In the stare-down that followed the explosive letter that Father Musaala wrote to the Catholic Church reminding them that priestly celibacy in Uganda is largely a myth, there are signs that the Church has blinked first.
As matters stand today, some observers think that suspending Musaala by Archbishop Cyprian Lwanga was as hasty as it was a mistake. I tend to agree with them. Public opinion in Uganda has been split 70/30 in favor of Musaala if the online and newspaper responses to his letter are anything to go by.
Secondly, the open secret about cardinals, bishops, priests having sex quite freely that Father Musaala exposed cannot really be swept under the carpet with denials or platitudes. And so it seems that an institution that moves glacially, if at all, has chosen to try to paper over the gaping holes to save the Titanic from going under with an apology and a promise of a “commission.”
According to Uganda’s Monitor newspaper, Archbishop Lwanga has been reported to have offered an apology … of sorts:
“for alleged sexual abuses, including of minors, by some priests. “It’s sad that there has been some misbehaving by some (priests) as alleged,” he said, before announcing an ad hoc (sic) commission had been constituted to inquire into the matter.
Forced out of him by events, the Archbishop’s apology seems as harried as his downplaying of the extent of the scale of sexual misconduct by casually calling it “some misbehaving” borders on the blind. It will thus not be enough even if the commission seems like a step in the right direction.
What will make or break the commission is its terms of reference. If it is independent enough from the Church, listens to and sensitively deals with potential victims and is tasked with offering genuine apologies as well as arranging for restitution, it will be the right thing to do.
Given the history of the Catholic Church everywhere else sex scandals and abuse have been uncovered such as in America and Europe, the commission might very well be merely a time-wasting, pontificating, hostile and judgmental white-washing panel which does little other than to try to paint the victims as villains while doing all it can to protect the church.
The conflict of interest inherent in the Church appointing its own investigator notwithstanding, any past and/or present victims of sexual abuse by priests would be well advised to make sure that they understand the commission’s terms of reference before appearing before it.
Make no mistake about it, the Catholic Church in Uganda (and Africa) has been riven for eons with homosexual, heterosexual and pedophile sexual predators who have preyed on men, women and children all over the country. In just the two weeks I have paid attention to those emboldened to tell their stories to the support group that was recently launched (name withheld for security reasons), sordid tales of supposedly celibate religious prelates fondling boys, girls and women, sodomizing boys, raping boys and even married women, forced abortions, siring and neglect of offspring have come to light.
There is still some fear from many of those who say they have been victims but it will take just one to stand up for the Church to get inundated with claims. What I have seen and heard thus far is the tip of the iceberg.
As Father Musaala averred in this letter, the scale of the sexual scandals in Uganda and across the African continent might never be fully appreciated in our lifetimes. Cardinals, Archbishops, bishops, priests, nuns brothers … the list of infamy is as long as it is breathtaking. The only surprise is how the lid has been kept on such widespread sexual misconduct for this long.
The Church thus has little recourse but to be ready to listen, apologize and financially compensate victims. Of course nothing can bring back a lost childhood, undo the psychological harm to a rape victim or repair the damage of a neglected child but money goes some way to show genuine contrition. It will be expensive but, if handled right, it will be the more manageable and least damaging option.
I do not believe the Catholic Church in Uganda will opt for that high road; rarely has any entity with the power and influence this Church enjoys in Uganda ever willingly chosen to see the victims’ side until they were forced to by events.
So, it will likely be years of litigation, drip, drip revelations as names of sex abusers, past and present, dead and alive come to light. The Church will be embroiled in ruinously expensive legal cases that will embarrass and ruin the reputations of many as we saw in Boston, Massachusetts, Florida, Los Angeles (USA), Ireland and Scotland.
The consequences of the Pandora’s box Father Musaala opened will not be fully appreciated for years.
Right now, though, the ball is in the Catholic Church’s court.