Bishop Karnley Rejects Homosexuality Allegations As Church Leadership Called to the Vatican

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MONROVIA – Andrew Karnley, the Bishop of Cape Palmas, has issued a press statement four weeks after a Frontpage Africa report, in which one of his subordinates Father Gabriel Sawyer accused him and Lewis Zeigler, the Archbishop of Monrovia, of sex-based assaults and abuse of power.  In the detailed statement, issued May 29, 2019, Bishop Karnley vehemently refuted the allegations. 


By Tecee Boley, New Narratives Senior Justice Correspondent


“It is without a shadow of doubt that I term the accusation as a blatant lie and a malicious falsehood.” Karnley’s letter said. “There is absolutely no iota of truth in it. It is an invention of the mind of Fr. Sawyer and a calculated move by him to assassinate my character and tarnish the image of the Catholic Church in Liberia. At no time or in any place have I ever sexually harassed and abused him. NEVER EVER! I categorically deny and challenge the accusation.”

Reverend Karnley, who denied the allegations in a phone call for the first report, explained the four week delay in issuing a statement.

“This statement is made now rather than earlier because of reason of travel out of Liberia to Burkina Faso for the Third Plenary Assembly of Catholic Bishops in West Africa. Having prayerfully reflected, I deem it expedient to make a statement now rather than remain silent to defend my reputation and the image of the Church.”

The statement was not enough according to Father Gabriel Sawyer, the accuser. 

“Denying sexual advancement and abuse of power is not enough,” said Fr. Sawyer in a text message. “He must be prevailing on the Vatican to come and investigate this matter to its logical conclusion. Anything short of that is scaring, unethical, unprofessional, lacks international best practice and has the propensity to cover up the truth.”

Rhodoxon Fayiah, a journalist who was expelled from the Knights of St. John International for supporting Fr. Sawyer’s called for an investigation, echoed Sawyer’s comment today.

“Saying that it is a lie does not prove or disprove anything. Let him go to the Vatican for investigation. We know that he has been called. Denial is not sufficient to prove that he is innocent. By the way, we do not expect him to say him it is true. For the good of the church, he should go for the investigation”.

Fayiah has been the early lead voice calling for investigation of the matter. He insists that investigation is the best way to save the image of the church.

Vatican Intervention

Meanwhile, a segment of the leadership of the Roman Catholic Church in Liberia has been summoned by the Holy See. According to Catholic mission workers very close to those in the hierarchy of the church, the leaders are being called to the Vatican to give accounts of their handling of allegations of homosexuality and abuse of power within their ranks. 

Bishop Anthony Borwah, President of the Liberia Bishop’s Conference, Father Dennis Cephus Nimene, Secretary of the Bishop’s Conference and Nuncio Dagoberto Campos Salas, the Vatican Ambassador are said to make the top list of invitees to the Vatican. 

Bishop Borwah, he returned to the country this week. He was expected to visit the University of Notre Dame, Indiana, USA following his visit, but his trip was cut short. According to our sources he was locked up in a long meeting with the Nuncio the following day.

People close to the bishop say he was called to explain his December 4, 2018 letter to Father Sawyer asking him not to speak out about the allegations and the failure of the Nuncio to investigate.   

Father Nimene left the county for the Vatican on Sunday.

Nuncio Salas is expected to meet with superiors of religious communities and missionaries working within the country. Those invited include, the order of Salesians, Society Divine World Vision (SVDs), Holy Family Sisters, Mother Theresa Group and Society of African Missionaries (SMAs) and other communities. The meeting is expected to take place on Saturday June 1stat the Saint Theresa Convent’s conference room. Following the meeting, he will travel to the Holy See.

Read previous versions:

Catholic Bishops Accused of Homosexuality, Abuse of Power In Liberia

Liberia: Catholic Church Scrambles to Cover Up Sex Abuse Scandal

Liberia: Priest Tells Catholics Allegations of Sexual Harassment are False

Defying the Pope, Knights of Saint John Liberia Expel Fayiah

Catholics across Liberia call for investigation

Catholics across the three dioceses in country are now joining the call for an investigation. Aaron Weah is a member of St. Gabriel Parish, Archdiocese of Monrovia.  For Weah the investigation will save his faith from collapse. 

“I support a strong and impartial investigation into this horrifying story,” said Weah. “What we are witnessing in other parts of the world – in India, in America and other places – is healing. The Catholic Church has gone through so much. And we think it is important for our faith here. I believe that if they are verified to be lies it will help the church. If these acts are actually happening in the church and they can be verified and authenticated it will also help our faith.”

Beatrice [last name withheld to protect her as her pastor had warned them not to speak], is a devoted member of the Sacred Heart Cathedral in the Archdiocese of Monrovia. She said the investigation must happen to save her from humiliation. 

“This is something that is bringing the church’s name down. Me, I want the three people to be investigated. This thing is an embarrassment. Even my friend is provoking me.” 

In Cape Palmas Diocese the voice of the laypeople is also loud. William Quiwea is from Christ the King Parish in Zwedru. In his point of view, Sawyer deserves a listening ear. 

“He must be listened to. We can’t just overlook his complaints. Probably, he suffered it,” said Quiwea. “It may not be a made up. I will urge the authorities responsible to call for investigation especially setting up an independent team that will investigate the two parties involved. I know it may be difficult to investigate people of that caliber but this is a complaint coming from somebody who was working with them. To defend the image of the church whosoever must be thoroughly investigated.”

Stephen Kesseh is a devoted member of St. Theresa Cathedral in Harper, where Bishop Karnley works. He says the investigation will clear the name of their bishop.

“It should be investigated because it is an allegation. It has not been proven. We should investigate so we all can know the truth that is in it, because, that is spoiling someone’s character. If it is truth that such a thing happened it will not be good for the church. Not only had them, but the church’s name spoiled.”

Bellor Toe, Christ the King in Sass Town, Grand Kru is also concerned about the bishops clearing their names. 

“They must investigate because that is spoiling our people character. It is not good. It is not supposed to go that way.”

Gbarnga is the only diocese whose bishop was not accused but people there are also interested in the allegation and how it is handled by the church. 

A staunch Holy Spirit Cathedral Parish and member of the Knights of St. John, Michael T. Biddle said it takes a whole lot of time to investigate such accusations within the church.

“Having filed a complaint against Archbishop Ziegler and Bishop Karnley last August accusing them of moral improprieties, Sawyer, as a priest, must have known that levying allegations against hierarchies of the Church and requesting an investigation doesn’t happen in a twinkle of an eye. The Church has its legal and judicial offices that require substantial time to probe any allegation. 

This story was a collaboration with New Narratives as part of the West Africa Justice Reporting Project. Funding was provided by the International Women in Media Foundation. 

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