The issue of sexual abuse in the African church is definitely not breaking news to anyone. In February of 2019, Sr. Veronica Openibo at a Vatican summit on sexual abuse, decried the culture of
silence on the subject of clergy sexual abuse in Africa. In March of the same year, the Holy Father publicly acknowledged that the sexual abuse of nuns by priests was one of the church’s scourges. In 1994 a Medical Missionary of Mary Sister, Maura O’Donoghue had prepared an extensive report on the same, but the Vatican shelved the report. Twenty-five years later, we know that this problem continues to persist and has become more virulent. How much longer will we allow this mortal sin to continue?
My paper focuses on the sexual abuse of African nuns by clergy. It draws parallels in the assumptions, attitudes and practices that have allowed a culture of abuse to flourish not just in the African church, but in the Global church as a whole. Having journeyed with a number of survivors, I have come to some understanding that though the scenarios of each case may be vastly different, there are commonalities such as a disregard for boundaries, deeply entrenched clericalism and a lack of mechanisms to address both victims and perpetrators.
It is these assumptions, attitudes and practices that I will try and address in my paper, drawing lessons that I have gained by listening to African nuns, who are victims of this phenomenon. The scenarios in each victim’s story may be markedly different, but the underlying drivers of the phenomena of sexual abuse are remarkably similar.