Africa’s top prelate has hit back against the notion that clerical sexual abuse is a purely western problem, saying it happens on his home turf, too.
Speaking to Crux, Cardinal Philippe Nakellentuba Ouédraogo said: “Crimes of sexual abuse offend our Lord, cause physical, psychological and spiritual damage to the victims and harm the community of the faithful.”
During a July gathering, the prelates discussed the rapid growth of Catholicism on the African continent, the role of young people, who compose roughly 60 percent of the population in Africa, challenges to evangelization, including tribal issues and the abuse of women and minors.
Similarities and differences
Noting how some have said that clerical sexual abuse is not a problem in Africa, Ouédraogo said “each society has its strengths and weaknesses. There are similarities and differences.”
“From this point of view, ‘marriage for all’ or the question of sexual abuse of minors does not arise with the same urgency in all societies on the planet. Thus, some people believe, not without reason, that sexual abuse of children is not as frequent in Africa as in Europe or America, for example,” he said.
“Does this mean that it does not exist in Africa? Far from it,” Ouédraogo said, insisting that sexual abuse does happen, not just to minors, but also to women.
During the plenary, specific mention was also made of Pope Francis’s new document, Vox estis lux mundi, which was released in May and outlines a new process for episcopal accountability in abuse cases, both for the crime and the cover-up, giving metropolitan archbishops a key role and requiring all dioceses in the world to set up reporting mechanisms.
“Peter’s successor took the true measure of the drama and undertook to help the ecclesial community to live a true repentance and an authentic, continuous and profound conversion of hearts through concrete and effective actions,” he said.
Insisting that the problem “concerns the whole Church,” Ouédraogo said concrete studies and recommendations are being made at the level of both national and inter-territorial bishops’ conferences.
Implementation of Francis’s new measures, Ouédraogo said, was discussed “at length” by African prelates during their plenary meeting, and as part of the follow-up, each individual bishops’ conference is required to inventory their own procedures and provide a report, including recommended solutions, to SECAM’s general secretary.
“There are many scourges to which children are subjected: Sexual abuse, child soldiers, trafficking in human beings. Children’s rights are being violated both in Africa and around the world,” Ouédraogo said.
“What Pope Francis’s Motu Proprio stipulates, namely, is the establishment of an appropriate ecclesiastical office in each diocese to enable reports of various cases of sexual abuse to be presented,” Ouédraogo said, adding that the document “must be extended, it seems to us, to these other scourges that also cruelly affect children.”