Father Campbell and persons affected by leprosy: Time for an update

Reverend Father Andrew Campbell Father Campbell

Tue, 21 Dec 2021 Source: Isaac Ato Mensah

Contracting leprosy was one of the most tragic things that could have happened to an individual in the ancient world.

Whenever a person with leprosy [- not leper!] was around other people, they were required to shout “unclean, unclean,” so passersby would know to keep their distance.

People affected by leprosy were required to live “alone, outside the camp,” so as to reduce the risk of transmitting their disease to others (Leviticus 13:45-46).

To become infected with leprosy was to be isolated and humiliated perpetually.

In order to remove this stigma from people affected by leprosy, the World Health Organisation per its Goodwill ambassador Yohei Sasakawa, and many experts have since 2009, called out the use of the term leper as being synonymous to outcast, and campaigned against the use of that derogatory word.

“The UN’s principles and guidelines for the elimination of discrimination against persons affected by leprosy, published in 2010, states the use of the word ‘leper’ should be removed from government publications and for the media to portray people affected by leprosy with dignity,” states the Leprosy Mission on its website leprosymission.org.uk.

So how come, almost 12 years later, Dr Mahamudu Bawumia, our Vice President, has written the foreword to a book with such an objectionable title “The Lepers’ Priest” which was launched last Saturday?

How come the Republic of Ghana still has a place designated as Cured Lepers’ Village in Ho-Donokodzi?

How come we read of a Cured Lepers’ Foundation-Ghana with a Facebook page?

And how come Rev. Father Andrew Campbell, founder of the Lepers’ Aid Committee, a private organisation he founded to mobilise resources to champion the cause of persons affected by leprosy in this country, has not found the need to change the name of his organisation?

As for the ghanaian media, obviously their leadership has failed to keep abreast with current progressive thinking in this matter; perhaps reading important background materials is not part of the daily thrust of their editorial teams.

Do not be surprised that someone will ask: “Do you know more than Father Campbell or Dr Bawumia? Have you organised a banquet before? Do you know how to raise funds?”

Father Campbell may have been inspired by Saint Damien, a Catholic priest belonging in a Religious Order like the former, who was devoted to helping people affected by leprosy.

But how come, Father Campbell will tell the ghanaian media several times that many people call him “The Lepers’ Priest” without anyone prompting him, and then proceed to write a book with that title?

It is customary for Catholic priests and Religious men and women to seek the imprimatur or approval of the Bishop of their diocese before publishing any book about their work.

In the case of Father Campbell, being a member of the SVD congregation, a Religious Order within the Catholic Church, the prior approval must come from the Superiors of the SVD congregation in ghana before the manuscript is submitted to the Archbishop of Accra for the imprimatur which must come by way of a formal written permission.

So the errors of omission and commission occured at multiple levels.

Beyond ghana, EWTN, a very well funded “Global Catholic Media” has used the discriminatory term “leper” in a publication on its website about the aforementioned St. Damian.

“By the year 1000, monks had constructed more than two thousand leper hospitals in Europe. They were called Lazar houses after the Gospel’s poor leper, Lazarus. Friars often lived in hidden leper settlements, serving the outcasts’ physical and spiritual needs,” reads the EWTN article on St. Damian of Molokai.

We take this opportunity to urge Father Campbell to use his wide influences on EWTN and the media to help eradicate the pejorative term.

At the same time, the name of the Lepers’ Aid Committee should be changed to reflect what can be uttered in polite company.

The BBC has since 2010 updated its style guide to reflect persons affected by leprosy instead of lepers.

How about the various ghanaian media houses and their astute journalists who are quick to respond that every media house has its own “house style”?

Again, we humbly ask: What is your house style based on; what is your point of reference?

Should Father Campbell, his biographer and his publishers withdraw the book from circulation, and reprint?

Prudence and respect strongly dictate that course: Respect for persons living with leprosy, persons cured of leprosy, and respect for the brand name Ghana, our hallowed Republic which provides the setting for the book and excellent work done by Father Campbell.

Should the Bible be rewritten to remove the word lepers? Yes, and it probably will.

Let us help heal the emotional and physical wounds of the 200 thousand people affected by leprosy globally – many of them children – by refraining from stigmatisation and employing an enlightened approach to our public discourse on their challenges.

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Columnist: Isaac Ato Mensah