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Catholic priests in child sex scandal


*Church accused of covering up abuse by paying victims to buy their silence

Pascalinah Kabi

TWO Roman Catholic Church (RCC) priests accused of sodomising “dozens” of male congregants and a catechist have allegedly been chased away from their respective dioceses in Leribe and Thaba-Tseka where the sexual abuse is said to have taken place.

The priests, whose names the Sunday Express is withholding for now because they were not readily available to give their side of the story, allegedly fled their parishes this month with angry community members and relatives of the victims baying for their blood.

The Leribe priest, who was based in Hlotse, is allegedly “hiding” in St Monica’s and is being accused of repeatedly sodomising “dozens” of teenage boys from his church since 2013.

His victims also included a catechist who allegedly had to undergo surgery on an unspecified day last year to repair a rectum ruptured during the sodomy, according to sources close to the matter. A catechist teaches the essentials of the Christian faith and morals, and gives instruction in Catholic doctrine.

According to the sources who spoke to the Sunday Express on condition of anonymity, the two priests are just “a tip of the iceberg” of the alleged sex abuse the RCC in Lesotho has been sweeping under the carpet through paying the victims.

“There is a case of a paedophile Catholic Priest based in Hlotse. He was working at St Margaret RCC Qoqolosing. He has been raping these young boys since 2013. When people here started complaining about it and threatened to take the law into their own hands, his Bishop began paying the victims in secret to keep them quiet,” one of the sources said.

“He also raped a catechist (name withheld) from St Luke Maputsoe and left him so badly damaged that the Bishop had to give him money to go to hospital for surgery. The abuse has been so bad the community is considering taking the matter up with the courts of law because the church is desperate to conceal it.”

Another source said the accused priest had since been run out of Qoqolosing by angry congregants and community members. The residents are also angry that Bishop Tumaole Bane of the Leribe Diocese is allegedly protecting him by not reporting the alleged abuse to the police.

The source alleges the matter was reported to Hlotse Police Station by members of the community but nothing had been done about it.

Another source told the Sunday Express that cases of sexual abuse have been rife in the Lesotho Roman Catholic Church “for a long time” but had somehow gone unpunished.

“This is not something new in our church. The Leribe priest in question isn’t the first one to be accused of this abuse and he is certainly not the only one. There is another priest (name withheld) who stands accused of sodomising a 16-year-old Marakabei High School (in Thaba-Tseka) student last year,” the source said.

“This priest was transferred to Mofumahali-oa-Tlholo (RCC Cathedral in Maseru city) soon after the church failed to sweep the rape under the carpet. The church wanted to pay the victim’s family for silence, but because the case had already been reported to the police, this became difficult.

“The police maintained that the priest had to face the law as the boy was under age and had been violated.

“But like I said, there are many such cases in Lesotho; we have had several cases of underage boys being sodomised and the church always tries to quietly deal with the matter by paying-off the victims and their families.”

Contacted for comment on Friday, Leribe Catholics Bishops Conference Secretary-General, Father Mookameli Chale, referred the Sunday Express to the Bishops of the Leribe and Maseru dioceses.

“Let me help you; individual priests report to their District Diocese Bishops,” Father Chale said.

“In this case, the Leribe Diocese is under Bishop Bane while Archbishop Tlali Lerotholi is head of the Catholic Church in Lesotho. These are the people who can respond to any issues concerning their priests.”

However, Bishop Bane professed ignorance of the matter when reached by the Sunday Express on Friday.

“There have never been reports of that sort. Not at all,” Bishop Bane said.

Asked if he was covering up the issue as claimed by the sources who spoke to the Sunday Express, Bishop Bane said he was not comfortable discussing the matter over the phone.

“I can’t discuss this matter over the phone. I can only respond to your questions if you come to St Monica’s,” he said.

On allegations that he paid off the victims to silence them, Bishop Bane said: “I still can’t discuss this matter with you over the phone. Come to St Monica’s like I said and we will discuss this matter at length.”

On his part, Archbishop Lerotholi said the Sunday Express should speak to the accused priests themselves and not him.

“Why aren’t you talking to the person involved in this matter? Why should you talk to me about it and not the person being accused?” Bishop Lerotholi asked.

The Sunday Express also asked Leribe Police District Commander Senior Superintendent Phahla Letsosa if the alleged abuse had been reported to the police and he said he was not aware of such a case.

“But now that you have tipped us off, we will investigate and get to the bottom of this matter. The police officer you say investigated the case has been transferred to Maputsoe, but we will find out if he knows anything about the issue,” Senior Superintendent Letsosa said.

Police spokesperson Senior Inspector Clifford Molefe was not readily available for comment.

Meanwhile, in February 2014, the United Nations Committee on the Rights of the Child published a report that condemned the RCC’s “code of silence” on paedophile priests. It said this silence was allowing known sex-offenders to continue working with children. A report from the UN Committee Against Torture which was produced in May of the same year was equally scathing of the church on the same issue.

In an interview with Britain’s Daily Mail last year, the head of the Catholic Church, Pope Francis revealed that about one in every 50 Catholic priests was a paedophile. Pedophilia or paedophilia is a psychiatric disorder in which an adult or older adolescent experiences primary or exclusive sexual attraction to prepubescent children, generally aging 11 years or younger.

The Pontiff condemned the issue as a “leprosy” infecting the Church, and also said bishops and cardinals were among the “two percent” carrying out child abuse.

Pope Francis also said many more in the Church were guilty of covering up the abuse, adding: “This state of affairs is intolerable.”

In another interview with Italian newspaper La Repubblica last year, Pope Francis denounced the sexual abuse of children as “the most terrible and unclean thing imaginable” and vowed to “confront it with the seriousness it demands”.

“The Church is fighting for the eradication of the habit and for education that rehabilitates. But this leprosy is also present in our house. Many of my colleagues who are working against it tell me that paedophilia inside the Church is at the level of two percent.”

The Pope said that the figures supplied by Church officials were supposed to reassure him, but added: “I have to say that they do not reassure me by any means; on the contrary, I find them deeply concerning.”

Since Pope Francis came to power in March 2013, he has been battling to clean the image of the change damaged by persistent reports and convictions of child sex abuse.

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