Each time someone makes headlines for the wrong reasons, I pause to think more about them, and their loved ones.
It often takes a lifetime to build a reputation and a moment to have it all come crumbing down. Sexual scandals, in particular, make interesting reading but behind each, there is a hurting human being who may very well be totally innocent.
When news surrounding the resignation of the Roman Catholic Bishop broke out in a screaming headline last Friday, and went viral in social media, I paused to think of the hurt that the man was inevitably going through. I focused on him not out of lack of empathy for his accusers but because he was, at that moment, the one at the wrong end of the stick. Overnight, he had moved from being a symbol of all things right to one of all things wrong with the Catholic Church and the Christian clergy. His fate was sealed before his trial commenced. He stood disgraced, his reputation in tatters and social media gnawing at whatever remained of it.
I don’t know the Bishop from Jack. I have heard of him but I have never seen or met him. I do not purport to speak for him but purely for principle. Further, I do not know if he actually did the things he is alleged to have done. My point is that whilst it is impossible not to be concerned at such allegations, it is important to refrain from judgment on matters affecting people’s reputations until all facts are on the table. Any person would ask for that, similarly circumstanced. The need is especially pronounced in his case where, ex facie, the complaint as narrated, elicited more questions than answers. Let us consider the allegations, briefly.
Same are contained in a group complaint lacking in specifics where same would be expected. The letter speaks to no particular case whilst somewhat conclusive and damning. The reader is left with no case narrative for evaluation. It is inapposite to judge someone on generic and unspecific accusations.
Secondly, the aggrieved claim that they are selectively chosen by the superior mother to go with the Bishop on South African trips to wait on the Bishop's “insatiable” sexual appetite. That they have travelled with the Bishop, or have watched as their less experienced and younger colleagues were assigned escort duties. What is critical is that they travelled all the same, and delivered on their corrupt assignments.
There is no record to say what resistance, if any, they put up. Did they warn the younger sisters? What advice did these senior and equally victimised sisters give to them? What kind of person knowingly agrees to leave their country for a foreign country,
They claim to have complied in honour of their vows. Without more, the claim makes no sense. It cannot hold without reference to the exact wording of the vows. How could the same have been understood to impose upon them an obligation to provide sexual services to the Bishop at the expense of their faith. Were these abortions committed at the instance of the Bishop and the superior mother?
It is not unknown for juniors to fraternize with their superiors for attention and privileges. True; power is often abused by the powerful for sexual purposes even in the Church. But it is also true, that sex is often abused by the less powerful for power purposes even in the church. To be wilfully blind to the latter reality is to be dishonest.
When I raised these arguments, some of my Facebook friends accused me of victim blaming, an indirect admission on their part, of having pre-concluded the guilt of the Bishop. I agree that sexual abuse does not boil down to the simple question of whether one gave tacit or implied consent. Prevailing psycho-social conditions can very well vitiate any form of consent. We cannot, however, assume adverse psycho-social conditions. They must, at the very least be factually alleged.
The Bishop, we are told, abused the Sisters at different times, over a period of time. Did they lodge individual reports for investigation and action? Did they have any opportunities for assistance outside the church? Were the avenues exploited? Critically, what is the Bishop’s side of the story?
The narrative, without more, bears the hallmarks of UB SRC election propaganda. Thin on specificity; fat in vilification. Take, for example, the allegation that the Bishop spends days in South Africa raping them in expensive South African hotels and that he eschews the use of a condom.
Taken literally, one may conclude that the sisters were reporting cases of group sex. It is rather unusual for victims of rape to hold a meeting together to report their personal victimisation as general grievances and to demand no more than administrative reform as adequate relief for actual, personal violation. Besides, the sisters know all too well to elicit the assistance of civil rights groups if their grievances are being ignored or to quit the sisterhood to avoid the abuse.
I stand not to absolve the Bishop or to suggest that the sisters are insincere. The accusations, bare as they are, do warrant an enquiry and one can only hope that a fair and honest inquiry is conducted. Until then, the Bishop must be presumed innocent.