lucky to be in the western world. By the same token, should the abused children thank these Catholic priest for their training and education, stay quiet and be grateful?

Children may hold adults in awe but their memories are resilient. Some of their parents would not have believed them in Africa anyway. It was the same parents that encouraged and dropped them by the monasteries for practice two or three times a week; if they only knew then. Apart from churches, missionaries established schools and some of them had hospitals but not as big as Government hospitals of those days when the Country worked well.

So, some of the best and most prestigious schools in Nigeria in those days were Catholic schools. The students were much disciplined and they compete very well in their final year's national examinations. Other denomination schools were Salvation Army, Anglican and Methodist schools. There were also Muslim school like Jubril Martins, Ansar-Ud-Deen and Hammadiya schools. The Government schools were of equal or higher status then because the emphasis was not on religion.

Some of the secondary schools that trained Catholic priest were free and some of the children knew they were not going to be a priest but wanted a good education anyway. As soon as they could take school certificate, they bolted out. Most of them did stay on and became Reverend fathers and sisters. Many parents hid their disappointment that a particular child was lost to Catholic Church, would not spread their genes and expand their seeds.

We have always suspected the coziness between our friends and their priests while growing up. There was some suspicion about reverend fathers that could not be translated into the open. Indeed we had different kinds of jokes and adulterated church songs not suitable for writing, about “servers” and their reverend fathers in Catholic churches. If our parents ever heard our jokes in schools then, they might have taken action.

This aberrant behavior of the Catholic priest had to do in large part with the celibacy and loneliness in places far away from home or without friends they lost once they became Reverend fathers and sisters. We had a few that abandoned the church and later got married. Now that everything is in the open worldwide except in Africa and probably Asia, it means children were not as stupid and unaware as adults thought.

Africans are very sensitive about manhood, even outside Africa. That is why many gay African Americans that are bisexual pose a great danger to women in their unsuspecting communities by transmitting HIV. But the diseases like urinary tract infections, HIV and other promiscuous behavior were not noted amongst Catholic priests. It could also be kept in secrecy from what we now know. Lately that HIV virus has spread in Africa, it may be interesting to know how much of it is concentrated to homosexual activity because HIV virus is just as common in limited number amongst heterosexuals in Africa.

In view of the long lasting effect sexual abuse has on children, the damages done to African children cannot be ascertained until they start coming out of the closets. So far, a book has been written about the abuse by Malidoma Patrice Some from Dagara community in Bukina Faso who was kidnapped from his village at the age of four and trained in the church. He had to relearn his language and culture after he escaped at the age of 20, like the African Christians who came back after slave trade to convert their people.

It is no wonder that African kids who were in Malidoma's shoes, were told that Chukwu which means God in Igbo is the name of the devil. So we were renamed in the name of God. And so it is that many Africans today bear Christian and Muslim names, prefer Queen's titles than those of Africa they consider sacrilegious. Some of us like those we met while in the western world even styled our names into English. So Bimbo may change to Bim.

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