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21.06.2019 Liberia

Focus on Africa: Sex abuse scandal rocks Liberia's Catholic Church

By William Niba - RFI
LISTEN JUN 21, 2019

Allegations of sexual harassment and abuse in Liberia's Catholic Church continue to traumatise the lives of spiritual workers, after two top clerics were named in a major sex and office abuse scandal. 

The most damaging scandal to hit the faith in decades broke out in August last year when estranged Reverend Father Gabriel Sawyer sent an email message to the Pope.

He accuses the Archbishop of Monrovia and another top prelate of persecuting him and other subordinates who refused to have sex with him.

Sawyer, who has since resigned, claims that the psychological and mental molestations he suffered in the hands of Monsignor Lewis Zeigler were too much for him to continue with his spiritual mission.

Questions of morality
“He appeared to have confirmed a number of long-running secrets attributed to the Catholic Church especially in Liberia for a very long time," says Bai Best, editor of the Monrovia-based Observer.

Best noted, however, that the allegations are still to be proven. 

In a recent pastoral directive Pope Francis directed ecclesiastical authorities to ensure that victims of sexual abuse victims and their families are treated with dignity and respect.

This new decree by the Pope mandates the clergy and laypeople to report any accusations of sexual abuse they may come across in accordance with church and state laws.

“It is intended to change the way the church investigates cases of sexual offense,” wrote Tecee Boley, senior justice reporter with Liberian New Narratives/ newspaper.

Bolley who first reported the allegations of the sexually assault and power abuse inside the Liberian church claims that the letter is ground breaking because it provides for any inquests into sexual abuse allegations concerning Catholic clergymen to be completed within 90 days.

The Observer publishes a long tribune written by a prominent member of the influential Liberian diaspora in the United States expressing outrage at the harrowing affair.

God's Hand
Edmund Zar-Zar Barglor, who penned the piece, holds that the allegations of sex-based assault and power abuse has put the Liberian church under pressure describing the scandal as “God's way of bringing out the truth”.

Alphonso Toweh, publisher of the New Republic newspaper in Monrovia rolled out a catalogue of incidents which poisoned relations between Monrovia Arch Bishop Lewis Zeigler and the whistleblowing priest.

These included open clashes at church ceremonies between the two clergymen and a string of disciplinary transfers that probably pushed Reverend Sawyer to take off his cassock, he told RFI.

Several Liberian newspapers quote police spokesman Moses Carter as saying that they are closely monitoring allegations of clerical homosexuality within Catholic Church. "Liberian laws will be enforced if anybody is found culpable of violations," Carter warned.

Reverend Gabriel Sawyer has since resigned and gone into exile in the United States, after waiting in vain for a confrontation with Arch Bishop Zeigler. While Liberians clamour for a purge of the Catholic Church's hierarchy James Sawyer is enjoying his new status as the first person to speak out about widespread homosexuality and sex abuse which he said had haunted the church for years.

Mister Sawyer is now also the subject of a media frenzy in Liberia and his new home in the United States where he is enjoying a torrid time with his newly-wedded wife.

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