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Nigerian Bishop Discusses Clergy Sex Abuse

This month, the Roman Catholic diocese of Los Angeles, California agreed to pay 660 million dollars to more than 500 people who said they were sexually abused by catholic priests. If approved, it would by far be the largest payout made by any single diocese. In 2002, the Archdiocese of Boston paid 85 million dollars to 552 people who claimed they were also abused by priests. So how prevalent is sexual abuse by church clergy in the church in Africa?

John Onaiyekan is the Roman Catholic Archbishop of Abuja, Nigeria. He told VOA that what is alleged to be happening in the church is part of human weakness.

“I can’t really have any comment or reaction to what is happening in California because that is the business of the church in America and in California in particular. One thing is certain, namely that whatever abuses may have been alleged have never been condoned by the church. And by the way, this is valid not only for priests. Everybody knows that we ought to lead a good life. But we are not always able. Many people do fall by the way side, including journalists also,” he said.

Archbishop Onaiyekan said allegations of sex abuse by clergy exist everywhere in the world, including the church in Africa. But he said he would not hesitate to deal with such abuses if they happen in his church.

“There are always cases where adults sexually and physically abuse children and among others who happen to be priests. Some of them will be teachers; some will be just ordinary people. Even parents abuse their own children. The question is what do you do about it? If I see any such case within my diocese, I will call whoever is responsible for whatever action he or she may have undertaken,” Onaiyekan said.

In Zimbabwe, Archbishop Pius Ncube, an arch critic of President Robert Mugabe was reported by government media to have had an affair with a married woman who works as a secretary in his diocese.

Some blame the church’s policy of celibacy. But Archbishop Onaiyekan said celibates are not the only people who commit adultery.

“After all, the biggest number of adulteries is committed by married people. I am not saying that the allegation made in Zimbabwe is true, and the archbishop concerned has clearly denied the allegation. And it is easy to understand that the government of Mugabe may want to tarnish the image of his greatest and vocal opponent. I wouldn’t be surprised,” he said.

Onaiyekan said it is not fair to blame the church for the mistakes made by some priests.

“I do agree that if somebody like a priest has a particular role and responsibility to give good advice and to lead people, if he fails, his crime is considered most serious than if he did not have any such responsibility. But at the same token, the people in government who are supposed to take care of our money, who steal it regularly, they are also equally to be seriously sanctioned by the society,” Onaiyekan said.