We Reject Sexual Abuse in Awka – Bishop Ezeokafor

…As Diocese Holds Seminar on Abuse

By Rev Fr Obinna Dike

The Catholic Bishop of Awka Diocese Most Rev Paulinus Ezeokafor, has reiterated his diocese’s commitment to zero tolerance to sexual abuse of minors and vulnerable persons by priests or other ecclesiastical workers in his diocese, Awka. The prelate said this in his opening address at the seminar with the theme, ”Awka Diocesan Policy on Sexual Abuse of Minors and Vulnerable Persons’, which held on March 22, at Archbishop A. K. Obiefuna Retreat, Pastoral and Conference Centre, Okpuno.

The Nanka-born bishop noted that both traditional and ecclesiastical values abhorred taking advantage of those under one’s care; not least, sexual exploitation. He observed that in recent years the world had become increasingly but painfully aware that not a few clerics, religious and other ecclesiastical workers, had betrayed the trust reposed in them by the people they served.

The bishop said that since cases of sexual abuse scandals of minors and vulnerable persons spread like wild fire in Europe, Asia, and the Americas, the Church in Awka Diocese had been forced to examine more critically the reality of the situation down here.

He said this led to the formulation of Awka Diocesan policy on sexual abuse, binding since October 22, 2019, and one of the processes of getting it across resulted in the seminar March 22, 2021, involving the clergy and religious men and women working in Awka Diocese, including the two bishops.

‘We are not any better than our western brothers and sisters. Some have led and are still leading the kind of lives that either overtly or covertly contradict the gospel values. Some priests and religious have compromised, used and abused their good offices through sexual misconducts, thereby questioning strongly the desired commitment to chastity and celibacy. Our people are scandalized; feel terribly betrayed, deeply hurt and confused. In some instances, their faith in God is seriously shaken,’ the bishop said.

‘Nonetheless, the Church, both at the universal and particular levels, truly thank God for the faithful witness of the vast majority of her ministers, while still asking God’s forgiveness over those who have erred and/or covered such atrocious acts. The Church is seriously pained by this and widely condemns it,’ he concluded.

At the seminar, a renowned canonist and judge, Rev Fr Hilary Odili BenEzenwa, delivered a lively paper on “Sexual abuse of minors and vulnerable persons by Clerics and Religious: description of the problem from a Church perspective and the substantive law”.

The paper x-rayed sexual abuse as a grave sin ever condemned by the Church and efforts by the Church and the Catholic Bishops’ Conference of Nigeria to combat it headlong. Fr Ezenwa praised the local efforts led by Bishops Paulinus Ezeokafor and Jonas Benson Okoye to address the issue.

The second paper titled, “The procedural aspect of the norm processes of establishing penalty”, was taken up by another popular canonist and Chancellor of Awka Diocese, Rev Fr Dr Francis Chidume. The presenter clearly outlined processes to follow in reporting genuine cases of abuse, and called for an end to the culture of silence in the face of evil. He however warned against labeling a suspect guilty until proven so.

Fr Chidume called for more commitment to the mind of Christ for his people to avoid what he described as damaging scandals.

The Auxiliary Bishop of Awka Diocese, Most Rev Jonas Benson Okoye, was the main resource person at the seminar, being the pilot person at both the national and local levels in formulating and promulgating the sexual abuse policies.

Bishop Okoye advocated for more mature and responsible living among the clerics and religious, especially in the parish houses and schools to curb the situations that led to abuses.

Some speakers during the interactive session at the seminar observed that the seminar tended more towards the rubrics and litigation aspect of the issue at hand and called for more spiritual and pastoral dimensions to the problem in subsequent seminars. Some others advocated for attention to be given also to physical, verbal and forced sex abuses of adults.

In response, the Chancellor of Awka Diocese, Fr Chidume, referred all to read Pope Francis’ Apostolic Letter, ‘Vos Estis Lux Mundi’, on sexual abuse to understand the holistic approach to the issue. He said the letter was contained in the Awka Diocesan booklet on sexual abuse policy published by Fides Media, and urged all to get the document for their parishioners as well.

Participants at the seminar signed the sexual abuse policy declarations, and will be issued certificates soon. The book on sexual abuse policy can be bought at Fides Bookshop Okpuno or via 08170204414, 08038794472, 09093209690.