Liberia: Police Monitor Allegations of Sexual Harassment and Power Abuse Within the Catholic Church
MONROVIA – The Liberia National Police say it is closely monitoring allegations of clerical homosexuality within Catholic Church. Police Spokesman, Moses Carter said Liberian laws will be enforced if anybody is found culpable of violations.
By Tecee Boley, New Narratives Senior Justice Correspondent
“The Catholic Church is an institution. If any individual in the Catholic Church commits an act it does not becloud the entire church said individual must be made to face the full weight of the law.”
Article 14.73 on Involuntary sodomy of the Liberia Penal Code says, “A person who engages in deviate sexual intercourse with another person, or who causes another to engage in deviate sexual intercourse, has committed a third degree felony”.
In a letter to the Ambassador of the Vatican in August of 2018, Father Gabriel Sawyer of Monrovia Archdiocese accused Archbishop Lewis Zeigler and Bishop Andrew Karnley of sexually assaulting him and punishing him for refusing sex with them.
“Whoever claims they were sodomized or attempts were made on them, the law is always there for everyone. They can come over to the LNP. We have other crimes investigation organs under the LNP that are specialized in doing such investigations. You can come and make a case we will work with you in establishing the veracity of your claims,” Carter said.
The police statement follows weeks of the Catholic Church struggle to cover up the explosive allegations coming from one of its leading priests. Since the story broke four weeks ago, there have been different actions from people and organizations within the church. There was a letter from the president of the Bishop’s Conference, Anthony Borwah asking Sawyer not to speak out. Following his letter, Administrator of the Sacred Heart Cathedral, Father Alphonsus Momoh warned Catholics not to speak out. And the Knights of St. John International local board expelled Rhodoxon Fayiah who spoke to the press calling for an investigation into the matter.
Out of the three bishops in Liberia, only one has visited the Vatican to discuss the allegations and the church’s handling of them with top church officials. As the Catholic Church battle clergy sexual abuse of children around the world, this is one of the first sexual abuse allegations to come from Africa. Many church insiders believe the African church is rife with abuse.
Bishops remain tightlipped
In the midst of all the calls for investigation coming from Catholics across the country, the three Bishops of the church in Liberia are refusing to comment or give approval for an investigation to be conducted. Email communications and phone calls to Bishops Borwah and Karnley were ignored. However, Bishop Karnley is the only one who has denied the allegation against him.
Archbishop Lewis Zeigler has refused to comment on the allegation or calls for investigation. In his replied to Frontpage Africa/New Narratives email, the Archbishop’s office wrote.“Your email was received with thanks. No comment.”
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More calls for investigation
Arguments continue over the way the church handled the allegation of sex-based assaults and abuse of power. A former seminarian, Benedictus Dotu Nyan wrote on Facebook calling for an investigation of the matter.
“In the wake of this grave allegation, I am calling on the Vatican to transfer the case and all documents associated with it back to Liberia to the Bishop of Gbarnga and President of the Catholic Bishops Conference of Liberia to commence initial investigation and notify the Holy See. This is for the sake of transparency and access to credible information and witnesses. This is also consistent with the Apostolic Letter issued Motu Proprio by Pope Francis, Vos Estis Lux Mundi Art. 8.”
Nyan, who is still a devoted Catholic, cautioned the Church leadership against intimidating laypeople from speaking out.
“Also, I am calling on authorities of the Catholic Church in Liberia to resist the temptation of silencing people who speak out on this issue.”
There were more than 20 comments on his post with most people were arguing in favor of an investigation. Ambrose Taplah is a lawyer for a former seminarian. “Benedictus Dotu Nyan, look what the church did to you and other seminarians in the past. The Catholic Church made you to leave your calling. For, example a client of mine was accused of fathering a child the day before his ordination. Yes, the poor [boy] had no way to defend himself with such a short notice. The act of keeping that malicious information was intentional. When we requested for the evidence or report, the church refused. This young promising priest had to change his career in the midst of a lie.”
Taplah said ignoring calls for investigation is not new to the church. He claimed that the Archbishop did little or nothing to investigate his client or the allegation that was brought up against him.
The Archbishop was present and said‘his name should never have come out in the first place.’ You imagine that statement damaging a person, who had resided in the home of the Archbishop. That decision was the final position. We would have gone to court for justice but my client said it will “affect” the Holy Church. So, brother Nyan, we have to address the problem in an objective manner instead of denying individuals their rights premised on “they say” and other messes. No one is above an investigation into serious allegations. Again, we look to the Holy Church for directions. We must address the problems facing our Church, even if they are repugnant to public perceptions n policies.
Frederick Wollor said the process of dealing with or controlling the situation has led the situation to the current state.
“Yes I know Bishop Kanley and this allegation is strange. I don’t know him to be an abuser or homosexual. However the situation was poorly managed which resulted to the damage that has already been made. As most of us may be aware, the testimony was out since last August. Both the Bishop Conference and the Papal Nuncio didn’t do well.”
Abraham K.Kromah said the church must investigate to save its image. “I’m a Catholic by faith. This kind of allegation against the Bishop has the ability to undermine the church. I 100% agreed with Benedictus Dotu Nyan. There should be an investigation lunched into to matter to save the image of the church.”
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. The funder had no say in the story’s content.