Has The Vatican Forgotten Us Amidst The Spate of Global Pastoral Ineptitudes?

Sat, 8 May 2010 Source: Berko, George

It was with deep sadness and grave concern that many of us read the report appearing on the Ghanaweb.com on the 25th of April, 2010, that one Rev. Father Charles Asamoah, a Catholic Priest, not only inflicted brutal, savage cutlass wounds on a Ghanaian lady, but also exhibited extreme dereliction of Pastoral responsibility by engaging in sexual relationship with her and other women. That is a story that has the potential to shake the faith of many a Christian, especially a Catholic, even as the allegation is yet to be substantiated in Court. Upon further revisits to the story, I became very troubled with the many questions that rushed through my mind and decided to invite the Public to help discuss some of them. This is not an attempt at Catholic bashing. It is an attempt to seek Justice and fairness for our folks, as well.

To start, please, indulge me to ask if this sad story of sexual adventurism, Pastoral dereliction and ineptitude, and gross, extreme, physical abuse and purely sinful crime by a Catholic Priest in Ghana does not pry the tight lid off the can of worms squirming inside the rotten hidden truths about the abuse by Catholic Priests in Ghana and elsewhere in Africa? Have our folks been shown adequate concern by the Vatican for the probability of our young and vulnerable suffering similar abuses by its Priests as those revealed around the Globe? Have any studies or interviews been done to see the extent of such abuse among our folks? Or, our folks are regarded as wholly immune to these crimes and therefore do not have to be considered for the necessary redress? If our area is also known to be rife with such abuses by the Pastors, what has the Vatican done so far to, not only to ensure the discontinuation of these evils by the very religious leaders that our young and spiritually hungry look up to for guidance and inspiration, but also provide logistical and legal tools for redress? Have any of our folks been identified as victims of such atrocities and compensated fairly by the Vatican? We should all remember that the absence of Publicity does not necessarily mean non-existence of some incident. This cuts across to both sides-- the likely victims and the Vatican. However, I would think given the issue more Publicity without compromising any privacy concerns for the victims would help assure the Public that our young and women are secured within the walls of Worship, and Justice prevails in the House of the Lord. The Public must be duly informed.

So far as I know, nothing much has been exposed or admitted by the Vatican regarding abuses of Catholic Pastors in Ghana and other African Nations. The silence of the Vatican on the African victims presupposes the Pastors ordained or sent there have, in large, been of better behavior than all the others around the World where reports abound for their sexual abuses of children and others.

Many of our own folks within the Parishes would also not like to even think of the possibility of such abuses being inflicted upon our children and women. We seem to be overly trustful of and reverent to the Pastors. And I would not be surprised if the Vatican were taking undue advantage of that non-complaining characteristic of our people, and practicing “Don’t Ask, Don’t Tell” policy with this issue on us. I surely know that many of our folks would not like to be exposed as having fallen prey to any sexually predatory Priest, for fear of getting the stigma stuck on them. But that should not encourage the Vatican to turn a blind eye to the silent victims that exist in the Parishes.

I would not like to sound a death knell to the Catholic Evangelistic and Missionary activities in our Country or Africa. Neither am I just trying to excite the Bee-hive for the sake of rattling the Catholic Church in our part of the World. After all, the Catholic Church is not the only Church that has its Priests wreaking sexual havoc among their Congregations while admonishing all to live like Christ. However, the unique Global influence and stature of the Catholic Church call for that Institution to lead in correcting the wrongs within its ranks, if the winning of Souls for Christ still remains the prime duty of the Church. The Catholic Church has done admirably well to bring us the Gospel and help construct various infrastructural projects, notably, Schools and Hospitals, for our people.

Nevertheless, that astounding contribution to our Country does not preclude the continued, active and honest expurgation of the Church of miscreant Pastors and the dignified appeasement of any victims abused by the Pastors.

What is most disturbing about this issue is the high probability that these abuses among our folks could go on much longer with impunity. The case of Pastor Asamoah seems to portray certain characteristics suggesting gross impunity with which the Pastor tortured his victim. Couldn’t the underlying reasons encouraging such impunity be what might have driven other Pastoral perpetrators of similar crimes to get away with such behaviors in Ghana? The flakiness of our Judicial and Security systems, most of the time, our fear of being stigmatized by reporting an incidence of abuse by a Pastor, our fear that we might not be taken seriously and believed if we reported such an incidence, our preponderant level of illiteracy among the Congregations that makes most of us ignorant of our rights to seek Justice, and our fear of being blacklisted from the Church if we reported an abuse could all play into the fertile source of impunity by the offending Pastors. In the face of little publicity of such incidents, we are most likely to assume that such incidents never occur in our Catholic Churches.

Upon a little deeper reflection on this vile, shameful, brutal and cruel crime attributable to Pastor Asamoah, I discovered what could serve as some evidence of such crimes occurring more often than we would admit to. The first such observation is made of an incident that occurred when I was a Government Official working in a mid-size town in Ashanti during the mid-80s. I observed a friend and co-worker of mine being very quietly but aggressively competed out of an amorous relationship with a Nurse at the town’s only Health Clinic by a Catholic Priest.

This Priest was a Ghanaian, just as young as, and attractive to many in the locality, as my colleagues and I, by our Youthfulness. My batch of freshly graduated Officers was the youngest ever in our Profession posted to the town at that time, and we were, without self-adulation, frequent targets of ambitious marriageable exquisite, young, single ladies, and the subtle entreaties by their parents to hook us up with their daughters. It is not like we, the Officers, were indifferent to the enchanting beauties, or exclusively pious as Heavenly Angels, (contrasting these with the fallen Angels), not pursuing some of the ladies, either. It was, however, unusual to many of us to find the ladies being so eager to be taken. Well, now that I am a father, I can understand better why the ladies might have been a little ambitious in finding worthy partners.

Our first six months was like a visit to an Islamic Paradise for many of us Officers, except that the encounter with 77 virgins was real to us. Nevertheless, my Colleagues and I realized the enormity of the temptations, amidst the high expectation of us by the Government to serve with exemplary character. Consequently, we, generally, did our best to restrain our horses to a reasonably well respected level. Mm, mm! Yes, I think we did.

The Pastor just alluded to in my Co-worker’s encounter had noticed the special attention we were receiving from members of his congregation and the general local Public. And possibly, he decided, he, too, fitted the Hymnal effusions describing our virility, real or fantasized. So, the Pastor silently took the challenge directly to my co-worker, who, like the Nurse he was dating, happened to be a member of his Congregation.

The Pastor intensified his seemingly benign visitation rounds to check on his Church members. Soon the frequency of his unannounced visits to the Nurse was noticed. My friend, getting a little suspicious, confronted the girl-friend who flatly denied any amorous relationship between her and the Priest. With the growing loudness of the silent gossips about the two, the Pastor and my friend’s girlfriend, my friend concluded that the circumstantial evidence of the girl’s infidelity was too large to be ignored and decided to gradually wean off his attraction for the Nurse by seeing her less often. But with the mounting gossips, my friend opted for finding concrete evidence with which to shorten his ordeal.

The Pastor, thinking he might have won the competition when he noticed my friend’s lessened contacts with the lady, then became emboldened to begin late nocturnal visits to her, obviously to fortify his territorial gains. Suddenly, the undeniable truth erupted when my friend deliberately cut short a carefully planned trip with investigative intentions and went to see his girl-friend in the middle of the night. The Priest, presumably, was exhilaratingly and generously administering a special “baptism of fire” to my friend’s girl-friend, in what we later duped “the Midnight Shower of the Holy Spirit”. What ensued was hush-hush but not peaceful.

The most shocking aspect of this incident to most of us that knew about it, however, is how terribly irate the Pastor was for being caught in the act, and how he subsequently set himself on an undiplomatic repudiation of my friend’s membership in the Church. My friend eventually left the Church, sensing the rising open animosity from the Pastor, even as he had broken off with the Nurse. Until that incident, I was most naïve to believe that Catholic Fathers were impenetrably insulated from Worldly lures, especially normal amorous or romantic relationships.

Secondly, I remember very well, when I was in Elementary School at Berekum (B/A) Catholic Boys’ School and some of my classmates used to be "Mass Servers/ Altar Boys", as we called them. Some of these boys were summoned to stay unusually late with some of these Priests and sometimes could not even be reached by their parents when needed at home. The parents even had to forfeit the children on some Saturdays when the kids might be needed to accompany them to farms, because the kids had to do some sub-ecumenical duties at the Catholic Mission.

Many parents in the Parish seemed anxious to have their kids be part of this exclusive selection of boys to serve at the Altar. The parents took great pride in seeing their kids don the garbs that stood them out among the children of the congregation. The mass servers’ outfit of red capes and white robes and their swinging of the Thuribles burning the Incense were a joy to view that many kids envied.

Whatever weird attitude we noticed about of some of these boys outside the Church, we were not encouraged to express it loud or share it. Our curiosity was muted by the larger-than-life image the Priests enjoyed-- being seen as the pious, holy Earthly representatives of the Son of God.

And yet, at least, on a few occasions, I remember seeing some of these boys come out from the Mission House with tears in their eyes but failing to tell us what had been done to them. They could have been reprimanded for some err made, scolded for some bad language usage or something else. But none would divulge anything to us, their friends.

One instance of great suspicion was with one friend that played on my under 5-feet, local Soccer team. For the purposes of privacy, I would use a pseudonym for his first name--Paul.

Paul once was late for practice on our last Saturday before a championship game the following Sunday. We realized he had been at the Priest's residence for most of the day. He was a keen and important player on our team. So, his absence was worrying to us.

My team manager then sent some of us to go check out if we could find him and ask if he was going to make it to the practice or not. A couple of the team members volunteered to do just that. In those days, access to the Mission house was very restricted. We were made to understand it was only by special invitation that one could get inside the compound, which was not too far from our School.

We therefore had difficulty reaching Paul to let him know we needed him at the Practice. Eventually, when he came out of the Parish he could barely walk normally. We noticed him walking as if he had some boil in his crotch... a kind of crab walk. A team mate even asked Paul if he had a boil and Paul vigorously shook his head in the negative. Paul had a little shimmer in his eyes that suggested they were tearful. Our Team Manager suddenly expressed a disappointing shock that Paul might not be able to play in our crucial game. He rushed to Paul and asked him what was wrong. Paul did not give him any immediate answer other than say he would be fine, with tears suddenly rolling down his face. The rest of us team-mates were quietly confused. When Paul was put in the practice drill, he could barely run. He was obviously in great pain. Eventually, our Manager told him not to force himself to play if he did not feel well. Paul then decided to sit on the side-lines.

Soon after, we broke up the drill and with a few last words of encouragement from our Coach we began to disperse to our various homes. As children normally do, some of us began teasing the way Paul was walking. Our Manager didn’t think it was amusing and shouted at us to stop teasing, and he walked Paul home.

On the next day, when we met on the venue for the Soccer Competition, on the beautiful, picturesque, lush grounds in front of the Omanhene's Palace, delineated by elegant Royal Palms, the atmosphere was pregnant with tension and excitement among both the competing teams and the throng of cheering spectators.

We began to run down our list of players scheduled to feature in the games and realized Paul was conspicuously absent. After waiting some 20 minutes to the start of our game, our Team manager and Coach sent someone to Paul's House to check how he was doing and if he would be able to join us. The messengers returned as quickly a possibly with sagging faces. In short, Paul's parents had told them that Paul had a bad boil and was not able to play with us that day. Well, the conundrum was that we knew that Paul did not have a boil. But he could not even come to the door himself; he could not come out to watch us play and cheer his side on. He missed the game.

Since any sexual abuse in those days was too remote a thought to even contemplate, let alone associate it with Holy Catholic Pastors, we all settled for the explanation we had been offered by Paul's parents to excuse him from playing with us.

Some months later, when Paul had a fall-out with one of his very best friends the friend insulted him that he was an imbecile and a "Kwadwo-besia", suggesting some involvement of Paul's in homosexual activity which was not only a taboo to us but also a strange phenomenon. The rest of us did not pay much attention and just laughed it off as some kind of cruel, insipid joke by one kid at the expense of another. Paul broke down crying and swearing at the friend. The friend got even angrier and revealed to us that the day Paul missed our Championship game, he did not really suffer from a boil but that the vital aperture at his rear end had been badly bruised. Paul simply ran back home crying uncontrollably and vowing never to speak to the friend again. I was shocked and sad for Paul and the rest of us, his friends at the scene, shared the thought that we had to refrain from circulating that story about Paul. Later on, we heard that Paul’s mother went to the house of the friend that broke their vow of secrecy to talk with his parents about that incident. I never heard any of us talk about that incident ever again.

The truth of what really happened to Paul at the Mission House, however, was not too deeply veiled from us who were around Paul then to know. It is just that we were too young or naïve to understand or believe it possible. So far as I know, no complaint was lodged against anyone for the obvious abuse of Paul. And only Heaven knows how many like him were victimized during period at the Parish.

Many Catholics might rush to attack this narrative as some baseless, deliberate demonization of their Pastors, and claim I am only making up the story to tarnish the reputation of the Pastors. But as a well-traveled Ghanaian, a concerned father, and someone fairly abreast with what circulates around the World now, I would challenge all that would rush to judgment without due attention to the likelihood of our children falling victim to sexually predatory Pastors to offer us solid evidence that our children are exceptionally exempt from such atrocities, and that due compensation and Justice are meted out to any unfortunate victims among us.

We don't hear the Vatican extending its investigation to our part of the World to see how many of our folks were similarly abused or humiliated as those in the USA, for example. We have all lived in a culture of silence that suggests that so far as no one has come forward to claim any abuse by the Pastors, no such abuse might have ever happened among our Parishes.

Shouldn’t the Vatican apologize to all people around the World, including those from our area, who because of the stigma attached to victims of sexual abuse, would fail to admit to it or report it?

Our folks could have benefited, too, from the financial compensation that the Institutions in the Catholic Church paid to others around the World. As it stands now, any such victims in our Nation might have had nothing to compensate for their abuses. And no one is ready to confess their sins done unto them. Yet, these victims could well exist. I hate to play the race card, here. But if race had nothing to do with it, our natural penchant for sucking up adversities and remaining uncomplaining could have been overly taken advantage of. And that, to me is very wrong.

In the very least, the negative repercussions of any such sexual abuse by Pastors could cause many of our folks that are victims to live with a heavy psychological burden that might compromise their ability to keep a happy married life, among a host of other social problems.

And lastly, I entreat the Vatican to check over its lists of expatriate Pastors to ensure that no Pastor with a history of molesting Children has been posted to hide and serve in Ghana or anywhere in Africa. If any of such offending Pastors are locals, they should not be in the active service anymore anywhere around the World, short of being duly prosecuted.

If the Vatican has known of any proven case of similar abuse to any of our folks, it should come out to do the right thing and, at least, offer apology and compensate them, too. We, too, are humans and deserve equal treatment under God’s firmament.

Long Live Ghana!!!

G.K. Berko. (A Realtor, New Hampshire. USA).

Columnist: Berko, George