In Lourdes, the religious face the reality of sexual abuse in Africa

“There will be no report from Ciase in Africa. “ Father Stéphane Joulain, Père Blanc and psychotherapist engaged for years on the sexual abuse front (1), is clear: the work of the Sauvé commission cannot be transposed to Africa. The geographical reality of a continent made up of 54 countries, with a multitude of cultures and traditions, but also the lack of means does not allow today to hope for a survey such as the one conducted in France over the past three years.

→ DOCUMENT. For victims of abuse “yesterday and today”, Véronique Margron calls on Corref to take action

It nevertheless seemed essential, for the superiors of the religious institutes of France meeting in Lourdes this week, to reflect on the characteristics of this scourge which strikes the Churches of Africa, as everywhere in the world, in particular during a round table reserved on this subject Thursday morning.

Now, a word is being heard, Sister Veronica Openibo, Superior General of the Congregation of the Sisters of the Holy Child Jesus, testified: “Too often, we have remained in silence waiting for the storm to pass, but today we are ashamed of our Church and our hypocritical congregations. How did we get there ? “ The Nigerian nun, who spoke with a loud voice in Rome in February 2019 during the summit on pedophilia wanted by Pope Francis, told how a teenage girl raped by a priest can be pushed by the same attacker to have an abortion …

In Africa, contrary to the abuses denounced by the Sauvé report in France, it is more girls who are victims, as well as vulnerable women, widows or living alone. But also the nuns, too often abused by priests. “We kept quiet, we stood up for the criminals. By our silence we have collaborated in the crime and allowed it to be repeated. We are not ourselves guilty of these crimes but accommodating observers or accomplices ”, rebelled Sister Openibo.

The humanity of priests

Stéphane Joulain, who visits many communities in Africa and organizes training, is also indignant at the denial of the Church: “The breaches of chastity of certain sexually active priests or bishops are often sexual assaults against adolescent girls or nuns, which go as far as giving birth to children of secrecy. There is an institutional lie in the face of the sexual humanity of priests in favor of an asexual model, in order to preserve an archaic mode of government. “

The psychotherapist worried about the emergence of what he calls a “Sacred prostitution”, where young women or novices are encouraged to find a “Protective priest” to finance their studies. In his eyes, the training of the sisters, so that they are able to resist the possessive behaviors of the clerics, is one of the first responses to be provided, even if“It is not enough to say to the nuns ‘protect yourself’, but (it is necessary) also say to priests “do not abuse”. “

A Togolese nun, Sister Mary Lembo in her turn recalled the role of nuns in evangelization and the presence of the Church in the villages, an essential mission too often carried out under the abusive orders of priests. For five years, this nun of the Congregation of the Sisters of Saint Catherine of Alexandria investigated in five African countries to collect testimonies: “Suddenly, he closes the door, puts the key in his pocket… We don’t dare cry out. Those who speak are considered rebellious, driven by the devil. “

Member of the Child Protection Center of the Pontifical Gregorian University of Rome, Mary Lembo also emphasizes the importance of training to thwart “Solicitation schemes” and “This African familiarity which creates confusion”.

Family models

“We must move away from the patriarchal models of parishes, from Catholic schools to seminaries, recommends Stéphane Joulain. I am a priest, a religious, but I am nobody’s father: do not call me father, this superior fatherhood, I do not want it. “ Before an African major superior intervenes in the assistance: “We nuns, women, what have we done with ourselves? We who are bearers of life. “


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