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Abuse Charges Against Priest Rock Kenya's Catholic Church

Kenya's powerful Catholic church has been rocked by allegations that an Italian priest long active in the country molested children for which his organization was responsible. The priest denies the charges, saying he is a victim of extortionists.

Kenyan Deputy Police Spokesman Charles Owino says investigations will begin into allegations that Renato Sesana, an Italian Roman Catholic priest known as Father Kizito, sexually abused boys staying at homes for street children that the priest operates in the country.

The allegations, made by alleged victims and their relatives on the KTN television channel, have dominated the week's headlines in the deeply religious country. However, Owino says that no formal complaints had yet been made.

"I so far would like to confirm that the case against Father Kizito, we've seen it on the media also, but nobody has come up to make a formal report," Owino said.

For his part, Sesano, who first came to Kenya in 1988, denies the accusations.

"I have not sodomized any child, ever, in Kenya or anywhere else," Sesano said.

He maintains the allegations are an effort by unnamed people to make him leave the country and to take over his property. He claims that he has been asked to pay $500,000 for the accusers to withdraw their charges.

Sesano is a well-known figure in the Kenyan Catholic Church. He started his current organization, which provides shelter and rehabilitation for street children, in 2000. He has also worked in Sudan and Zambia.

The charges have put the Catholic Church in Kenya on the defensive. The church was already responding to accusations that a number of priests that have maintained families or mistresses.

Philip Sulumeti, vice chair of the Kenya Episcopal Conference, plays down the significance of the latest charges.

"Ninety-nine percent of the clergy are okay, are doing their work well," Sulumeti said. "It's only a very small percentage that is creating a problem."

Roman Catholics account for roughly one-third of Kenya's population.