By Nevanji Madanhire
Spending most of our teenage years at a Catholic secondary school, we never really believed that priests and nuns were celibate.
It was impossible for us adolescent African boys, born and bred in rural areas, where we received our sex education as soon as we realised we were boys and not girls, to agree to the lie that a real man could live without a woman for all his life.
Our highly patriarchal sex education inculcated into us that boys should have girlfriends, marry them at the appropriate time and have children. The real man loved women and had several at his beck and call. It was, with the benefit of hindsight, the wrong kind of education, hence the now entrenched “small house” phenomenon.
It seems our priests also went through the same education.
At the mission school we always paired certain priests with certain nuns and alleged that they had sex romps once in a while. The more imaginative boys described in sordid detail how they had “seen with their own eyes” Father So-n-so doing it “live” with Sister So-n-so.
The situation was not helped by open friendships exhibited by some priests and nuns. We were innocent little boys who admired these priests for the education they gave us, both in the classroom and on the sport field; like us, they loved macho sport.
If abuse of boys was present we didn’t see it perhaps because we were too innocent to even think that homosexuality existed. Looking back, and putting one and one together, some incidents come up that may suggest there were “special” relationships between some boys and some priests.
It is universally agreed that without the Catholic clergy very few people we now see in high places would be where they are. Most leaders of today had their lives in one way or the other touched positively by priests and nuns.
Most people believed the white nuns were the closest we got to angels, the priests were Jesus’s deputies showing us the way to heaven. We accepted human frailty among them and saw nothing devastatingly wrong with a little drinking and smoking.
When we were growing up most priests and nuns were white. When the first black priests appeared we were not convinced because we all thought and sang,“fata murungu” (the priest is white) giving the black priest hell when he was leading mass.
With the coming of independence in 1980, the indigenisation of the Catholic Church accelerated in tandem with the indigenisation of the priesthood. Nearly 100% of local priests now are black. The archbishop is black and the diocesan leadership is all made up of senior black priests.
But a new problem has come with the black priests!
The biggest story in Catholicism these days is how priests over centuries have sexually abused innocent boys under their care, some of them as young as three. The Vatican itself has acknowledged this and the pope has publicly apologised to living victims. In some cases damages have been or are being paid.
The church has said that up to 5% of their priests have been involved in sexual activities with young boys. While the Vatican is still vexed with this problem, another one arises: many priests are abusing young girls and married women! This is not only against their vow of celibacy but is also illegal, according to the country’s laws.
The extent to which priests in Zimbabwe have broken their vows has not been established yet and the subject remains mute in the church. This is where the problem lies.
It seems here in Zimbabwe the cases of abuse of young single women and married women which have gone to the courts are just a tip of the iceberg. Hardly a week passes without one case of sexual activity or another by priests reported in the press.
Recently, eyebrows were raised when a priest was acquitted of raping a 19-year-old woman who was also his maid. A Masvingo magistrate threw out the case saying the state had failed to prove its case beyond reasonable doubt.
The magistrate ruled: “The failure to try to resist or raise alarm, as well as make an involuntary report, meant that it was consensual sex.”
According to our statutes the learned magistrate might as well have been right in her judgement but the verdict at the same time seems to protect predatory priests. We all know the status of the priests in our communities: they are regarded as sons of God and therefore their word goes.
It’s much like in the work place where the boss is also considered a demigod and goes on to abuse female members of staff. What kind of consent can we refer to when an impressionable girl is asked for sex by a man of god who happens to also be her employer? Can such consent be informed?
How can a priest who has sworn to chastity have the guts to stand before a court of law and answer to charges of adultery? It should be so shameful that the priest would make peace with his god and put his neck on a rail line.
But unfortunately in Zimbabwe, it has become accepted that a priest can abuse his esteemed office and have sex with our young women and our mothers and get away with it! Archbishop Pius Ncube set the example; he conducted an affair with a woman who was not only his secretary but was also someone else’s wife.
When the story broke many rushed to Ncube’s defence arguing this wasn’t true but only a sting operation to silence him since he was President Mugabe’s outspoken critic. It turned out to be true but more priests caught up in the same predicament are also alleging politics.
Recently another priest was brought before the courts by a 17-year-old girl who was suing for maintenance of a child he sired. The girl was a form three student at a Catholic mission school when she fell pregnant. She had to drop out of school and is now forced to look after the child singlehandedly.
As his defence — and taking a leaf from Ncube’s book — the priest alleges that it’s politics at play.
It is shameful that the Catholic Church, which played such a huge role in the development of Zimbabwe, is now being tarnished by a rampant new breed of priest which has targeted our daughters and wives as prey in their predatory sexual romps, much against their own vows. What next in the Catholic Church? Zimbabwe Standard
To help maintain editorial independence Nehanda Radio relies on donations from readers like you. No donation is too small or too big. Help by donating to fund our operations.